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Comment – Where are our thought leaders…?

In search of the left-field, outside the box, blue sky thinkers that will shape the sector.

Sci-fi writer and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke – is widely credited as having first conceived the notion of what we now know as a “space station”. Although it was a subject he would revisit in his 1952 novel “Islands in the sky”, Clarke first expounded the notion in a paper he wrote in 1945 during the latter days of the Second World War, a full 24 years before mankind took its giant leap and set foot on the moon.

In his book The Road Ahead, Microsoft founder Bill Gates envisioned a world in which people would carry what he described as “wallet PCs”; wallet-sized personal computers that could connect to the Internet, take photos, take the place of personal ID documents such as a driving license, and which would contain “digital money” that would – at least partially – replace cash. That book was published in 1995, more than a decade before the first iPhone was released.

It is possible that fact was created to mirror fiction. But there is no question that both Clarke and Gates are exceptional minds with an innate ability to perceive future challenges and imagine future solutions. They are thought leaders in the very truest sense of the term.

So where are ours? Where are the forward-thinkers of the demolition industry; the smart minds that are solving today the problems of tomorrow? Sadly, I am not sure we have any.

Of course, it helps that Arthur C. Clarke was a writer of fiction and who, therefore, spent a large part of his time imagining and thinking. And Bill Gates – the on/off richest man in the world – could take time out to ruminate about a possible future, safe in the knowledge that the millions would continue to roll into his back account regardless.

But so much of our time in this industry is spent dealing with the challenges and pitfalls of today that we barely have a moment to plan next week or next month, let alone conceive wildly ambitious plans for 10 or 20 years’ hence.

Yet, if we are to have any hope of meeting the looming challenges of tomorrow, we need to start work today.

We all know that the world today no longer has a tolerance for accidents of any kind, and we have already seen man moved further and further from the demolition work face. So should we not be gathering together the best minds of the industry and imagining a world in which demolition sites are a human-free zone (you might like to check out my book Demolition 2051 if this is something you’re into).

We are each surrounded by increasingly tall megastructures that sooner or later will need to be demolished and dismantled. While some of these buildings – like The Shard in London or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – will be granted a degree of exemption because of their iconic status, many commercial buildings in the world’s big cities now have a life expectancy of just 25 to 30 years. Using those maths, there is probably a young demolition worker out there today who, at some point in his or her working life, will find themselves tasked with taking down The Shard, The Gherkin or any one of the ludicrously-named towers that loom large over London today.

And thanks to the advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM), we can now see precisely how a structure of today was erected, fixed and fastened and what materials were used in its construction. So rather than bitching and whining about the inappropriate use of composite materials that will be difficult to process and recycle, how about we spend the next 20 or so years devising a viable solution so we’re actually ready when the need arises?

Many moons ago, quite possibly in the last century, I interviewed attachments pioneer Toni Verachtert who had helped create and develop many of the tools we now take for granted. During that interview, he envisaged the demolition and recycling landscape of the future; a future of modular buildings that could be assembled, disassembled and reassembled mechanically; a future of attachments designed not to break and destroy but to manipulate and safeguard.

It is precisely that kind of left-field, outside the box, blue sky, spit-balling imagination that we need right now.

If this article has resonated with you, you might also like to check out our latest audio podcast – Forging a new path – in which I explain why there has never been a better time to develop new equipment, techniques and methodologies. You can listen to that show here.

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