Skip to main content

Design/Construction Hype Cycle

Technology & Hype?
Nothing to see here!
In the IT world, there is a constant churn of new technologies and techniques, each being billed as the greatest innovation since sliced bread. Concepts such as Augmented Reality, Internet of Things & Virtual Personal Assistants (Siri et al.) are some examples of technologies in 2016 that futurists are predicting will become adopted by the mainstream in due course, and businesses throughout the IT ecosystem are falling over themselves to capitalise on the next Uber (Service on Demand) or Skype (Virtual Presence). The technologies offered up are commonly a product of the state of the art available at the time & societal cues to go along with them, and there is a whole ecosystem with vested interests advising the world's businesses on which technologies they should invest in.

A droll commentary on these technologies is offered up by an analysis company in the IT ecosystem, in the form of the Gartner Hype Cycle, which charts the up-and-coming technologies in vogue, and to what degree their impact on the world has been exaggerated. A study of this chart, whilst I worked in the IT ecosystem for a while (coincidentally on a product which sits on the Hype Cycle spectrum), made me realise that we have the same hype cycle in the design / construction industry, albeit on a more local scale, and longer time interval.

Hope everyone
can reach the button
When I entered the design / construction industry as a fresh faced electrical engineer in a Dublin design consultancy, in the 2007 calm before the storm of the Celtic Tiger's demise, it quickly became apparent that in every design, one had to consider the disabled access quite intently. All of the consultancy tenders we answered to seek work had a question on how we would handle disability access in our design, and architects were captivated with reducing the angle of the slopes in front of their buildings.
I am firmly of the belief that designing for disabled access in buildings is a hallmark of a forward thinking, inclusive society, and has the added bonus of also improves the use of buildings by the able bodied too, so accordingly I embraced all of the disabled access techniques in my designs. Henceforth, all of my light switches were at an accessible 1.4m above the finished floor level, high frequency lighting was specified in lieu of potentially stroboscopic mains frequency, and no landing outside a lift door went without a refuge telephone. My tome of the Irish building regulations part M was well thumbed!

Forget GDP - Cranewatch
Looking back now on that time in 2007 when disabled access was the buzzword, I begin to wonder if the emphasis on disabled access was a driven in response to a wider societal trend, whereby there was intense inequality in the distribution of wealth as a result of the Celtic Tiger - those involved in the industries which propelled Ireland to new found wealth (mainly construction, but some IT & pharma too) were growing richer all the time, whereas everyone else was feeling left out. Was the design emphasis on equal access for all, as espoused in disabled access, a response to societal inequality?

I hypothesise that this societal feedback loop to design/construction trends occurs strongly, and there is a link with technologies available to feed it.

The Irish BER cert, per EU
Building Performance Directive
Take for example, post the disabled access movement, in 2008 - 2009, the sustainable design movement. Here, all of the clients were interested in building running costs post handover, which spurred the use of technologies such as natural ventilation & occupant response systems for control. These weren't new technologies (I recall windows opening for ventilation, as far back as my childhood at least!) but the focus on these was different compared to the preceding decades of air handling units with energy intensive filtration and electric heater batteries to achieve precise internal conditions. This was possibly spurred by the spike in energy costs connected with the worldwide economic crash (see graph of UK petrol prices), and a whole ecosystem of companies claiming to be at the forefront of sustainable design technologies & techniques emerged (e.g. natural ventilation controls companies, solar water, air to water heat pumps, LED lighting etc.) - who can make a fortune on equipment sales and training courses.

And I see similar things since that time - there was the Building Information Modelling movement until 2012 (with software and training to go with it), the Lean Construction movement since about 2014, with the requisite professional services training courses to go along with it (possibly in response to a societal drive to reduce environmental waste?).

So where next for the design / construction industry? Will we see an intersection with some of the technologies on the Gartner Hype Cycle? Google's use of machine learning to optimise it's data centre operation is a notable, however I struggle to see wider appeal beyond hyper scale data centre operators. But it does represent a greater faith in technology by people to optimise systems. As does the growing use of augmented reality in industrial settings.

Perhaps as the buildings we design achieve higher performance & become more complex, and as we evolve towards a more connected & globalised society, our clients will seek refuge from data overload, and will seek smoother hand overs and greater help with operating their systems.

Or maybe: do we need a Design / Construction Hype Chart to see where we are?! Answers on a postcard!