Opportunities and challenges

November 1, 2018

Simon Lewis and Ruth Davidson, specialists in the construction and engineering team at Womble Bond Dickinson, reflect on a challenging and exciting future in the built environment

The challenges associated with building the future range from the political to the social, cultural and economic, but the opportunities that are also available could lead to an extraordinary increase in the quality, efficiency and productivity of our built environment.

As is well known, the development of the built environment of the future will lean heavily upon technological innovation. Perhaps the best-known example of this at the moment is the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is a way of creating a data-rich 3D digital model of a built asset which can be used to assist in every step of the asset’s lifecycle, from initial concept and design through the build phase, on to the operational stage and finally to demolition, refurbishment or repurposing.

Used correctly, BIM not only promotes a more efficient and cost-effective way of working, it also encourages collaborative working, a goal for the construction sector for decades.

BIM is, of course, only part of a much larger development which ties in with the Smart Cities initiative, the Internet of Things and the move towards a far more holistic approach to the development of our built environment in the future.

This is the aim of the Digital Built Britain programme, developing the country’s digital asset base, and it will involve not only technological development but also behavioural change if it is to succeed.

Locally, bodies such as the BIM Academy (a collaboration between Northumbria University and Ryder Architecture) and the forthcoming International Centre for Connected Construction, developed in collaboration with regional IT network Dynamo and housed at Northumbria University, provide examples of the proactive and forward-thinking approach being taken by the technology and construction sectors in the North East, which remain leaders in this field.

There are, of course, challenges. The increased use of the Internet of Things, the digitisation of the built environment and the proliferation of web-based applications is reflected in the massive increase in cybercrime of which we are all aware. In addition, the National Infrastructure Assessment published earlier this year set out an ambitious programme for the development of the country’s infrastructure across every sector, but this will only occur if we have the technology and the personnel available to meet these challenges.

While technological development presents its own issues, the problem of readily-available personnel to undertake these projects is highlighted by the massive uncertainty around Brexit.

The need for a revised immigration system was addressed recently in the CBI report, Open and Controlled, published in August of this year. At the time of writing, this is an issue that is yet to be resolved.

Building the future therefore requires the overcoming of some formidable obstacles, but the opportunities available are exciting and rewarding. In this, as in many ways, the North East region remains at the forefront of these developments and initiatives of the sort referred to above will help to keep the region in that position for the foreseeable future.

Womble Bond Dickinson