This week’s magazine looks at the investments needed by the construction industry. The watch words? Use BIM and cut costs

In an industry beset by the chronic competitive underbidding of tenders, the prospect of having to lop a further 20% off construction costs from public sector projects will have left many feeling numb. A year on, and the coalition’s message for the built environment has been simple and three pronged: go green, use BIM and cut costs. You may view “going green” simply as a compliance issue or as a massive opportunity. Either way, it requires focus, investment and, to a degree, some risk taking while the scale of any return remains uncertain.

Yet companies have little choice but to engage with green compliance. Clients are now in a race to measure and standardise green performance effectively. Taking on the green agenda is almost seen as a prerequisite for progression in a business, albeit an ill-defined one.

To use BIM, meanwhile, requires an understanding of what it is and how it works. By splashing out up to £700,000 to roll BIM out across your business, as Bam Construct has (see news), you are effectively committing to working in the public sector for the foreseeable future. And expect a barrage of firms at your door offering to help you out.

Finally, there is the cost cutting. We’ve asked three industry figures about the best ways to make the necessary savings. The answers are, of course, informed by the many reports from industry grandees proclaiming over the years that partnering, collaboration and best practice should be the guiding spirits for all to cling to.

But things are a little more complex today. In this new world of austerity, measurement and efficiency, you have to invest in ways of working in order just to engage with clients. Any investment has to be focused around finding architects and technicians who implement design standardisation; in the right bonus schemes to encourage supply chains; and then in the technology required just to stay in the game. The hope is that savings will manifest over time. It’s a tough predicament, which will see many fall by the wayside, but it’s become a reality.    

A towering triumph

The Shard in London Bridge is a powerful symbol of confidence - and it has several useful lessons to teach an industry in need of a boost. Flexibility is one. Its contractor, Mace, adapted to tough commercial realities when it switched from construction management to a fixed-price contract. Though the haggling meant four months were lost from the construction programme, working with developer Sellar, Mace rose to the challenge and introduced several innovations to help ensure the project finishes on time.

For example, it started building the core at the same time as the basement, slicing six weeks off. And it found creative solutions to other problems. As the building climbed higher, the biggest threat was wind stopping work. So Mace built the core and concrete floors in a way that meant work was not held up during the bitter winter.

Pre-refabrication helped see the services installed in double quick time. And the result? The building should complete next spring ready for a market hungry for office space and will stand as physical proof that risk taking and innovation pays off in recession.

Tom Broughton is Building’s brand director