After 40 years it is still all about time!

An ever-present consideration throughout my 40-plus-year engineering career has been the preoccupation of the construction industry with time; how time is best utilised, and the impact that time has on structural design and the construction of buildings and structures.

How often have we heard someone say, “I could have done much better with another hour, day, week, month or even a year,” referring to the preparation of structural designs, or an aspect of building construction. Just as likely, you will hear someone say, “Why did it take so long….?!”

It is apparent to all of us that some types of buildings and structures can be built more quickly and efficiently than others – this is directly linked to the utility or purpose of the building, and the architectural form of the building.  There is a common understanding that not all buildings are the same.

Historically, designers and contractors have been able to build complex structures quite efficiently; there is no better example than the construction of the Empire State Building in the early 1930s.  The 100-storey building was completed in a record thirteen-and-a-half months.  We are all aware of projects where the outcomes have not reached anywhere near the time efficiency standard set by the Empire State Building.

More recently – due to advances in structural analysis capabilities, understanding of materials, inspired architecture, and visionary clients – we have witnessed the design of more and more challenging structures which generally present a unique set of circumstances that need to be resolved during the design and construction stages.  Jubilee Place in Brisbane is an example of this.

Image 1 – Jubilee Place - an amazing example of modern building design

Each modern building or structure that is designed and built, such as super-tall towers, museums, stadiums, convention centres and airports offer challenges that impact on the time required for both design and construction.  We can all hear our clients saying that this building must be finished on this day, due to overriding commitments relating to funding, or hosting a special event.

The link between design and construction is fundamental to a project’s delivery and must be tightly managed.  Time can only be controlled through a coordinated and integrated approach to design and construction.   At RBG, we embrace the challenges that are identified during design development, and we try to resolve these challenges during the design phase.  We do not ignore these challenges and hope that they will be resolved later by the contractor and their subcontractor team.

At RBG, we often say to our clients and fellow designers – “Don’t kick the can down the road.”  So what to do, instead? Address issues of design and their impacts on construction as they are identified.  Invest the intellectual capital needed when it is needed.  Don’t pass on a problem to another party who may have less time, resources, and skills to resolve design and construction issues.

To address these challenges, I developed with my colleagues at RBG the Construction Methodology and Erection Sequence (CMES) Approach for the construction of iconic and complex structures.  From the feasibility design stage, right through to the construction stage, we consider in parallel –

  • the Permanent Works Design
  • the Construction Methodology and Erection Sequence
  • the Temporary Works requirements

These elements are considered as one integrated deliverable because this approach will save time. Refer to the RBG CMES/PWs/TWs Engineering Design Interaction Chart, Figure 1 below.

Image 1 – Jubilee Place - an amazing example of modern building design

The successful development and delivery of design for modern iconic structures and buildings requires an understanding of construction engineering, and the construction engineering in a parallel role, working with the structural engineer and the whole permanent works design team. Refer to Image 2 and Image 3 below, for examples of how success can be achieved via this approach.

Image 2 – CMES Approach for Design and Construction - Hong Kong Passenger Clearance building Leighton Chun Wo Joint Venture

It is my experience that a critical element of the Construction Engineers’ role during design development – during the pre-construction phase of the project – is to develop a practical, robust, and safe approach to the construction of the building or structure in question. This will allow accurate benchmarking of the budget and programme.  This is achieved by developing a CMES that is fully integrated into the permanent works design.  It is recommended that a CMES is developed as early as possible, so that the permanent works design can be adjusted and adapted as necessary – to make the structure safer, more cost-effective and more time-efficient to construct.

There are several key aspects to be considered in the development of the project CMES that will positively enhance the prospects for the delivery of the project, which I have not elaborated on here; they are listed below for information and inspiration:

  • Site constraints
  • Design
  • Material Selection
  • Sustainability
  • Budget
  • Procurement methodology
  • Programme / schedule
  • Health and Safety (including disease control)
  • Construction systems and equipment
  • Methods
  • Sequences
  • Labour
  • Industrialisation, artificial intelligence and productivity
  • Risk management and mitigation strategy
  • QA/QC
  • Approvals

Consideration of these key aspects should occur in collaboration with the client, design team, and – in due course – the contractor and their specialist subcontractors and consultant teams.

The CMES can address all major buildability aspects of the permanent works structural design including the temporary support of the major excavation, foundation, structure and façade elements. The CMES is verified by a detailed process that we refer to as Staged Construction Analysis (SCA). The SCA examines the major building elements at all stages of the design and erection and remains an integrated part of the permanent works design.

Image 3 – CMES Approach for Design and Construction – Kuwait International Airport New Passenger Terminal (Terminal 2) Limak Insaat Kuwait SPC

Although the CMES Approach can add the most value to a project when it is introduced as early as possible during the pre-construction phase of the permanent works design, we have found that the CMES Approach is relevant to all stages of the design and construction cycle. Refer to Figure 2 – Building Life Cycle.

Figure 2 – Building Life Cycle

It is RBG’s experience – developed over 40 years of providing Construction Engineering services for many of the world’s modern iconic buildings and long-span steel structures – that a well thought-out CMES, fully integrated into the permanent works design of the structure, enhances the prospects of a project being successfully delivered, safely, on budget and – of course – on time.


Soon, we will also have to consider the developing impacts of artificial intelligence on design and construction, as robotics is introduced further into design and construction roles.  We know that there is a global push towards industrialisation of building design and construction to increase productivity and reduce time on site.  These developing trends cannot be avoided.

Finally, I would like to leave you with my thoughts on time and its impact on the future of design and construction.  I predict that structural designers and the construction industry will continue to be more and more focused on time and how the delivery of buildings and structures can be improved whilst meeting all their unique challenges.  Remember – don’t kick the can down the road, thinking that it will save you time; experience tells that this will only exacerbate your problems, so instead – try implementing the CMES Approach.

Nick Barker
Global Manager – Infrastructure, Construction and Resources