The Bartlett


Tipping point

Transforming the way research is done in construction will open up new possibilities to disrupt a sector that is in urgent need of change.

Graphically designed image with a black background and text reading 'tipping point' in block capitals
Building better, building faster, building safer, these are the goals for the UK construction industry over the next few years. If we are to deliver high-value buildings, we desperately need to improve productivity, quality, and performance. The mood music from policy-makers certainly indicates that off-site methods are once again the ‘go-to’ technology, and we have a once-in-a-lifetime digital opportunity to make all this come to life. The bad news is that we need to accelerate the programme to reduce building carbon emissions and avert a climate catastrophe. 

With this in mind, the UK government launched the Transforming Construction Challenge, as part of the Construction Sector Deal. The challenge is looking to industry and researchers to innovate in construction, increase productivity across the UK, and open up significant global markets for a rejuvenated body of building expertise. There's no debate, this will be a truly arduous shift for this fractured, combative and yet resilient and highly creative industry. Change is always a challenge, not least within construction. Whereas other sectors have undergone tremendous change over recent decades, the way that we create buildings has not really changed in the past 40 years or more. 

This kind of challenge simply cannot be overcome without a global movement and sustained efforts from a diverse group of actors. As part of the Transforming Construction Challenge, the Transforming Construction Network Plus (N+) is uniting academic and industrial communities to create a new research and knowledge base, dedicated to address the systemic problems holding back the sector. Since November 2018, the N+ has been working with people across construction and beyond, aiming to create a movement to explore new perspectives, ideas, and collaborations. 

Committed to the role that interdisciplinarity will play in this, the N+ brings together people across the digital, energy, construction, and manufacturing space. It is organising events which offer carefully curated opportunities to learn from others. From academic to industry representatives, the attendees experience cutting-edge research and have the chance to re-imagine how their own expertise could contribute to the Transforming Construction agenda.

Facilitating new collaborations, the N+ provides funding for research projects which unites academics from different universities to bring the best knowledge to the rest of the programme and maximise exposure across industry. The funding calls encourage the community to take a novel perspective and to explore methods and theories from a wide range of disciplines. This is also a tough gig for the construction academic community - scholarly work in construction management tends to lag behind its peers in engineering and management disciplines in the same way that its own industry domain lags behind manufacturing and ICT. That is why, as part of the N+ core activities, companies' responses to the Construction Sector Deal, and the stimulus of the Transforming Construction Challenge are a focus for research. 

With construction tsars targeting a 2.4% investment in R&D from the sector, the N+ is campaigning for a refreshed, positive mindset. And experience shows that the N+ is opening a door to the world. Offering international webinars and disruptive conferences with guest industry and academic speakers from as far away as Hong Kong and San Francisco, the N+ explores innovative perspectives, and how they could deliver a 'tipping point' in the sector. 

Together, we reflect every day on our experience to shape a network which will answer the needs of the industry and its actors and stakeholders. Moving towards a new way to think and to create, the N+ aims to open the possibilities and change the ways in which we do research in construction. Changing the way that we build necessitates changing the way that we think.