"My friend used to say: ‘You architects are forever making models…’ He was in fact referring to cardboard and balsa wood models, but the statement still holds truth, possibly even more so. Things have moved on and we now make many models to test, explore and coordinate our designs. Many of our current buildings would not be possible without a range of parametric computational tools and precision digital manufacturing. The ‘buzz word’ of the year is the ‘Digital Twin’ but everyone is a little unsure about what that means for the construction industry."
However, as Ana Matic explains, the ‘Industry 4.0’ is here to stay and the question for us as professionals is how to lead and harness its ever-increasing powers but remain focused, creative and profitable.
2019’s UK Construction Week featured a rapid bricklaying robot alongside ‘flying’ onsite digital cutting factories for housing developments. Meanwhile, back at the RIBA's annual Smart Practice conference, new ways of collaboration and each presentation showcased some aspect of utilizing connections between digital and physical; from creation of hyper-efficient materials to large, client-led developments utilising DfMA [Design for Manufacture and Assembly].
Most of our creative activity and production has become digital in some shape or form. We are starting to use the term Building Information Management [BIM] as a generic noun to describe a multitude of tools and application available combined with the need to have a universal ‘language’ which allow us to work together.
So, BIM is an everyday thing. Like WhatsApp and internet banking. Pupils in schools are busy 3D scanning their classrooms and our parents are controlling central heating from their phones. Tracking the progress of your UBER driver is already a norm and ‘self-regulating’ environmental controls are specified and installed in most of new buildings as a baseline standard.
What does all this mean for us as architects? The expectations are changing towards being able to handover intelligent models to end users which will be able to live, learn and inform the use and maintenance of the built asset. Although we are generally not responsible for the coordination of asset data delivery – it is our role as the lead consultant which enables us to guide the process. The more knowledgeable we are, the easier it will be to be precise about our role in developing Digital Twin deliverables and advising our clients.
The pressure we are already starting to feel in practice is the push coming from the opposite direction: the construction and ‘in use’ stage of a building’s life. The need to be able to respond to and facilitate collaboration with digital tools used by the main contractors to plan and programme construction but also improve accuracy of construction projects. Interactive 3D scanning of site progress feeding back into a federated BIM model is becoming cheap and attainable. But this also means that our ability to receive and act upon this new flood of information will become a standard requirement for our delivery sectors.
The vision statement of the Government’s Construction Strategy for 2025 builds upon the legacy of the developments in the last couple of decades. Starting with the Egan Report, ‘Rethinking Construction’ in 1998 and followed by ‘Accelerating Change’ in 2002 and the work done by the Strategic Forum for Construction, underlining the future importance of information technologies and their integration into UK construction industry. Concepts that were developed in the years to follow are captured in the Construction Strategy 2025 Vision Statement: