Building the industry of the future

April 23, 2020

Strong progress is being made on a ground-breaking initiative to make the North East a transformational command post across the international built environment and construction sectors. Led by Northumbria University and Dynamo, with public and private sector support, The International Centre for Connected Construction (IC3) will use digital technologies to drive change in global productivity and performance. Steven Hugill finds out more

Creating a hub for the global construction sector with The International Centre for Connected Construction (IC3) will position the region at the forefront of the international built economy by driving productivity and performance through technologies such as BIM (Building Information Modeling), virtual reality, smart cities and cloud computing.

Applying next-generation practices and supporting greater collaboration between industry, academia and the public sector to solve existing issues such as sustainability while identifying the challenges of tomorrow, it will also roll out training and funding assistance to boost regional companies’ skills and commercial progress on a worldwide stage.

Launched at the House of Lords in 2018, IC3 is led by Northumbria University and Dynamo North East. It previously benefited from £100,000 North East Local Enterprise Partnership funding, which helped deliver regional, national and international workshops to increase awareness of its vast potential, and a business plan has been submitted to central government to shape its further evolution.

“The construction sector is one of the least innovative – it does the least research and development and investment in digital,” says Professor Rebecca Strachan, faculty deputy pro vice-chancellor, engineering and environment, Northumbria University.

“There’s a real need to kickstart digital transformation.

“IC3 will bring together the expertise, advice and voice of the university and the region around digital buildings and connected construction to do just that,” continues Professor Strachan, who is also a member of Dynamo’s Digital Construction Cluster, which drives positive change for the built environment sector.

A key facet that will aid IC3’s progress is the continued roll-out of demonstrator projects that highlight new ways of working.

“Getting projects out there, such as procuring for value – which is about buying for longer-term value rather than economic return, helps to start asking questions like, ‘how can we prevent the Grenfell Tower disaster happening again?’,” continues Professor Strachan.

“They provide tangible case studies to show why organisations should invest or change practices.”

IC3 will also set the region apart as a pioneer, thanks to its industry-focused collaborative approach.

IC3 will support Cambridge’s Centre for Digital Built Britain, which already works with government and the University of Cambridge to deliver improvements across the construction sector, IC3’s work to unite private and public sector operators means it will deliver a more all-round, united body of research and expertise.

Rob Charlton, chief executive at Newcastle-based Space Group and Dynamo Digital Construction Cluster member, says IC3’s structure will be vital to the built environment landscape, as will the North East’s strong skills base.

“We have an immense amount of expertise and a younger generation bringing new perspectives to making buildings more efficient,” says Rob. “We are stronger together and our value of collaborating will help put our message on a global scale.

“As a region, we were early adopters, but people are better at solving the initial issues around coordination, predictability, quality and construction.

“We need to start addressing new problems and innovate to answer the next questions and challenges.

“We need to stay ahead of the game, and a big part of that is sustainability and compliance.”

Sustainability, concurs Ed Banks, of Newcastle City Council’s economic development team, will be a critical element for the construction sector, adding IC3’s work on the subject will help make the region a global leader in the field.

“Everyone understands the impact of climate change, not just in the UK but internationally, and the wind is blowing in the direction that we need to be more sustainable,” says Ed.

“The general public might not know what BIM is, but they value the concept of getting long-term value for taxpayers’ money.”

“This area is known globally for having particular expertise, but we want to do more, and IC3 will put us at the vanguard of sustainability.”

IC3 will bolster an already innovative regional landscape that includes the BIM Academy, Northumbria’s Built Environment Faculty and Newcastle University’s urban science and regeneration expertise.

“To have such internationally significant sites doing things together gives the opportunity to make a real impact on areas like the housing crisis, climate change, energy and smart materials,” adds Professor Strachan.

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