Gensler’s Fergal Walsh reflects on the BCO conference in Berlin last month
Berlin is like a box of chocolates – so many incredible buildings, both historic and new, it’s difficult to choose which to visit first. But from a public realm perspective it felt like there was little to connect these amazing buildings with each other. And in a way that was how I felt about the BCO conference – some landmark issues and topics that I wanted to explore more – but couldn’t. Issues that affect us as a profession that needed more analysis on how we deal with them.
This is the event of the year for me, and I went with three colleagues. The conference certainly provided a lot of thought-provoking debate with a line-up of highly impressive speakers tackling the thorniest issues of the day, from Brexit to diversity to the office of the future. But they failed to put into context what it actually means for the construction industry. For instance, there was a conversation around Brexit with heavy hitters from the FT and the BBC, talking about the political implications and related socioeconomic issues. But though I certainly learned a lot about the political impact of Brexit, I wasn’t really any more informed on what it is going to mean for all of us – what we should be doing to prepare for its impact – which could have been addressed by an additional perspective or by workshopping ideas in break-out sessions.
While I was delighted to see the issue of diversity and inclusion high up on the agenda, I was saddened to see that as in previous years, the majority of those attending were, like myself, white middle-aged men. I feel the construction industry is way behind the times when it talks about gender equality and ethnic diversity, but at least we were discussing the issue in a constructive way. So it was extremely disappointing that on the Thursday evening – after talking so much about diversity, something which I care about – to find we had become spectators at a burlesque show featuring scantily clad women. Was this meant to be a humorous nod to Berlin’s famous burlesque scene – the city made notable as the location of Cabaret? If so, it was an error of judgement that made me feel that there was a total lack of connection between the conference events and the conference issues.
Sustainability also reared its head as an issue again. Yet we are still only paying lip service to this as an industry.
Compared with the technology industry, we are operating at a snail’s pace, and yet our responsibility to ensuring the future of our planet is greater than any other. I didn’t feel it was really addressed at the conference, and I’d have liked to hear more debate – for example, what does the next 20 years look like, what is the future of sustainability for our industry, and what are the real categories we need to drill down to in order to tackle it?
I’m excited about visiting BCO in Copenhagen next year, but I hope that I’ll see much more there in the way of discussion – more workshops, the opportunity to brainstorm ideas and make a difference by working together. I’d also like to see more women delegates and more delegates from ethnic minorities who are currently woefully underrepresented. The BCO conference represents an important chance for us to connect the issues and create a context for them; an opportunity to come out from our caves and see the light.
Fergal Walsh is principal at Gensler