The future needs a longer view

Whole life thinking and the Plan of Work stole this year's Construction Summit

The Government Construction Summit has now become an annual fixture and it provides a good measure of where thinking in large scale construction is heading. At this year’s event, in July, different speakers presented a clear and consistent message about the importance of the latter stages of the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 (stages 6 and 7) and whole life thinking driven by the BIM agenda.

Vince Cable kicked off the summit with a succinct summary of why the recent recession had a greater impact on the construction industry than other sectors: the halt of public sector expenditure, the derailing of PFI initiatives due to banking connectivity, the collapse of the commercial property market (lack of available funding) and the collapse of the housing market.

Due to this quadruple whammy, although recovery is now under way UK capacity is still running at 7% below the pre-recession peak. Housing and infrastructure spending is rising but public sector spending is in decline.

  • Vince Cable on where construction fits.
    Vince Cable on where construction fits.
  • Costain's Andrew Wylie
    Costain's Andrew Wylie
  • Lord Deighton giving the Treasury view
    Lord Deighton giving the Treasury view

20-year strategies

Cable’s earlier experiences in the oil and gas industry, where 20 year strategies are commonplace, has informed thinking behind the government’s industrial strategy for the construction sector, marking a shift away from the political five year cycle to longer term views.

Four areas add value: technology, skill, finance and procurement. In terms of technology, the UK is now a global leader of BIM technologies. Off-site manufacturing initiatives and the Future Cities Catapult were being positioned to establish the UK as a world leader in new construction processes and digitally driven cities.

Andrew Wylie from Costain explained to delegates the main reason behind his company’s success in recent years. More focused bidding (success rate improved from 1:10 to 1:3) resulted in 90% of clients providing repeat work. For architectural practices, the biggest lesson to be learned from Costain’s success was the need to focus on customer needs and to appreciate the importance of technology and innovation in driving the new products and services that they require. He acknowledged that new values and behaviours were crucial in making the transition to this new working environment.

BIM means business

David Philip from the cabinet office BIM team chaired a BIM session with a number of core messages. First, he pointed out that clients such as the Ministry of Justice and HS2 have a better understanding of what information they want from their supply chain and when they require this. Although it was not clear if there was communication between these clients, there is a shift towards common industry wide deliverables. Of greatest signifance was the acknowledgement that information demands and deliverables would increasingly be required for the whole project lifecycle, underlining how crucial stage 7 of the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 will become. Andrew Pryke of BAM underlined this point and emphasised the increasing significance of data used during stage 7. BAM’s recent experiences demonstrate the significant saving achievable during this stage.

One of the key challenges on the back of these points will be educating architects in how to deliver stage 7 data, as well as providing guidance in how to provide an effective operational and maintenance strategy at stage 2 and how this might be refined as a project progresses through the design stages. Pryke also reminded everyone that with the government mandating it from 2016, an understanding of level 2 BIM was not a ‘nice to have’ piece of knowledge but a business.

In line with the post construction theme, the rest of the panel stressed the importance of shifting thinking away from design and construction and towards soft landings at stage 6 (handover strategy in RIBA Plan of Work 2013) and the in-use activities at stage 7. In the journey towards a more integrated BIM environment the panel stressed the importance of everyone in the supply chain understanding the BIM business case and its potential for driving out waste, generating efficiencies in all project stages, and its ability to benefit all project team members and deliver better project outcomes. The panel agreed that it was crucial that every member of a project team understands the additional value delivered to the client by BIM – a theme already covered by Costain.

To keep ahead of the game architects need to shift from thinking from ‘design to construction’ to ‘design to use’, and to place greater emphasis on the technologies and innovation process that will improve the way our clients’ buildings are used and operated, as well as ensuring that better project outcomes are delivered.

Dale Sinclair is RIBA vice president for practice and profession and AECOM’s director of technical practice responsible for EMEA.