The Construction Innovation Hub, which launched last November, is a government-backed programme to bring wholesale, long-lasting change to the sector. Programme director Keith Waller sets out the challenge – and how it is being met
The way we create our buildings needs to change and this change is becoming ever-more urgent. Too much focus on the initial build cost means that vital new buildings like schools, hospitals and homes are not delivering real, long-term value for users, society and, in the long term, the economy.
Construction’s carbon footprint
The environmental impact is also a deep cause for concern: construction’s carbon footprint is far too high and with ever-growing public pressure to tackle climate change, the sector’s environmental performance is simply not sustainable in the long-term.
We are, in fairness, seeing some movement in different parts of the sector, with new technologies and processes coming on stream. But we need to face facts: fiddling around the edges and baby steps here and there simply won’t cut it. What we really need is a fundamental transformation in how we build our buildings and a renewed understanding of what we mean by value.
I realise I’m not the first person to call for wholesale change in construction and I almost certainly won’t be the last. However, I am – as far as I’m aware – the first person to lead a £72m government-backed programme tasked with making this change a reality. The Construction Innovation Hub, which was launched last November, is on a mission to be the catalyst for a real and lasting change in construction.
Lasting change in the construction industry
Through a comprehensive and ambitious programme, we are bringing together the very best of what is already happening in the sector, driving collaboration to develop, commercialise and promote digital and manufacturing technologies for the construction sector. We want to see buildings that are smarter and greener, built faster and more efficiently and – importantly – delivering positive outcomes for their end users be they students, patients or soldiers.
A critical centrepiece in this programme of change is our Platform Design programme. Whitehall departments like Education or Health spend around £15bn each year on vital new buildings like schools, hospitals, social housing and much more. In the 2017 Budget, the government announced that by 2019, these, and several other government departments like Justice and Defence, would adopt a presumption in favour of offsite construction. The Construction Innovation Hub, through our Platform Solution, but also our wider programme, is working to help make the government’s ambition a reality.
But what is a Platform? Well, you could, I suppose, see this the “car chassis” upon which critical government buildings will be based in future. But we will not – and cannot – do this alone. Over the past two months, we’ve been in what we’ve termed the ‘sandpit phase’ of this project. We’ve been encouraging innovators from across the worlds of construction and manufacturing to join us, so we can bring together the very best of what is already out there to develop a new ‘kit of parts’ for construction, much in the same way that the automotive sector does.
Industry response to the Platform Design programme
The response from industry has been deeply encouraging; there is a strong appetite among companies big and small to be part of the change that is happening in construction. Now as we move into Phase II, the heavy lifting begins. The businesses that have been successful in making it through our Open Call process can look forward to a full range of support and mentorship from the very best of expertise from across the three partners of the Construction Innovation Hub – the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB). We’ll be working side-by-side with these innovative businesses every step along the journey but, in return, we do expect a significant commitment in terms of time and resource.
To help us deliver on this next – critical – stage of the Platform programme, we’ve appointed a Design Standards Board. The board brings together some of the big heavyweights in construction and will help us define the rules for how components and elements can be connected, installed and assembled, setting out both the physical and digital requirements that Platform components must meet. The board will also help ensure that the standards developed through the Hub programme meet the requirements of both government and industry.
Changing construction will be no easy feat; the sector is massive, accounting for around 9% of our GDP and it is deeply fragmented. But change is both essential and inevitable and the Construction Innovation Hub, which I’m privileged to lead, is both ready and eager for the challenge.
The challenge may be great, but the rewards will be even greater. We’ll have schools, hospitals and homes that are delivering better outcomes, improving how we live our lives and helping to preserve our environment.
The Hub is a catalyst for change, but we cannot deliver that change on our own. We are asking industry to join us and to be part of the transformation.
Construction Innovation Hub
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