Interview: Mace’s Damien Walton – Games designer to BIM innovator

Damien Walton, a trainee CAD technician at Mace, joined the firm after being talent spotted while on a video games design course at Birmingham Metropolitan College. He tells BIM+ about making the shift from a games environment to large contractor.

How did you end up working at Mace?

I received a phone call asking me to come in for an interview with Mace’s then head of delivery for Birmingham New Street station, Richard Thorpe. I later learned that he had taken a tour of Birmingham Metropolitan College, where he viewed the work I had on display at our end of year exhibition. One of my pieces was a digital recreation of the studio where we had studied, other items looked at how we could interact with the digital environment. 

During the interview we talked about how I might transfer my skills from the digital graphics and video games industry to the construction industry.

What attracted you to the construction industry?

During the interview Richard and I talked about the unique challenges and opportunities that could lie ahead with a career in the construction industry as a person with my skill set. Combined with the opportunity to work on an iconic local project it was something that wasn’t to be missed.

What was your role on Birmingham New Street? 

Initially my role was to work with the planning and design teams to create 2D/3D visuals, all the while learning about the industry and management techniques. As time progressed, I moved into working on more of the planning aspects and 4D modelling.

I was also given opportunities to work on development projects such as introducing virtual reality into the project, and subsequently creating a virtual training environment for the station and others to use.

And one of these development projects was simulated rollercoaster ride around New Street Station?

Yes, the rollercoaster ride came about following a one-off comment by a colleague. I liked the idea so I took it away and worked on the idea over a weekend. The following Monday I introduced the team to the “New Street flyer”.

I decided to create it because it was fun and an engaging experience. This meant a much larger audience was given the opportunity to interact with the model and the station. The team in the office engaged with it in a productive way as it brought up lots of questions and conversations regarding the design.

With the public release, the aim was to engage with a younger generation by tapping into the hype surrounding virtual reality and to show there are creative ways to apply skills from outside the construction industry to it.

How digitally advanced is the construction industry?

During my time spent in the industry I have seen advances being made with the adoption of more mobile-based systems, cloud-based storage and web access to remote systems, but there is a general reluctance to integrate these systems into day-to-day working. This is due to several factors, but mainly accessibility and confidence with these systems.

Mobile technologies are being more widely used but the limiting factor is network access as this requires users to pre-prepare for site meetings. This can lead to the user just returning to more traditional ways of working and just printing drawings off rather than remaining in the digital environment.

While there are pockets of enthusiasm to adopt new digitally-based systems, until more people are interested and are willing and able to build them into how they work day-to-day the industry will still struggle to advance.

How do you foresee the industry changing over the next 10 or 20 years, as we see more digitisation?

Should the industry’s confidence with technology continue to grow, then I see the adoption of more systems which will allow for single-device mobile working, enabling more flexible and productive working methods. 

To fully realise the benefit of mobile working, better access to the internet on site would be required, with the standard integration of wi-fi networks with position calculation capabilities. More centralised data systems with faster access to network drives will be needed to aid a cultural shift so that local copies of files are no longer required.

Collaborative working is the key with technology assisting teams to find new ways of working together. 

How do you think the industry can attract more digitally-aware people – in other words people similar to you – to the industry?

We should show that progress is being made within the industry and also that there are companies that aspire to become more digitally sophisticated. This will help to show people that there are opportunities for them to apply the skills they have and in turn help the company and the industry advance.

For me the deciding factor was the enthusiasm of experienced members of staff within the business – that showed me there was support for change and an environment that encouraged the development of new ideas. This gave me the confidence to develop new ideas and engage with the project.

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  1. This is ridiculous, construction isn’t about gaming!! In my day people had to graft to work your way up in construction companies!! BIM has sent construction backwards!

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