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Construction leaders prepare for seismic change at day 1 of NBS summit

Today, senior leadership across the construction sector attended a virtual event hosted by NBS, The Construction Leaders’ Summit: The Digital Future. Day one of the conference focused on the big levers of change, looking at political, economic and technological drivers helping senior built environment professionals better understand and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Today, senior leadership across the construction sector attended a virtual event hosted by NBS, The Construction Leaders’ Summit: The Digital Future. Day one of the conference focused on the big levers of change, looking at political, economic and technological drivers helping senior built environment professionals better understand and prepare for the challenges ahead.

The double-whammy of a pandemic and a recession has made 2020 one of the most challenging and disrupted years in living memory. Digital adoption has ramped up exponentially this year and played an essential part in keeping the sector open for business. However, evolution will not stop there, and delegates heard about the tsunami of change approaching.

Nadhim Zahawi MP, the UK Government’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Business and Industry), and the Construction Minister, discussed the Government's objectives for construction and outlined its commitment to the sector, from decarbonisation and building safety to digital technologies and modular construction. He also touched upon ‘Project Speed’ and the forthcoming Cabinet Office ‘Construction Procurement Playbook’.

The Minister said, “We want to build dozens more hospitals, upgrade hundreds of schools and get thousands of new homes up on the market. We will only achieve this by working in unison, using our position as the sector's biggest client. Our aim is to drive innovation, spark industry investment and create more opportunities for SMEs to deliver government projects.”

He concluded his speech by saying, “I spoke today about greener, quicker, safer and more efficient building. I’ve not said the word ‘better’ all that often. That is because this is precisely what we mean by ‘building back better’, recognising our economy and people need support, building in a way that helps both but focussing on what we need to renew and where we want to be in the future. We are ensuring we build a better country now and for the decades to come. By embracing the technology at our disposal today, we can make sure that everything we've built is the best it can be.”

Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, delivered an equally powerful speech about the changes which the construction industry must prepare for in the forthcoming Building Safety Legislation which is currently a Draft Bill yet to go through Parliament. This will be the biggest shake-up in building safety for a generation. She outlined what will happen after it passes into law, specifically the implementation period before the regulator is up and running, not expected to be fully operational until 2023.

 

This February, at the NBS Construction Product Leaders’ Summit in Birmingham, Dame Judith expressed her frustration with the lack of progress being made on resolving problems uncovered in high rise buildings since the Grenfell Tower fire. Today she again underlined the urgent need for radical changes in culture, competencies and processes. Digital will be the norm, so the sector can expect to see improved record keeping, less substitution, and ‘value engineering’ will move from being about cost reduction to focus on quality.

 

Dame Judith said, “The essence of the change that is needed is to stop looking at the letter of the law and finding ways to comply with minimum standards. The new approach to building safety must be about the opportunity to deliver buildings which we would all be happy to have our loved ones live in – confident that they feel safe and are safe. There is a moral imperative above the legal one.”

Richard Waterhouse, Chief Strategy Officer, NBS, said, “We've seen that, if a major driver like the current pandemic comes along, all industries can change. Construction in particular, has really moved on. This was an industry known for being resistant to change, so it shows what’s possible in the right set of circumstances. Design teams used to working in co-located ways have found they can collaborate and communicate from their offices or from home, and can have their virtual teams working with the construction teams, still getting the input and the advice they need from manufacturers and sharing that with clients. New digital, collaborative ways of working have evolved and have been delivered rapidly.”

He added, “COVID hasn't really changed things. It's simply accelerating the things that were already happening. We wanted to curate an event which brings together the latest thinking and brightest and best minds to look at the construction ecosystem, and the opportunities technology offers to build a better world. Day one of The Construction Leaders’ Summit – The Digital Future succeeded in providing attendees with inspiration and practical guidance to equip them for the future.”

The first day of the event included other incisive sessions. McKinsey explored some of their construction reports in more detail. Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast, spoke about modular off-site construction and how key this approach will be in delivering the buildings the country needs. Dr Anne Kemp gave an informative talk around standards and the internationalisation of data, and there was also a session from Dr Stephen Hamil on how NBS has and is responding to these changes.

Mark Farmer, CEO, Cast, made this point; “The ‘Modernise or Die’ challenge that I set out to the industry in 2016 has only become more urgent. Faced with a heady cocktail of Brexit, COVID-19, regulatory and policy reforms businesses have difficult decisions ahead. Economic headwinds are forcing a stark choice between short term re-trenchment to business as usual, or embracing new models and innovation in order to successfully survive in a changing market.”

Watching the session from the US, Phil Bernstein, Associate Dean and Professor Adjunct, Yale School of Architecture, said, The myriad challenges of building today, be they climate change, health and safety writ large, construction performance, or modern slavery, can only be addressed by refactoring the processes of design, construction and operation. After more than a decade of BIM, the broad outline of technology’s role in necessary innovation are only now coming into view. How should the industry respond?” Bernstein delivers his talk tomorrow.

There is a second day tomorrow, where delegates will be split into two streams, one for specifiers and the other for manufacturers, both looking at the future of the industry.

Construction product manufacturers will learn about the rapid evolution of manufacturing and construction following COVID-19 from management consultancy firms BDO and McKinsey. Additionally, Peter Caplehorn and Adam Turk from the Construction Products Association will discuss the emerging competencies for product safety and the marketing rules for manufacturers. 

Specifiers will hear from the Sustainable Energy Association’s Jade Lewis on driving sustainability through design and data, Yale University School of Architecture’s Phil Bernstein on ‘Delivering the Future of Design and Collaboration’, and a leading contractor who will reveal the future of modular construction.