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Call for shift in design approach

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Engineers should stop designing for the future by using the past as their main reference tool and become more flexible and adaptive, according to speakers at this year’s Ecobuild expo in London.

Major Projects Association executive director Denise Bower said that in some cases engineers should shift from forecasting to areas such as scenario planning, vision and working in a more imaginative and creative way.

She said that one of the core parts of teaching future leaders was to give them the tools to move away from traditional ways of planning for the future.

“We teach people that they should be creative on longer term horizons and imagine what life might be like and then work out what that will mean for their future businesses and major projects,” she said. “That’s quite different to looking at the past. You absolutely can learn from the past, but I don’t think on this topic and this horizon you can do that all the time.”

Agreeing with Bower, Bam Nuttall chief executive Steve Fox said that the industry should move from a prescriptive design approach to one which is more flexible and adaptive to future needs.

“We seem to have this obsession with trying to predict the future based on the past,” he said. “I think it’s a real limitation. Will disruptive technology solve the future or will it become useless before we use to use it?

“Our only certainty is that we have no idea what our infrastructure needs will be in 35 years’ time and we need to stop predicting it and start having an approach that accepts that during the life of the infrastructure we’ve got to have an adaptable and flexible approach to it.”

He said that this means imagining what different technologies can do for infrastructure and how that will affect the way it is designed, citing the example of roads where if the “dead space” currently on roads when people are driving is factored out, roads could take up less space overall.

“How we can use our railways in the future? Can we put different vehicles on it that makes better use of it?

“The figures we work to everyday constrain everything we do. If we can see a way of doing something differently then let’s make it as easy to do that.”



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