construction put in place, defined as new residential and nonresidential construction but generally excluding maintenance and repair construction, was $317.2 billion for the Soviet Union, $200.1 billion for Japan, $71.3 billion for the Federal Republic of Germany, and $43 billion for the United Kingdom.

The Great Wall of China, the space shuttle launch facility, a petrochemical plant, a neighborhood shopping center, the Erie Canal, a nuclear power plant, a single-family home—all are construction projects, yet each requires different skills and technologies. Collectively, they represent the many sectors of the construction industry.

The residential and commercial construction sectors involve the creation of facilities that are essentially structural in function. These facilities include the service utility systems necessary to support the people who use them, including power distribution, heating, ventilation, and lighting. By contrast, the industrial sector creates facilities incorporating industrial process systems and equipment designed to produce an end product, such as automobiles, textiles, chemicals, refined metals, or electric power. The heavy civil sector encompasses major public works, including dams, highways, airports, and water distribution and sewage facilities—in short, most of what we now call infrastructure.

Over the past 10 years the impacts of technology on the construction sector have varied by the type of construction being performed, but in general, the changes have been largely evolutionary. Today’s constructors have not come as far from the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages as today’s automakers have from the cartwrights. In the future, however, there is a high potential for significant developments that will change the basic nature of construction. These developments will capitalize on advances already apparent in other sectors. They will be global in origin and in scope, with applications driven by both continued technological innovation and competitive pressures. They will include direct technological impacts on the performance of specific construction activities and major changes in the manner of managing a construction business.

This paper addresses the most significant changes in construction by examining technological trends and how they affect the entire construction sector. These trends fall into four major areas: construction-related design; construction equipment and methods; automation and expert systems; and construction management.


Computer-aided design, or CAD, is now a fact of life in the design-construction process. The benefits to the construction industry already have been significant in several respects. These include reduced interferences, which are instances where the design of separate systems, such as electrical

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