The End of Design + Construction and the Emergence of Making Buildings

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Blog Post Part 1

Part 1: A Moonshot and the Master Builder

John F. Kennedy posed a literal moonshot in May 1961 saying that the USA “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the “Earth.” In mid-July 1969, the USA exceeded that goal by placing two men on the moon (and a third who observed) and returning them safely to Earth 8 days later.

We need a moonshot too because we need to solve a major problem.

Basically, our industry has become a multi-headed Hydra, the offspring of design and construction, that produces buildings that are no longer rewarding for many because they are too costly, take too long and deliver too little value. This problem is deep and more ingrained because it affects humanity on many levels. Internally it is poor productivity, rising costs, poor value, litigation, finger-pointing, and it does not even remotely solve the energy issue in a meaningful way. Externally, the problem, in part, affects inadequacy to provide homes for the homeless[1], cost effectiveness in healthcare and educational infrastructure, and places excessive tax burdens on future generations for costs later found in some procurement methodologies such as P3 projects[2].

The future of making buildings[3] lies in no longer having distinct design and construction activities but rather a Master Builder[4] process that seamlessly transitions through the design, procurement, assembly and operation using non-linear, fully-iterative and non-traditional approaches to move any building from design to assembly and beyond at considerably less cost and in less time.  Here are some considerations:

  • To do this we need to abandon (apart from their respective regulatory requirements) the traditional roles of the architect, engineer, technologist, contractor and subtrade by creating a new entity where designers, fabricators and constructors work solely as one team, one process – a Master Builder.
  • Stop trying to make buildings in the same way that planes, trains and automobiles are made. Buildings are “one off” rarely comprised of the same team members, are not a mass production of the same design and not mobile. Making buildings is not that different than making movies – team members may or may not have worked together, rarely is the same movie made twice and is subject to similar fiscal, creative and production challenges.
  • A Master Builder process would use current and emergent technologies leveraging processes not currently aligned with Making Buildings such as predictive analytics, machine and deep learning, advanced materials, robotics and mass off-site customization.
  • It will mean the elimination of a significant number of the intermediaries that add unnecessary cost and waste by using a more effective way for streamlining the supply chain from file to fabrication to field.
  • Link model-based Product & Quantity Structures (like Bill of Materials/Quantities) to the Internet of Things.
  • It would use smart contracts, blockchain (to manage goods, services and information exchanges) and technologies to make financial transactions quicker between project cohorts.

So, ask yourself what is effective, practical and reliable now that we create 3D content (A Virtual Building) to create 2D content (Contract Drawings) to create 3D content (Fabrication Models) to create 2D content (Shop Drawing Approvals) to create a 3D real object (A Real Building)?  Then ask yourself: why are we not simply creating 3D content (The Virtual Building) to create a 3D real object (The Real Building)?  The former is fraught with issues, but the latter holds a compelling pathway forward.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people”.


Till next time, and Part 2.


[1] Homlessness can also refer to the fact that many cannot, despite good incomes, afford to own property.
[2] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/the-hidden-price-of-public-private-partnerships/article4611798/
[3] The focus here is on vertical infrastructure and while horizontal infrastructure is not immune from the same issues, the solutions can equally apply.
[4] The term master is not used in its gender sense rather as a master mechanism where processes, techniques and systems achieve a desired result or outcome.