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How Can Construction Industry Adapt to Constant Change?

By Salvador Rivas - S*ARC
Director General


By Salvador Rivas | Director General - Tue, 04/19/2022 - 16:00

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“You cannot predict the future, but you can create it´ Peter Drucker coined these words more than a decade ago and they speak to the power we have over our lives.

I first encountered this phrase in the most unusual of circumstances. After two years of living back in Mexico, I took one of the most important professional decisions in my life to leave a great position as an Associate Partner at Foster+Partners, with a key role in the Mexico New International Airport project, to start my own business venture. This, as any entrepreneur knows, was not an easy feat. I started seeking advice and resources on how to best deal with the different aspects and the inherent uncertainty of growing a business.

In this quest for answers, I took a short trip to London to return to my alma mater of University College London and meet with my mentor, Prof. Sir Peter Cook, and other esteemed colleagues and friends, to seek their advice on how to further develop the ideas that I had on adaptable building systems. After some productive sessions, and just before leaving, I went to the union shop to buy some souvenirs. It was there that I found printed on the side of the shopping bag the Lincoln quote. And so it is, especially, in the times we are living in. 

In my previous article, I wrote about the importance of adaptability in times of change, which is one of the constants in our life. And just when we thought that, after nearly two years of uncertainty in many aspects of our lives, 2022 was going to offer a more positive panorama, this is not proving to be the case, with unexpected situations such as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which for our construction industry may result in a “renewed disruption to global construction materials’ supply chains, which were just recovering from the effects of the pandemic, and will require construction firms to take mitigatory steps.”[1]  

This, at least temporarily, poses a threat to rising costs and shortages of materials and supplies for the construction industry, since both Russia and Ukraine are important producers of metals, chemicals and gas. It may require our industry to refer to lessons learned from the pandemic on how to manage projects, address this and other future crises that may arise, and optimize the way we design and construct our buildings. Just recently, I was talking to an important venture capital strategist who had started investing in real estate projects and who shared her surprise at how “traditional” construction methods still are, in comparison to those from other industries.

It is not only a matter of trends but more of an actual necessity, since more and more companies and organizations around the world are committing to a strong sustainable agenda to comply with some of the ambitious targets that have been agreed upon at forums like COP 26. These include halting and reversing deforestation, cutting methane emissions, shifting away from coal and promoting green transport.[2] Together with even more present ESG initiatives, these goals are setting the stage for how we will design, manufacture and maintain buildings in the immediate future. Rather than adapting to change, change is asking us to adapt, faster and more efficiently.

So, how as architects and designers, can we help to improve this situation? In this case, we can refer to valuable resources like the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Plan of Work 2020, which is “the definitive model for the design and construction process of buildings and provides guidance to the design and development of projects to the highest international standards. Updated in 2021, the ‘Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) Overlay’ includes guidance on implementing seven categories of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) through each RIBA stage.”[3]

In terms of design development, stage 5 of the RIBA Plan of Work: Manufacturing and Construction, considers the manufacturing of the building systems in accordance with the construction program and the building contract. This results from digital technologies used to design and coordinate the different construction activities and support the construction industry’s move toward greater uptake of off-site manufacturing, with the goal of getting better efficiencies and results in the cost, quality and time of project development, which has been an objective of our sector for years.

This is certainly an important stage for our Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (AEC) Industry since it means a departure from conventional building methods and gradually moving into manufacturing, like what the automotive and aerospace industries have done for years. Simon Allford, RIBA President, reflects: “It is abundantly clear that business as usual in building design and construction will not adequately address the pressing global challenges of the climate emergency and a growing population.”[4]

Mark Farmer, who chaired the Modern Methods Construction (MMC) Working Group, a task force created in 2016 by the UK’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to assess the state of the country`s construction industry, also shares that, “despite numerous attempts over the years to respond to external market drivers … an overwhelming accumulation of factors are forcing the (ACE) industry to think again about how it delivers.”[5] In essence, the message is clear: we have to think, and build, differently.

The MMC definition is a framework of a full and future-proof range of methods used in construction that can be related to building typologies and material genres, grouped into seven new categories of means and methods, that can be summarized as: 1. Pre-manufacturing (3D primary structural systems), 2. Pre-manufacturing (2D primary structural systems), 3. Pre-manufacturing components (non-systemized primary structure), 4. Additive manufacturing (structural and non-structural), 5. Pre-manufacturing (non-structural assemblies and sub-assemblies), 6. Traditional building product (with site labor reduction/productivity improvements), and, 7. Site process led site labor reduction/productivity/assurance improvements.

It is evident that long-term and short-term changes are already influencing our AEC industry and the real estate sector. It is just a matter of time before what is perceived currently as a trend becomes the standard, and demands a faster, more efficient response. Other countries and organizations are taking the lead to provide solutions to these imminent requirements and it will be important that all of us, playing important roles in our sector in Mexico and Latin America can add to these efforts. It will be only then that we will be able to truly create, rather than only predict, the future that we want for our countries, communities and families.

[1] How will the war in Ukraine affect materials supply? | Comment | Building

[2] COP26: A snapshot of the agreement - United Nations Western Europe (unric.org)

[3] RIBA Plan of Work (architecture.com)

[4] DfMA Overlay to the Plan of Work (architecture.com)

[5] MMC-I-Pad-base_GOVUK-FINAL_SECURE.pdf (cast-consultancy.com)

Photo by:   Salvador Rivas

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