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City Conversations: The craft of automation

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The Building Centre

26 Store Street

London

WC1E 7BT

United Kingdom

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The design and construction processes are becoming increasingly automated. Is craft in building reaching the end of the line? Or is computation + prefabrication a new type of craft; and, if so, can the design community respond to preserve a sense of identity and place?

The (increasingly international) technocrats in our industry would like to sell us a vision of a new age and an imminent change in the way we build our cities. New systems of design that can communicate with the manufacturing process. Off-site pre-construction and automation in those processes. Delivery of materials by autonomous vehicles – reducing disruption and making cities safer. Mobile robotics on site making the assembly process more accurate and risk free. These technologies are here and already deployed at the leading edge in many industries from manufacture to agriculture.

Or is it all ‘pie in the sky’ research? The entrenched ‘psychology of a city’ - the behaviour of citizens - is very hard to shift: for example the private petrol-engine car is so efficient and so much part of our lives that autonomous greener vehicles may struggle to displace them. The very reason that the Construction industry is so successfully backward is that the system works. Labour is still relatively cheap and demand for places at craft colleges remains high.

The industry therefore finds itself in a dilemma: should it be more courageous and plan to lead a brave new world of building technology? Supply-side advances will push the progress to some extent. Government policy can also create activity, but often out of sync with the market, which also has an impact. In order to allow us to construct for the future, in a leaner and more efficient way, we will need to be brave and adopt automated systems. But can we still look to design our urban realm in a way that is enduring and pleasing to the eye and the soul.

Chairing: Sarah Prichard, Engineering Director Buro Happold.
Participants: to be confirmed

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The Building Centre

26 Store Street

London

WC1E 7BT

United Kingdom

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