We’ve been looking at some of the themes that are driving change within the construction industry
As the saying goes: it’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future. Famous forecasts that proved spectacularly wrong include the president of IBM in 1943 stating “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”, while in 1876 Western Union dismissed Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone as having no value. But it is human nature to speculate about what lies ahead, particularly when change is on the horizon, as is the case in the construction industry. Right now there is a palpable sense from you – the people who work in the sector – of being on the cusp of radical upheaval.
This year, as part of our Building Your Future editorial campaign, which celebrates our publication’s 175th anniversary (see the digital edition of our Building Your Future 175 supplement), we have been talking to industry professionals about the disruptors that are altering the way they commission, design, construct and occupy buildings. We have explored some of the major themes that have emerged, ranging from the rapid uptake of modern methods of construction and customisation in housebuilding to the latest digital tools being applied and the refreshing aspiration for buildings to promote residents’ and workers’ wellbeing.
While we can’t expect an overnight culture change within UK construction, we can see the desired direction of travel
Construction has been in for some extremely negative press so far this year – justifiably, many industry insiders would say, given the chaos caused by Carillion’s collapse and the recent shocking evidence at the Grenfell public inquiry. It is also widely seen as being an industry that is slow to innovate, poor on productivity and (when it comes to contractors) unable to make a decent profit even when the economy has been on an upward cycle.
But away from the headlines there are many individuals and companies working hard at developing and using cutting-edge technology to push the boundaries of what is possible in the built environment. Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds highlights his company’s “rising factories” at East Village in London’s Stratford as an example of how new offsite/on-site solutions can slash build times on high-rise developments. But he also warns it will take a willingness to spend money and to collaborate across the whole supply chain to properly embed new ways of working.
As our feature on Japanese production techniques suggests, while we can’t expect an overnight culture change within UK construction, we can see the desired direction of travel. Inevitably we will encounter some Luddites along the way – people held back by so-called “incumbent mindsets” and outdated business models. But the hope must surely be this: that with the right mix of investment, co-ordination and creative thinking, the industry we know today will be unrecognisably better in 25 years’ time, when Building reaches the grand old age of 200.
Chloë McCulloch, deputy editor, Building