There are those who bellyache that the construction industry is stagnant and lacks innovation and productivity gains. They have complained that it takes too long for the adoption of new technology to advance the built environment. And they blame this on the fragmented nature of the industry, individual and collective aversion to risk, a litigious and unforgiving society and general reluctance to change. 

The age of whining is over, thanks to the Charles Pankow Foundation, and especially one of its pro bono directors, Ron Klemencic, who is ENR’s 53rd Award of Excellence winner. In his day job he serves as chairman and CEO of Magnusson Klemencic Associates, but he has also spent a decade as the “poster practitioner” of the foundation’s approach to cooperative R&D for improving U.S. buildings. The foundation has spent $12 million on such collaborations, and Klemencic has proven the model works (see p. 34).

Impatient for change, Klemencic knows there is a need to scale up Pankow’s funding power. So he is inviting leaders of the industry to crowd fund a national R&D collective to advance the built environment. Klemencic figures if each buildings sector company contributes 2% of its annual profits, the collective would have about $200 million a year to invest in advanced methods and technologies.

ENR wholeheartedly believes the elixir for construction industry stagnation is research in the public domain, free for all to use, executed by teams of researchers and volunteer practitioners—some of whom compete by day and collaborate by night.

Proprietary products have their place. But moving the industry forward requires widespread adoption of new systems and technology. Patented inventions run up against barriers such as public-sector procurement rules and a lack of direct recognition in the building codes.

In addition, designers tend to be reluctant to specify methods or products that benefit a competitor. The bottom line is that for a new design or construction method, building system or product to quickly have significant impact, it must be free for all to use.

Initially, Klemencic is targeting his fund-raising campaign toward the buildings sector, but Pankow’s collaborative R&D business model can be copied by anyone who wants it. After all, it is in the public domain.

Related Article: ENR Selects Innovation Champion Ron Kemencic as Award of Excellence Winner