Digital Design and Construction: Delivering the Intelligent Built Environment

By Joshua Ridley, Founder and CEO of Ridley

For centuries, the world’s built environment has been designed and delivered by the architecture, engineering and construction sector and its forebears. Today the sector’s work practices, design technology and project management are being disrupted by a new approach – digital design and construction.  What is digital design and construction, and what does it mean for the world’s built environment?

Digital Design and Construction (DD&C) is an end-to-end or “lifecycle” approach to generating, capturing and managing building data from the earliest phases of design, through to operations and analytics. It is a cloud-based response to changing community expectations and technological advances that will deliver the “Intelligent Built Environment” of the future.

Community expectations are changing rapidly

Over the last ten years – across every major sector in the global economy – community expectations have changed dramatically.  Yesterday’s products are today’s services, marketed and delivered through customers, not to them.  Customers expect transparency, collaboration and seamless interactivity.

Architecture and construction are struggling to keep up.

A recent World Economic Forum Report – Shaping the Future of Construction – described the engineering and construction sector’s track record for embracing change as “unimpressive”.  The report’s Co-Chair for Infrastructure and Urban Development, John M Beck, said: “The Engineering and Construction (E&C) sector has been slower to adopt and adapt to new technologies than other global sectors.” According to Beck, overall productivity in the sector has remained nearly static for the last 50 years in what is a fragmented industry with major silos in project management.

Overall productivity in the sector has remained nearly static for the last 50 years.

This matters because the industry accounts for six percent of global GDP (up to eight percent in developing countries), consuming fifty percent of global steel production and 3 billion tons of other raw materials each year.  A one percent productivity improvement worldwide could save $100 billion a year. “The Engineering and Construction (E&C) sector has been slower to adopt and adapt to new technologies than other global sectors.” Furthermore, a recent McKinsey and Co report– Imagining construction’s digital future – observed that construction productivity has declined in some markets since the 1990s: “Large (engineering and construction) projects across asset classes typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget.” This is hardly surprising when the construction sector spends less than one percent of its revenues on information technology – compared with four percent in the auto and aerospace sectors and over seven percent in financial.

The Construction industry is among the least digitized. Source: McKinsey & Co


Signs of Life

Despite the sector’s parlous record, there are signs of life.  Almost all processes in the sector are now being digitized, as the industry moves towards the removal of silos between the traditional disciplines of architecture, engineering, construction and project management. In the future, all disciplines will communicate and talk the same language.  Yesterday’s thick walls dividing master planning, design, construction and operations will be replaced by real-time collaboration. This is what we mean by Digital Design and Construction. It’s a platform-agnostic, fully coordinated, more coherent process with operations incorporated into the holistic design and construction process.

Digital Design and Construction is coming fast

The first steps towards DD&C can be seen in the growing adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) as a practice to improve design coordination and quality. With BIM, 3D authoring tools enable visualization, clash detection and improved technical coordination. But BIM is currently limited to engineering firms and architects who do not have control over the entire construction process. We need developers, builders and operators – who control budgets and methodologies, and influence the supply chain – to adopt and embrace BIM too. Another positive step on the road towards DD&C is the uptake of mobile devices.  The complexity of the coordination task on a construction site – and the waste caused by delays – means that construction teams need to be fully connected to deliver the benefits of DD&C. Other elements required for the successful transition to DD&C include technologies and methodologies from the manufacturing world like Lean Construction; Pre-fabricated, Pre-finished Volumetric Construction (PPVC); and on site process optimization.

Smart Devices, dropping sensor costs and the ubiquity of cloud computing is driving change.


What DD&C will mean for the industry

Digital Design and Construction means unprecedented flexibility.  The consequences for the industry will be significant:

  1. The historical dominance of the Master Architect will fade;
  2. The power of the contractor will continue to increase – pushing innovation in design and construction;
  3. Specialist firms and consultants will continue to emerge to replace traditional generalist practices;
  4. Cross-discipline workforce collaboration will become the norm; and
  5. Software, once a secondary consideration, will become the powerful agent for change in the industry.

At Ridley, DD&C means engaging with our global team of designers, partners, contractors and developers through the entire digital building development process, to deliver transformative projects. Ridley is recognised as a world leader in DD&C, working across multiple studio locations, sectors and client joint ventures including collaborations with some of the world’s leading technology companies in Silicon Valley. We are currently collaborating with Flux, originally a Google X venture, to develop custom applications for one of Grocon’s flagship projects, The Ribbon in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.  Over a two day “Hackathon” we rapidly prototyped an application to help Grocon’s construction team with the coordination, management, construction and handover of six 5-star quality hotel rooms. The Flux collaboration is a great example of how Ridley uses DD&C to respond quickly to changing community expectations without compromising the quality of our work. It’s about digitizing the way buildings are designed and delivered, to create an intelligent built environment that enhances the lives of communities.


An exciting future

In the future, the intelligent built environment – made possible by Digital Design and Construction – will transform the lives of millions. Buildings, the environment and infrastructure become an intelligent digital ecosystem communicating with and through employees, residents, commuters, businesses and government service providers. It will continually respond to and evolve with changing environmental conditions, community expectations and technological advances. It will deliver greater economic efficiency, improved environmental outcomes and a better lifestyle for everyone living and working in cities.

Joshua Ridley is the CEO and founder of the business. For more information about Ridley, please contact Joshua Ridley at or Gareth Stewart, Business Development Manager, at