Digital Technology Will Change the Culture of the Construction Industry


A vision for the future of the construction industry and society as a whole was shared by Professor Alan Penn in delivering the JCT Povey Lecture 2019, entitled “Our digital future: space and place in a digital world”.

Professor Alan Penn delivered his lecture to JCT delegates at 18 Smith Square, London on Wednesday, 20 November 2019.

Professor Alan Penn showed that throughout human history, developments in technology have impacted the way in which we have developed our built environment, and how we have orientated ourselves in urban spaces over time.

Tracing back towards the development of the first human dwellings around 10,000 BC, through to innovations such as written language, the development of legal and political systems, trade, currency, the emergence of large cities and the impact of the industrial revolution, through to the technological developments in transport and communications, Alan Penn demonstrated not only how our spaces have been shaped by these events, but also how human behaviours have developed within them over time.

Considering the digital age, Alan Penn showed how we are now in another era of rapid development, and reflected that digital, rather than being something that is happening to us, is in fact a product of our own invention, which creates a number of opportunities and challenges.

Specific to the construction industry, the more we can understand the impact of digital technology on our relationship to place and space, the better we make a real and positive difference to the actual development of our construction.

One impact of technologies such as Internet of Things, biometric identity, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, AI, among others, could be to culturally engender more trust throughout the industry by making accountability  and responsibility more transparent.

“Digital is a human invention. We can’t separate out the digital world from our human universe and say it’s happening to us because we have made it and it is our product.”

“We’re now in another period of rapid development with technology such as sensor nets Internet of Things, robotics, AI, biometric identity, etc.

“Using digital technologies such biometric identity to gather real data and build trust could transform culture – both in construction and society”.

Alan Penn is professor of architectural and urban computing, The Bartlett, UCL, and chief scientific advisor to the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government.

He was chair for the Research Assessment Exercise in 2008 and the Research Excellence Framework in 2014 for the subject area of architecture, built environment, and planning – the quinquennial review of university research in the UK.

He is a founding director and chair of Space Syntax Limited, a technology firm that uses advanced computing to assist in urban and building design and masterplanning projects.

He has recently founded the Construction Blockchain Consortium, an industry academic collaboration which is investigating the application of distributed ledger technologies in built environment applications.

The JCT Povey Lecture is an annual event, where an eminent person is invited to give their thoughts on significant matters that are relevant to the construction and property industry. The purpose of the lecture is to stimulate thought and encourage ways of continuing to improve the quality and value of construction output. The event was inaugurated in 2003 to acknowledge and pay tribute to Philip Povey, who served JCT for fifty years.

Video highlights of Professor Alan Penn’s Povey Lecture can be viewed at