Dr Paolo Tombesi

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)
W078 featured speaker

"To identify with and embrace a culture of building critically, the elements of that culture must be accessible and open to scrutiny."

Trained as an architect in Italy, Paolo Tombesi has a long-nurtured interest in the analysis of the building process and the division of technical labour in complex projects, particularly in the way their structure emerges from design documentation. He has been working as a consultant for state and federal governments on research and heritage issues, most notably on the 2006 World Heritage Listing nomination to UNESCO of the Sydney Opera House, which he continues to study to this day.


He is currently Full Professor of Construction and Architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), where he also directs the research laboratory FAR. Prior to his appointment in Switzerland he held the Chair in Construction at the University of Melbourne.


'To what end' technology?
The difficult externalization of project knowledge

The generation and optimization of data serving the needs of the temporary coalitions in charge of building projects is, today, almost a fait accompli. We discuss qualitative aspects and marginal improvements in the simulative, analytical, and instructional abilities of digital information systems rather than their capacity to rise to the task tout court. This is practically a given from a technological perspective, at least in advanced economies. In common parlance, the availability of such technology assumes a collective meaning, denoting the state of the industry, as it were, rather than individual applications to specific projects protecting their information boundaries from competitive interests. Unfortunately, the latter provides a better description of construction, a field where relevant project-gained knowledge tends to be protected from external purveyors in order to build comparative advantage or defend acquired market rents. The irony is that, the more we might come to know about our work and its efficacy, the more we may want to keep it from others. So, how can the wealth of information produced by the combination of natural and artificial intelligence on many construction sites today ooze out of their perimeters and become industrial knowledge? Is the solution embedded in the tools employed or in the policies regulating their use?