If you were to hop in a time machine and visit a construction site in 2030, what new technology do you think you’d see? Would workers make use of virtual and augmented reality? Have robots or giant 3D printers become a common sight? Could the digital tools used to design buildings also shape the way we plan and create them?
Recently in Boston, Autodesk teamed up with Suffolk Construction, MassRobotics, and the Boston Public Schools to explore some of these exciting possibilities for the future of construction with a lucky group of fifth graders from the Harvard-Kent Elementary School.
As much as technology advances, construction projects will never fully assemble themselves. Thus, the purpose of this program is to develop the next generation of innovators and creative problem solvers who will be the builders of tomorrow, while also fulfilling the critical need for more diversity and inclusion in the field.
Future architects, engineers, builders, and construction project managers are desperately needed to meet the growing demand for new construction - estimated at 13,000 buildings a day by 2050 due to factors like a growing population and a trend toward urbanization. And as industries within construction are converging and evolving, new specialties will be required too, such as in robotics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and analytics, and more.
Laying the Foundation: Making construction education socially and culturally relevant
For the program pilot, this journey into the future of construction began at the students’ school with a visit from representatives from Autodesk, MassRobotics, and the Boston Children’s Museum to help launch the students into a Tinkercad design challenge to redesign a public space to make it more inclusive.
Melissa Higgins, Senior STEAM Director of the Boston Children’s Museum, led a discussion with the students around how the museum designs exhibits that encourage inclusive play. She also shared the story of the recent construction of Martin’s Park adjacent to the museum, which honors the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, Martin Richard. The park, with its many inventive structures, is an inclusive play space offering opportunities for children of all abilities to experience discovery and exploration.
Martin’s Park in Boston was designed and built to encourage inclusive play.
The students then looked at examples of innovatively designed public spaces in the Netherlands and overlaid them with ideas for places in their own communities that could use a refresh. Next, they thought about specific people in their communities who could benefit from the design of more welcoming spaces and documented their thinking through creating empathy maps about them.
Khalif Mitchell of MassRobotics works with a student on his empathy map.
Grounding the students’ design projects in improving the communities where they live was spurred by the vision of the Timothy Smith Network, another collaborator in the program, which aims to build the capacity of local, underserved people as they acquire the knowledge and skills critical to success in Boston’s increasingly technology-driven economy.
The pilot was also executed in collaboration with the Boston Public Schools’ Excellence for All program, which applies a project-based approach as a key strategy for students to validate their learning in a manner that is more relevant than traditional testing.
If you are interested in implementing this same design challenge or a similar one with your students, check out this blog post to learn how. In addition, schools in New England that complete one of the design challenges can earn a chance to win a makerspace. More info on that here.
Want to teach your students how to make a difference through design? Engage them in a Tinkercad design challenge. New England schools can even earn a chance to win a makerspace! More info at autode.sk/makeitreal
This “Future of Construction” pilot included field trips during each phase of the program, which was structured around three main areas of focus: Design, Build, and Apply.
Designing in CAD at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston
The first field trip was held at the Boston Autodesk Technology Center, or Tech Center, where students engaged in a high-level overview of the intersection of construction and STEAM and also deepened this learning by using Tinkercad to further develop their concepts for designing more inclusive and welcoming public spaces.
One key takeaway was that the construction industry is in the midst of a digital transition, therefore making 3D “Design” literacy a critical skill that construction professionals need to be successful.
The students and their teachers found Tinkercad to be a great learning vehicle for quickly turning ideas into CAD models and demonstrating their 3D design literacy. For more information on this, here is a great resource for getting your students acting and talking like real design professionals.
Students also enjoyed a tour of the Tech Center’s workspace, which focuses on research and development in the area of innovation in architecture, engineering, and construction. The Tech Center invites teams from startups, universities, and industry to explore ways to advance the building industry. Students saw firsthand some of the entrepreneurs in action, designing and building their prototypes.
Another objective of the “Future of Construction” pilot was to expose students to construction, design, engineering, and robotics professionals, allowing them to see themselves in occupations that they may never before have had the opportunity to witness. In addition to the primary collaborators, the Boston Society of Architects supported this goal by connecting students with architects who could provide feedback to the students on their designs.
Taylor Johnson of the Boston Society of Architects demonstrated how students could use imagery from Google Earth to situate their designs in their own communities.
Building construction technology at MassRobotics
The “Build” portion of the program was held at MassRobotics, an independent, non-profit center serving to educate, inspire, and bring robotics initiatives, investments, and companies to life. At MassRobotics, students used LittleBits, a hands-on learning system of electronic building blocks, to build creations that they designed. This included prototypes for construction equipment that could be programmed like robots.
Photo credit: MassRobotics
The students also spent some time in the MassRobotics Lab and workshop, watching demos of the robotic arms and grippers and learning about the NASA Valkyrie robot.
Photo credit: MassRobotics
Applying construction knowledge and skills at Suffolk Construction
The final phase of the program was a visit to Suffolk’s headquarters in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, where the students were given the opportunity to see how innovative technology is being “Applied” and construction is being transformed.
Suffolk Smart Lab Director Kelsey Gauger guided students through how new technologies are transforming the construction industry.
Students participated in an interactive and immersive tour of Suffolk’s Smart Lab, where they got to see their Tinkercad design projects come to life on the lab’s Datawall, experience their own structures in Virtual Reality, and see the endless possibilities for visualizing design inside the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment).
Following the tour, students attended a career panel with current Suffolk employees, where they were given the chance to ask questions and receive feedback on their projects.
Staff from Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s Office of Economic Development also visited to hear the students’ ideas for how parts of the city could be reimagined to foster community.
Samuel Nessenthaler, the students’ robotics teacher reflected on the experience: “Working with (co-teacher) Vivian Chu (a 30-year veteran in the classroom,) we both saw such an extraordinary amount of student engagement usually not seen in the classroom,” he said. “Students also built relationships that otherwise would not have happened in the classroom.”
Alain Balan (left, of Boston Public Schools’ Excellence for All) with teachers Samuel Nessenthaler and Vivian Chu and their students at the Autodesk Technology Center in Boston.