Tragedies demand we understand “why” before deciding “what” to build

Mark Bew wide

In the wake of the recent Manchester bombing, terror attacks in London and most recently the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire, construction professionals must resist the urge to simply focus on finding solutions such as bomb-proofed arenas, security hardened urban landscapes, and fire-proofed tenement blocks, says PCSG’s chairman Mark Bew in his monthly column for Building Magazine. 

Instead, these tragedies underline why we must seek answers to bigger, longer term questions around how we want to design our future towns and cities and manage security of our communities, through both the built and cyber environments, he says.

“Too often our day to day work is focused on “what” we are designing and delivering,” explains Mark.  “However, investment in infrastructure must fundamentally focus first on understanding the “why” – keeping top of mind the role of investment in sustaining, enhancing and protecting the lives of the people and communities that it serves.”

Mark highlights that the government-backed Digital Built Britain (DBB) programme, which he chairs, appreciates this distinction and sets out to keep the question of “why” we are building infrastructure high on its list of priorities. Simply focusing on delivering the “what” of here and now isn’t enough, he says. 

“Our goal is to leverage a multidisciplinary approach to first understand the questions that will drive the solutions to our future built environment,” says Mark. “It requires a different approach from both clients and professionals. We need to learn the skills of analysis, listening and looking across a much wider horizon, indeed a horizon as wide as our citizens occupy in the day to day cycle of work, rest and play.”

By bringing together understanding around cities, embedding digital technology into our lives and developing a focus on social outcomes and whole life value from our infrastructure investment, we can transform the way we approach the entire process of built environment planning, delivery and service operation, he says.

You can read Mark’s column here (paywall) or view a copy here