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Knowledge across cultures in the construction industry: sustainability, innovation and design

Demaid,A   Quintas, P

Technovation   26 (5-6) 603-610

May 2006

In the construction industry both the design and management processes differ significantly from the stylised models usually promoted in the academic and business press. To the complexity that is normal business in construction industry projects add the uncertainty associated with the changing legal and ethical imperatives of sustainable development and the result is a mess. Innovative products, together with the companies that make them, are being built on the back of a rigged market in recycled raw materials and policy changes are spawning unintended consequences.

Making sense of those processes that use knowledge about sustainability, at the level of the firm, is particularly daunting because companies behave differently in different international contexts. The problem is further complicated by the collaborative nature of projects; specialization and the need to communicate with and between experts increases both costs and uncertainties.

We discuss a fundamental tension between understanding knowledge creation and use, and the drive to capture processes in formal documents and systems.

We propose similarities between developments in the field of sustainability and developments in the field of risk, with risk having the advantage of being further down the evolutionary line. Both fields have strong dimensions of formal rules and socio-economic behaviours. Such complexity, we argue, requires a number of perspectives to make sense of how knowledge is used in construction and allied industries.