The power of collaboration in construction projects
KvalhoTalks with Martin Joos | Managing Director of Renggli International
Welcome to KVALHO TALKS – a series of interviews and discussions with experts, innovators and entrepreneurs within the building industry. A place where forward-thinking individuals inspire + educate + share their views.
Transformation of the building industry requires not only developing new technologies but also a breakthrough in the mindset of everyone involved and an innovative approach to design collaborations.

Martin Joos, Managing Director of Renggli International, who has led close to 200 construction projects internationally, shares with us his views on how team collaboration, combined with innovative technologies, can improve productivity and efficiency of construction projects.

Enjoy reading KvalhoTalks with Martin Joos.

Could you give us a short overview of your professional background?
I started my career back in the 90's in tunnel construction. I quickly realised that due to the scale and nature of these works, the decision-making and construction processes are rather slow. I wanted to change the field and moved to Singapore to lead an engineering office. 3 years later I returned to Switzerland and was eager to discover the world of the fast track projects and entrepreneurial spirit. The trade show business with its temporary structures was perfect for that. I undertook a Business Development role for a Swiss general contractor which delivered such projects globally. This was a perfect combination for me – international projects, multicultural teams and fast paced construction. This is where I discovered the benefits of collaboration in on-time delivery. There is no such thing as re-scheduling the Olympic Ceremony. The date is always set, and my team had to deliver the project within really tight time schedules – sometimes no more than 4-5 months including design. And we did. The time pressure made us very creative and we always found a way to meet the deadlines. Now at my work at Renggli International I am applying my 12 years' experience in project collaboration to an innovative building technology: the design and production of prefabricated timber structures.

You recently transitioned to a new role as Managing Director of a newly formed company – Renggli International? Can you please tell us what is the specialty of the company?

Renggli International belongs to the Renggli Group , a Swiss leader in the provision of energy efficient, prefabricated multi-storey buildings. Together with my 8-person team, we are developing and managing the design and delivery process for residential and mixed-use building projects abroad – currently we are working on projects in Germany and Italy. Since we are active in foreign markets, we need local expertise to understand building regulations and to deliver these projects successfully. Therefore, we strongly focus on collaborations with local partners including architects, engineers and suppliers. The claim of the company is ''smart building'' and our specialty is providing creative and smart engineering solutions combined with highly skilled project management.
What is the difference in project organisation for temporary versus permanent building projects?
Temporary projects in a trade show business have a guaranteed hand-over date, which makes teams in these projects work creatively and make decisions a few times faster than in regular construction projects. When the hand-over date is fixed and delivery time is tight, there is no time for politics in a project. Everyone is focused on delivering the results and the team spirit in these projects is great. This leads to finding innovative ways to optimise the design and delivery processes. In my previous projects, we always focused on early stage collaborations, where the client, architect, engineers and specialist sub-contractors were working together, coming up jointly with the right solutions in the beginning of the project design. This process was a lot quicker and more cost efficient.

What does it take to apply this working method to permanent building construction?

Surely open-minded stakeholders (private or institutional investors or developers). And of course, a skilled team, trust, united philosophy of all involved parties and smart building solutions which give the budget assurance. The cross-industry collaboration along the value chain has also been included in the Industry Transformation Framework, proposed by The World Economic Forum in the publication "Shaping the Future of Construction".

Are there any projects that are more suitable for an early stage collaboration than others?
Definitely private projects have more potential for applying such a process than public projects. Private clients have the freedom to decide what companies they want to work with and how the team should work together to achieve the best results. Private investors and developers seem to be more focused on the outcome.
The procurement process in public projects must follow strict procedures of tenders and evaluations which makes an early stage collaboration between designers and specialist sub-contractors very limited or almost impossible.
There is a large element of collaboration in the BIM process. Do you think BIM can influence changes in how people work in construction?
BIM is a good instrument to enhance collaboration and to facilitate project management. At the moment many companies claim they are BIM compatible but in reality, they do more of a 3D building modelling not the full-scale building information modelling.
To get full benefits of BIM, we need to learn how to collaborate on a project as a team – not only as separate specialists. The '' Information'' element in BIM requires linking knowledge of all specialists.
How will you advance digitalisation more deeply in your work?
Renggli has always been pioneering in innovative technologies. It started with prefabricated housing, followed by an early investment into state of the art production facilities for modular buildings, the implementation of BIM process from design to production etc. But we know that BIM is most beneficial when it's used in the entire building process and not only production, therefore we hope our design partners will also embrace using this process in a lean and similar way as we do. The specialists will have to learn that. Compatibility of software across all the professionals involved in the projects also needs to be solved and I hope in the future this will become easier.

What is currently stopping the building industry to be efficient and innovative? Do you have any ideas what needs to happen to allow its transformation?

Mainly legislations are the stopper.
It is of course necessary to have rules and standards but if we want to change the industry, we also have to revise the way we work.
There is already enough tools on the market which can support us with that – BIM, digital factories, design and management software, new materials, mixed reality etc. We now need to start using these tools.The construction sites need to be managed properly by skilled people leading a team of skilled workers. At the moment many projects miss this, and the construction sites seem to be decentralised. And again, going back to digital prefabrication, this is definitely an advantage when it comes to running the construction of the projects. You manage to bring engineering and production competences together to be able to produce the building and do 90% of the work off site in the controlled environment.
Can you imagine that prefabrication is applied to every building? Is it possible to automate the construction process?
I am convinced it is possible. I have done that in the past with many pavilion projects. One example is the Coca Cola Beat Box , a sponsor pavilion for the London Olympics 2012. It was not even the question about what material to use but rather the philosophy of smart design that allowed a modular production of a complex building and its garland. I believe that modularity is a future in the classical building industry. The average life span of a building is 60 years but within that time the building will have very different functions. Therefore, we need to make sure we design buildings that can be easily transformed and adapted in the future.

How did you manage the workflow between the architect, engineer and other specialists?

In this particular project we used an FTP platform to share the drawings of all specialists involved. But the real key was making sure that people speak to each other. And to make that happen we had them in the same room, sitting around the table. For the Coca Cola Pavilion, our Swiss team moved to London for 2 months and worked together with the architect- Asif Khan and Pernilla Ohrstedt . They discussed, brainstormed and resolved disputes. The outcome was fantastic. A cross disciplinary team sitting in one room and working jointly on a solution is a simple thing but unfortunately this scenario doesn't happen often enough in reality. This was really efficient, and this is how I imagine a successful project collaboration.

What are your tips for setting up the collaboration process in a construction project?

You start the project with defining who are the right people for the particular project. And of course, establishing clear and efficient project-wide collaborative practices to co-ordinate a great deal of complex information. The Endless Stair project for London Design festival 2013 is a great example. It was a collaboration between the American Hardwood Export Council, British Architects (drmm), International Engineers (ARUP) and Swiss Carpenters (Nüssli). Despite different standards, and construction methods, still unexplored material (tulipwood CLT), and a tight schedule, and different geographical locations of a project team we jointly found a way to design, produce and assemble a modular and mobile wooden object in less than 4 months.
In which areas do you see opportunities for improvement in the construction industry by 2030?
I fear that most of the projects within the construction industry will still look the same as today. But there will be a niche where the bright engineers and contractors are able to implement a new level of construction philosophy. The technology available today enables us to deliver construction projects a better way. But we need to change our mindset to make that happen.
I firmly believe that prefabrication will be a big thing and projects will become more efficient and more innovative. And I am looking forward to being part of this.

INTERVIEW BY JOANNA DEMKOW-BARTLOMÉ