Transforming the construction industry

Expertise is built on research that must react to a changing environment.
Civil Engineering Day 2020
Professor Leena-Korkiala-Tanttu and the panelists Jyrki Keinänen (left), Ville Alajoki, Jussi Aho and Mika Lautanala discuss the state of the construction industry. Photo: Teemu Ojala Foto

In early February, nearly a hundred experts from Aalto University and companies in the field of construction gathered in Dipoli to attend Civil Engineering Day 2020, the annual stakeholder event of the Aalto University Department of Civil Engineering.

Professor Jari Puttonen, the head of the Department of Civil Engineering, gave the event's opening words, stating that stakeholder collaboration is essential to the success of the department and its students. Professors Günther Filz and Jussi Leveinen presented the current research areas of the department, mineral-based materials and mechanics and building design and construction.

Remarks from stakeholder representatives addressed the role of research in construction and the funding of research activities.

Fira CEO Jussi Aho noted that the construction industry is going through a period of great changes. The business is being transformed by not only climate change but also new technologies, digitalisation, internationalisation and new business models. A changing environment also demands renewal from research.

Construction is poised to develop a lot in the coming years, and according to Aho, the key questions revolve around increasing user value, creating environmentally sustainable solutions and enhancing the predictability of return on investment.

Jyrki Keinänen, CEO of A-Insinöörit Oy, said that the construction sector must pay more attention to what effects its operations have on the environment and end users. He added that his company is investing heavily into its own research, but that he also has high hopes of the Aalto University-coordinated Building 2030 project, which the entire industry stands to benefit from. 

'We must make space for entrepreneurship and people who think differently,' he added.

Project Manager Ville Alajoki of the City of Helsinki spoke about the industry's development from a client's perspective.

'Construction is accelerating and the world is changing, so we are always looking for new experts to join the field. Studying a changing world is important, as it can lead to new ideas for research and therefore education as well,' he remarked.

Mika Lautanala, head of international innovation partnerships at Business Finland, stated that the organisation is looking to foster sustainable growth in Finnish companies and thus build welfare in the country as a whole.

'This is the reason we demand industrial applicability from the research we fund. In Finland, we have long-standing traditions in collaboration between companies and universities, which is a key factor in building welfare,' he said.

Civil Engineering Day 2020

Construction struggles with the structures, processes and brand of the industry

In a panel discussion hosted by Professor Leena Korkiala-Tanttu, Aho, Keinänen and Lautanala identified a lack of resources, the structures and processes of the sector and a weak brand as the key problems of the construction industry.

Seeing the big picture of research in the area is difficult, as companies conduct their own research and few horizontal clusters exist. Sharing benefits and responsibilities is a major challenge for the field. New business models are thus needed.

On the other hand, directing research to the areas of greatest need was considered to be more important than the amount of research. There are major trends in the changing environment that are highly relevant to construction.

The panelists also highlighted a branding problem in the field. Positive examples, achievements and opportunities offered by the industry to contribute to building a sustainable society have not received enough visibility to make it an attractive field to young people.

Fabian ja Jaakko Ahvenaisen rahaston palkintojen saajat 2020 / Kuva: Teemu Ojala
Recipients of grants from the Fabian and Jaakko Ahvenainen Foundation. From left to right: Tran Dinh, Abebe Zemenu, Jami Qvisen, Hermanni Morander, Miika Koljonen and Toni Makkonen. Foto: Teemu Ojala

Top students recognised by the Fabian and Jaakko Ahvenainen Foundation

The event also featured an awards ceremony for accomplished students of bridge engineering as well as structural engineering and building physics, who were given grants by the Fabian and Jaakko Ahvenainen Foundation. More information: 

Department of Civil Engineering

Eight doctoral students and approximately 80 master's students graduated from the Department of Civil Engineering in 2019. The number of full-time doctoral students was 40, which translates to roughly ten civil engineering doctoral graduates every year. The department reached its research output target, producing roughly 80 international publications annually.

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