Here's how a typical project will work. Imagine for a minute that you are an architect in Manchester that has won a commission to build a local arts complex. To begin with, your concept is turned into a CAD model of the building by a principal design team made up of your people and the engineers, supplemented by specialist subcontractors. Let's say you're discussing the acoustics of the main hall with the acoustic engineer, who is based in Malaysia. Both of you have a cursor, both can alter the design in real time, and both can hear the other speak and see a video image of each other on a subsidiary screen, so that hand gestures can by used to convey ideas – or perhaps insults. If you can only improve the acoustics by changing the structure, you may need to patch the structural engineer into the conversation – which would put three cursors on the screen …
The design will be built up from standardised intelligent objects picked from a vast database maintained by the European Union Suppliers' Federation. Once the design has been signed off by all interested parties, including key specialist contractors, of course, you will make the file available to the contractor. It will execute the design by entering a code – a nervous moment for all concerned – and a full parts list for the building will be generated and dispatched to the relevant framework suppliers over the project extranet, together with a just-in-time schedule that gives each a one-hour delivery window. At the same time, subcontractors will be sent their parts of the overall construction schedule – and the client will find out to the nearest euro how much the building should cost.
The firms in charge of the works packages, who have previously committed themselves to a set of minimum lead times, must then dispatch their right-first-time parts to the site in work packs (the flatter the better). Meanwhile, on the site, the project software will have drawn up a setting-out plan using the European Union's ultra-accurate Galileo satellite system. When the work packs arrive, logistics teams with power tools will break them down for handling teams, who will load them on to magnetically levitated pallet trucks for delivery to the expert fitters – quite unlike the artisans of today – who will assemble them in accordance with consistent instructions, in a way that is not dissimilar to a car assembly line. And, as with a car assembly line, robots will carry out tasks that are repetitive, dangerous or require extreme precision. The main difference will be that producing a car means revolving it around teams of workers; whereas on site, the man or robot will revolve around the building. The result is an unexciting, profitable efficiency.
Each part of the finished building, every panel, every structural member, will be readable using one of the computers sewn into worker's clothing. Point your finger, press a button on your sleeve and you can determine a component's acquisition date, maintenance requirements, and replacement date. Everyone who took part in constructing the building can go home happy. All were paid on time by project software from the central project fund, all disputes were mediated or adjudicated using the project's common document archive, and the client's accountants can satisfy themselves that value for money was achieved by looking through the books of the suppliers. Finally, the software files all the documents from the projects, complete with key performance indicators and reports written by the major players discussing points of interest, into the central European best practice database.