Saturday, March 17, 2012

Declining productiving in the construction industry?

While many industries are increasingly "data-driven" (within the software community Google is frequently lauded and criticized for being too engineering and data focused), the building industry suffers from a dearth of good data. While information related to real estate is very abundant, little credible data from the building industry itself is publicly available, especially about process efficiencies (mostly inefficiencies).

While increasing productivity is widely recognized as a way to lower cost, the building industry is almost unique in that it is generally believed to be growing less productive. Below are some images and sources which use very diverse (and incomplete) data reflecting productivity.

The chart above is from Steven's Construction Institute and measures productivity in dollars per employee. It includes data up to 2011.

The following chart created by Paul Teicholz, Professor Emeritus at Stanford, and co-author of The Building Information Handbook, is one of the most frequently cited sources showing declining productivity.

Below the chart Paul makes clear the lack of available data which makes it impossible to drill down deeper in the industry. The data reflects constant dollars over hourly workers so while it does indicate declining productivity, it only provides a general industry overview and only includes data up to 2003.

In an AECbytes interview about the article Paul provides many reasons for the continuing decline. It is definitely worth reading and although the chart is dated, the change-resistant building industry largely remains stuck in its old and inefficient ways.

Can productivity be raised through increased used of information technology and cnc fabrication? McGraw Hill released a SmartMarket Report in 2011 addressing exactly this topic, "Prefabrication and Modularization, Increasing Productivity in the Construction Industry." The report is survey-based but contains some interesting data in the 56 pages. There are many views on this topic which is not surprising given that the industry is extremely large (about a trillion dollars annually in the U.S.) and extremely fragmented (not to mention the poor data available) so it is difficult to demonstrate increased productivity at scale. However, a recent 10 million Euro study - Manubuild - by a group of industry leaders provides a strong supportive case as does growing interest in what is referred to as Integrated Design and Delivery Solutions (IDDS). These are interesting topics to debate but I believe the best way to demonstrate how information technologies can increase productivity is simply to demonstrate it on real building projects rather than endlessly debating the topic in academic publications.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Case for Tall Wood Buildings - Free 235+ page PDF on prefab wood buildings

An impressive network of collaborators in British Columbia just released this free 240 page pdf report and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in :

  • Solid Wood Walls / Cross-laminated timber / X-lam
  • Tall residential structures (20+ stories, 30+, and more)
  • Digital Fabrication of wood-framed buildings
  • CNC fabrication and passive house buildings
  • The organizations supporting innovation in the wood industry in Canada
  • The future of wood-frame building

The lead author is the architect Michael Green of MGB Architecture in North Vancouver. This research project was supported and included collaboration with FPInnovations, WoodWorksBC, the Canadian Wood Council, Equilibrium Consulting (structural support author, J. Eric Karsh) and others.

Michael Green is one of the leading proponents/advocates for innovative and green wood building in Canada. The videos below are from Michael and demonstrate his passion for innovation using Canada's abundant and renewable natural resource -wood.

In this video Michael speaks about designing with wood and airports.

And here he is speaking passionately about wood as an ideal building material.

Michael Green - "The Challenge of Housing the World and the Role of Wood" Part 1

Part 2

And here he is at TedX Vancouver speaking about "Love, Laughter, Sushi: World Housing and Climate Change".

Monday, March 5, 2012