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Shaping digital change in construction from a social and technical perspective – developing a model based on how buildings are created and used.

Strategic Initiatives of the FHNW: Construction

What issue did the project tackle?

The introduction of building information modelling (BIM) has instigated a paradigm shift in the planning, construction and real estate industry. The associated integrated, centralised and property-based management and coordination of project information is having a disruptive impact on work processes, the roles of all those involved (contracting parties, tradespeople and construction companies) and the requirements placed on team structures and project staff.

The IT element of these three-dimensional, digital, information-driven building models is already well advanced. In the bid to realise quality- and cost-related potentials by applying BIM to extensive construction projects early on in their cycle, the key challenges lie primarily in interdisciplinary and cross-company cooperation and establishing largely digitised, consistent project management processes.

This places new demands on the professionals and interdisciplinary teams working with digital building models, as well as on the design of the real and virtual places where this collaboration takes place. By way of support, a strategic initiative – «Sociotechnical Design of the Digital Transformation in Construction» – was launched, which ran from 2018 to 2020 and will be continued in the form of new FHNW initiatives such as the Digital Transformation in Construction Network (NWDWB) and a new degree programme, the MSc in Virtual Design and Construction.

Grafik Digitaler Wandel im Bauwesen FHNW 01.PNG

What results and impacts did the project achieve?

The project pursued two goals: firstly, knowledge about existing and future forms of cooperation in the planning, construction and real estate industry was gathered and evaluated, and secondly, new concepts and tools for practical applications were developed on the basis of the knowledge thus gained.

These concepts and tools were tested with partners from construction companies and SMEs and will continue to be made available to them via the newly founded NWDWB. The network was created within the framework of this strategic initiative and aims to support the industry in the long term throughout the digitisation transformation process. The NWDWB brings together experts from industry, the service sector and the education/training sector concerned with digital construction, fosters exchange between them, helps develop cross-disciplinary skills, and is open to participation by interested companies and individuals.

The «Sociotechnical Design of the Digital Transformation in Construction» strategic initiative also achieved the following impacts:

  • It improved the level of knowledge: thanks to literature research, case studies and scenarios on the current state of digital construction in Switzerland, insights from an interdisciplinary perspective were gained for industry and research. Working alongside industry partners, five main topics were developed which are considered to be the greatest obstacles to the digitisation of the construction industry:
    • Information and communication gaps
    • Difficulties in cooperation
    • Excessive or insufficient standardisation of construction and planning processes
    • Lack of innovation
    • Absence of an operational phase and insufficient consideration of users
  • It strengthened the transfer of research to practice: the newly founded NWDWB heralds the creation of an important hub and contact point for industry and research. The network is linked to the Institute of Digital Construction at the FHNW School of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geomatics, is involved in shaping the digital transformation and promoting interdisciplinarity in the construction industry, and is aimed at interested SMEs in the construction industry in particular.
  • It advanced research on the topic: the strategic initiative established the basis for further, externally funded research projects, which are based on the theoretical and methodological principles that were developed and which are intended to further develop or supplement them.
  • It complemented the teaching: the FHNW already offers robust, forward-looking and practical programmes, including the MAS in Digital Construction and the MSc in Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), as well as other education and continuing education programmes in digital construction. Here, the strategic initiative had a supportive effect by providing insights as a basis for teaching and continuing education, in particular for the development of interdisciplinary products in the realm of continuing education.
  • It contributed actively to digitisation: the project saw active participation in the future planning and building process take place, something that is destined to continue. Among other things, the interdisciplinary project team is organising a specialist congress and has founded the NWDWB.


What distinguished the interdisciplinary collaboration in the project?

As in the construction industry itself, an interdisciplinary expertise structure was indispensable to this project. Due to the hitherto hesitant digitisation of planning and construction processes, it needed:

  • Familiarity with industry-specific processes (FHNW School of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geomatics)
  • Technical expertise, especially in the visualisation and manipulation of digital data (FHNW School of Engineering and FHNW School of Life Sciences)
  • Expertise in cooperation and collaboration as well as in determining the new competencies of project workers (FHNW School of Applied Psychology), and expertise in new business models facilitated by the evolving processes and cooperation procedures (FHNW School of Business)

Interdisciplinary collaboration is key to setting objectives geared towards modifying working methods and the specific processes involved in construction. In the project, this approach was underpinned by integrated objectives and work packages, collaborative project management, a learning phase for interdisciplinary cooperation at the beginning of the project, and joint case studies, development phases and pilot projects.


Prof. Manfred Huber
Prof. Manfred Huber

Leiter Institut Digitales Bauen

Telephone +41 61 228 55 17 (direct)