There are some concerns that increased modularisation, robotics and automation, as well as a move to niche customisation and optimisation, will lead to job losses for traditionally-skilled construction labour and professionals undertaking work which can now be undertaken more efficiently by robots. This will no doubt be the case, but the accompanying increases in productivity, combined with ongoing increasing demand, could mean that more projects could be designed and built, hence labour will still be required.
As Christensen espoused in his theory of disruptive innovation, change needs to occur at the bottom of the market, typically with a new entrant offering a significantly lower cost alternative to the masses. He continued that the focus should be on ‘the job that needs to be done’, rather than the product or service itself. Applied to design and construction, this means that a house, office, school or hospital, need to fulfil the need of the customer to live, work, be educated or receive healthcare, as opposed to be objects of high design value.
So, what precedents need to exist for significant change to occur in the design and construction of buildings?
If we look at history, disruptive innovations have occurred when:
- There is a burning platform for change eg. the post-war construction of housing estates in the UK and Europe to cater for thousands of displaced citizens or the current global trends of population increases and urbanisation
- Affordability has become an issue for the majority so a significant customer base is ripe for a disruptive product or service – as in the case of automobile ownership in the early 20th century or ridesharing in the 21st century
- New technologies are enabling change – for example 3D design, 3D printing and ‘on-site factories’
- New materials are creating opportunities – such as the emergence of mass engineered timber (MET) and precast concrete which are enabling off-site, modularised construction of standardised components
- Supply chains are aligned to enable ease of delivery of components to create cost-effective and fast manufacture, as achieved by Henry Ford with his optimised assembly lines