Étienne Crépon, president of the CSTB

Three trends are shifting the lines: the digital revolution, building industry transformations – of which renovation is the driving force – and the emphasis on performance in construction and renovation

The building industry has considerable economic weight, equivalent to that of the automotive industry, but its fragmentation is having a negative impact on its competitiveness. Traditionally, car manufacturers impose their decisions on other players of the production chain, whereas building construction or renovation involves the synergies of complementary players without a natural leader. The success of a project depends on the active collaboration of various trades, often making it a challenge to share a common vision. Low profit margins reflect an erosion in efficiency in the sector while R&D for innovation is receiving little investment: the construction industry only devotes one thousandth of its turnover to research and development. This falls far short of the goal of 2 percent set by the Lisbon Strategy, the structural plan that drove EU economic and development policy between 2000 and 2010.

Construction sector undergoing profound change

Three trends are shifting the lines. The first is the expanding digital revolution, coupled with increased skills among all project management and implementation stakeholders on the technical and organizational levels. Building information modeling (BIM) is fundamentally changing the construction process. Its object-based approach to problems is naturally creating consensus around projects whose operational elements will be less dispersed.

The second phenomenon is the transformation of the construction industry. Historically, new construction was the driving force of the sector. Today, renovation is contributing just as much. This shift is intensifying with the energy and environmental transitions. Although efforts in new construction are continuing, renovation is now the major issue, including in government policy. This shift is part of the overall transformation of the construction sector.

The third change results from the previous two: the growing demand on the part of users and clients for results-based performance in new and renovated buildings, as opposed to means-based requirements.

Profound transformations are in motion. This can be seen in the adoption of digital technologies. The number of accounts on the KROQI collaborative platform has grown more than 70% in less than six months. This public platform, which the government entrusted to the Scientific and Technical Center for Building (CSTB) as part of the French National Digital Transition Plan for Construction (PTNB), aims at facilitating access of VSEs and SMEs in the construction industry to collaborative BIM tools. Over 6,000 small companies can now connect to the platform developed by the CSTB. All the quantitative and qualitative indicators demonstrate that the use of digital tools is growing rapidly. And it’s not a fad but a vital mobilization of construction industry stakeholders.

The CSTB provides guidance

The CSTB helps stakeholders navigate through these structural transformations, in collaboration with public authorities. In addition to the development of the KROQI platform, we are participating in the digitization of building codes. To tackle the challenges of energy transition, we are working on the industrialization of energy renovation systems and the development of performance assessment methods for renovated buildings. And we continue our work at the neighborhood level because energy-related challenges are far more evident at this scale than at the scale of a single building. The CSTB conducts this work in line with its research road map for 2025 which sets our goals for each of the Center’s major scientific priorities.

At the same time, the demand for energy performance guarantees (GPE) intensifies the need for third-party assessments by experts in all stages of the building process. The CSTB is strengthening its presence, particularly at the construction material and system selection stage, through its assessment and certification activities. The growing number of assessments conducted by the CSTB in 2017 attests to this, as well as the creation of seven new or enhanced certifications launched in the same year.

In the area of service and support, the CSTB is stepping up its efforts to assist small businesses, which constitute the main pipeline of innovations to come. To support start-ups and help them grow, the CSTB created the CSTB’Lab. Developed with Impulse Lab, this incubator already hosts 11 young companies in the process of negotiating research partnerships who receive individual guidance from mentors from among CSTB Group researchers.

The CSTB also promotes the upskilling of all stakeholders in the industry by sharing knowledge. It continually enriches its catalogue of publications, software and training courses, with a special focus on the major challenges in energy transition and the digital revolution.

DIn a fast-changing world, CSTB Group employees rose to new challenges throughout the year and remained committed to helping industrial companies make the necessary environmental and digital transitions, and to supporting the State, including in times of tragedies, such as the Grenfell Tower fire and the hurricane Irma. In 2017, they pursued their mission with dedication.

In a globalized world, and as the Paris Agreement enters into effect, the challenges of these transformations are felt worldwide. The CSTB is therefore all the more eager to continue and strengthen its international partnerships. Among the most significant agreements signed in 2017 is cooperation with Tecnalia, in Spain, to develop HQE certification and conduct research in BIM and in energy/environmental efficiency, and a partnership with the Chinese Society for Urban Studies (CSUS) to develop sustainable cities in China.

Deeply engaged in the global transformations in the construction sector, the CSTB, as always, mobilizes all its forces to help create cities and buildings that are more sustainable and comfortable.

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