And why we need to design infrastructure that people will love and want to pay for
Design goes on designing. This is a notion that I always share. Along with the reminder that the space shuttle is the size and proportion to a horse’s backside.
If we go back to Roman times, the size of roads and chariots affected the size of rails, affecting the size of tunnels, which affected the size of the infrastructure. When engineers were inventing space shuttle rocket boosters, they were limited by the size of transportation. This means that their decision was ultimately decided for them thousands of years before the invention.
The purpose of this reminder is that the things we design can have long lives and long-term effects. We need to think about this when designing infrastructure for today and beyond.
The infrastructure and construction sectors are not generally known for taking sustainability and scalability into account, which I believe needs to be at the centre of decision-making when designing infrastructure.
In my role as the Managing Director at Innergise, I am focused on navigating complexity and improving productivity to help government and private industry bodies shape our cities, regions, and communities.
From my experience, the fragmentation of the infrastructure value chain is a significant impediment that we need to overcome. Literally, billions of dollars are being wasted, or unrealised, because of the way the commoditised approach to design and development occurs in creating public and private infrastructure every year.
What are the complexities of sustainability and scalability?
Currently, the infrastructure and construction sectors are not required to deal with sustainability. Therefore, there’s confusion between what we should be doing and what we are required to do. As a collective, we need to start discussing, who needs to require that sustainable infrastructure be created by design rather than as a nice-to-have add-on
There is also the perception that creating sustainable and scalable infrastructure is more costly and difficult. But when sustainability objectives are built into the design and development process from the outset, and more clever approaches to design are adopted, it’s feasible to save millions of dollars in capex and opex and reduce development risk.
People often tell me that sustainability is like safety – it’s an important design issue on every project. But the similarity ends there. Everyone has a different perception and opinion of sustainability. I’ve spent nearly 10 years of my life leading sustainability by design across many infrastructure projects locally and abroad and have found everyone has a different view on sustainability. For some, it’s about being green, for others, it’s about doing the right thing by a community, and for the rest, it’s about economic sustainability.
I spent a couple of years working with thousands of professionals to deconstruct the perceptions of sustainability, then rebuilding a new narrative and common language about sustainability, and what it means to communities, investors, and regulators in real terms. We found that we need to start asking ourselves how we can design assets or projects that people will love and want to pay for. So, how do we create an infrastructure that has a long-run value that people believe are inherently great things to build?
Thinking on a broader scale and asking these types of questions will help us see how we can start overcoming these complexities and seeking solutions to real problems.
How do we overcome the complexities of sustainability and scalability?
We need to start asking the right questions. There is a lot of untapped opportunity in the infrastructure sector to be designing and delivering much higher value and sustainable infrastructure. One of the main areas for improvement in critical thinking about the purpose and value of infrastructure and ‘intentional design’.
Rather than designing infrastructure and convincing people this is something they want or see as useful, we need to ask ourselves, what is a piece of construction that people love, and let this guide our design. I often hear experienced executives say that the big project risks are not so technical as social and environmental. These are the risks we need to eliminate (not mitigate) by clever design. The unthinking response is this can’t be done, but it can.
With the opportunity for the Olympics and Paralympics to be held in Brisbane in 2032, we are required to build a sustainable-type event. However, this is an opportunity to not just build a sustainable-type event, but also an opportunity for learning and asking ourselves, what transferable, scalable, and profitable learnings can we facilitate through this event that can be carried beyond Brisbane and 2032.
How do we navigate these opportunities together?
Sustainability and scalability are not generally realised to the extent that they should be, which is why think tanks like the Infrastructure CoLab, need to bring attention to those in a way that gains traction and scale, which is a phenomenal return for not only the infrastructure investors but also the Australian community. The work the Infrastructure CoLab is conducting is critical, particularly tackling gaps in the industry, in achieving tangible outcomes that support learning and scalability.
If you want to fuel progress and prosperity, navigate complexity, and create new value, join the CoLab today. https://infrastructurecolab.com/