by Richard McPartland
Uncertainty has been the watchword for 2016.
The Brexit decision and American election result have loomed large this year and those looking for respite in 2017 may be hard pressed to find it.
The UK government’s plan to trigger Article 50 by March and the prospect of elections in Germany and France means we must continue to expect the unexpected. Meanwhile, our financial markets and political systems are playing catch-up, adjusting to new realities that seem to be unfolding at rapid pace.
If evidence were needed as to the speed of change, remember that this was the year that saw David Cameron resign, just over a year after securing a Conservative majority that confounded the pollsters, wounded by a wave of anti-establishment populism that would see Donald Trump become US president elect and in recent days the resignation of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.
At the start of the year, with memories of the dark days of recession starting to fade a little, it had been hoped that 2016 would be the year that would see sustained growth. While that optimism may have faded a little, the sector has, on the whole, proved remarkably resilient with a dip in output evident but no sign of a full-scale recession. The industry is watching and waiting to see if our Brexit is hard, soft, red, white and blue or something not yet imagined.
NBS has carried out two surveys, taking the temperature of the sector post-referendum – in Q3 and Q4 this year. Our findings serve as an important industry bellwether as those who design buildings are often good predictors of what will happen to the broader construction industry. This is because design work is the earliest work; so, if it tails off, in time, so will construction output. Current projections suggest that even though the economy is performing better than expected right now, the referendum result will be a downward pressure for at least the next two to three years.
While there is evidence of projects being paused or cancelled as investors opt for a cautious ‘wait and see’ approach there is also evidence of significant long-term investment. Indeed, only last month the Chancellor’s first and last Autumn Statement laid out new ground-rules for UK economic policy with the announcement of ‘high-value investment’ in infrastructure and housing with the aim of keeping UK construction buoyant. The publication of a new National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline should also serve to boost productivity while a white paper looking at options for meeting the ‘urgent challenge’ of affordable homes has also been promised in 2017.
At the year end, the RIBA Future Trends survey also paints a picture of cautious optimism. Practices citing the value of work they have in progress increasing (albeit at a lower rate than in previous years), optimism from medium-sized practices and renewed confidence from larger firms when it comes to staffing and workloads.
The industry is watching and waiting to see if our Brexit is hard, soft, red, white and blue or something not yet imagined.
The road to a digital future for construction picked up pace in 2016. This was the year of the mandated use of BIM Level 2 on all public sector projects, after all. In October we found out more about the scope of Digital Built Britain – the next phase of digitisation in the construction sector. This will see more support and British Standards for BIM Level 2 and the development of the BIM Level 3 programme. The programme will include ground-breaking work on data infrastructure and is seen as fundamental to delivering a range of other Government digital transformation objectives, including building successful UK sectors in smart cities, cyber and physical security and realising the potential of the Internet of Things.
2016 was the year when technologies that were previously the reserve of science fiction started to enter the mainstream. The Oculus offered a modern take on those virtual reality helmets we saw in the late 1990s, Pokémon Go offered a playful and addictive take on augmented reality and an Xbox Kinect sensor powered a new take on visualising topography. The drones and robots are also coming FOR us. All offer a tantalising glimpse of a future where clients and designers can virtually stroll around spaces before they are even built as data from across the supply chain comes together to power data-rich models.
2016 was the year when technologies that were previously the reserve of science fiction started to enter the mainstream.
At NBS the £5.8m redevelopment of our Newcastle headquarters served as an ideal opportunity to put our tools to good use on the project and explore a BIM approach at close quarters making our home at the Old Post Office a place to be proud of.
As a BIM approach increasingly becomes business as usual the demand for manufacturer's BIM objects showed no signs of slowing in 2016. This year has seen almost 250,000 objects downloaded from the NBS National BIM Library and 13,234 new objects added to the site. 2016 also saw the NBS BIM Object Standard take on an international dimension helping to ensure that global construction professionals can reap the rewards of high quality BIM objects. As we reported in our National BIM Report - there's a clear appetite for high-quality manufacturer objects that shows no signs of abating.
It's worth mentioning that, even in a digital world, specification remains crucial. This year RIBAproductselector.com continued to grow its building products library for construction professionals with thousands of new entries added making it easy for specifiers to choose the right products for their projects.
With the construction industry feeling nervy post-referendum it's encouraging to see continued investment in training and professional development. RIBA's CPD roadshow programme continued to prove popular in 2016 (and there's another packed programme in store for 2017) and almost 200 new CPD materials added to the RIBAcpd.com site helping keep skills sharp. Our calendar of conferences and expos you won't want to miss is worth a look to plan your development in the year ahead.
As we close out 2016, we've asked for contributors across the construction industry to offer their predictions and key trends to watch for in 2017 and launched our 2017 NBS Annual with some entertaining reading for over Christmas break including our gift guide, a playful take on specifying a Christmas tree, the ultimate playlist for construction professionals and a chance to put your BIM knowledge to the test with our Big BIM Crossword.
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For now, all that remains is to wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2017.