Let’s start talking about WIB, Women In Bim Italy, which you presented at SAIE on October 22. Tell us what WIB is and why it is a particularly relevant initiative in our country’s context. How did this journey start for you?
Women in BIM is an international association that supports women in the construction sector, starting from the specific area of BIM, then broadening the perspective on dynamics that are very transversal, also common to many other professions. In Italy we are witnessing a constant and important cultural improvement on the issue of the role of women in society, especially in new generations. However, there is still much to do in the workplace where men and women often start from the same automatism (the famous cognitive bias), proposing dynamics that we are now ready to overcome. To break these reflexes we need awareness and this means having open discussions and communication. I am happy to see that around Women in BIM gravitates a large group of genuinely curious and active men: giving value to each other we can grow as a community and as professionals. I personally approached WIB as a volunteer for the mentoring project (the new applications for 2023 open in January!) and more recently I agreed to become the national manager for Italy. To be honest, at first I had some doubts about this, but reading some reports (like the one from the National Council of Engineers) and discussing with other colleagues on a more personal level, I realized that it still makes sense to talk to men about women and (foremost) to women about themselves in this field. The response of the participants to SAIE was strong both in terms of numbers and energy. So this leads the whole Italian group, for which I am the spokesperson, to feel even more urged to look for the words and methods that suit best for the important work we do.
“Giving value to each other we can grow as a community and as professionals”
Your view about BIM and digital transformation is not purely technical. On the contrary, it seems to be deeply rooted in a formation with humanistic roots. Can you tell us more about your own perspective?
I have always cultivated both technical and humanistic passions, constantly questioning the meaning of what we are doing as a society and as individuals. Since the question is a bit philosophical, I allow myself some free reflection with the readers to try and think together and make more conscious choices. BIM is only a part of a much larger process of digitalization, but it’s diffusion is related to a sector that is historically more concrete and resistant to change. This is why we experience it with greater friction. Technology brings great powers but, as is well known, “great powers lead to great responsibilities”. This is why it is up to our figure that shifts between the technical, the managerial and the informative sectors to focus also on what are the related risks and what are the strategies to work on in order to digitalize in a coordinated way. On one hand, I see great careers for only a few people (although praiseworthy, let me be clear); on the other hand, a rather high risk of digital illiteracy which could cut off a large section of the population; and on another hand, the need to make brains work before computers, especially for the younger generations. I love technology, but our biology and cultural systems are slower, we still have to develop some antibodies and then make a conscious and coordinated use of them, as it has been with previous revolutions. Particular attention must certainly be given to the different speed at which these changes, compared to the ones we’ve seen in the past, are taking place. What are the consequences? How to make conscious and not compulsory, naive or pre constructed choices as if everything were necessary? Research, training and communication must work together. The construction industry is no exception and as designers we must do our “cultural” part to make the best of it and create virtuous examples at different scales.
You have been working in MCA’s BIM unit for several years now. Let’s imagine that the Studio’s approach, which focuses on a broad vision of sustainability of the built environment, is not unrelated to your choice. How do technological and humanistic perspectives interact in the Studio’s practice and your activities?
The work of Mario Cucinella Architects is based on certain principles that do not exhaust their function exclusively in a technical value, but have important consequences and implications of a humanistic nature. Personally, what I identify with most is the “creative empathy”. This means the ability to think of a project as intimately linked to the place in which it fits, an empathic response to the conditions of the territory. From a concept of environmental sustainability to a larger one that embraces local society and economy. Practically, every new project is the result of the collaboration of many individuals and many professionals (colleagues or consultants) with different skills and sensitivities, all coordinated by Mario Cucinella, the founder. As an example I always gladly bring the kindergarten in Guastalla completed a few years ago: from the shape to the materials, to the technical solutions everything was thought out in a coordinated way between the professionals and those who would have lived those spaces every day. This is why I always insist on the communication subject: in order to get large groups to work together in the best possible way, we don’t just need technology (which certainly helps us), but also willpower. Regarding my immediate range of action, I would say that we could all potentially work “in BIM”, because it is a method, but at the base there must be a desire to review our modus operandi and to want to find a common language to achieve our goals. The Cucinella Studio has been focusing on the use of the BIM method in its projects for several years. A BIM unit was created in order to enhance individual skills and to create a bridge between the strategic vision of the company and concrete implications. It includes the CDE manager, BIM managers and an experienced BIM coordinator.
“It’s up to our figure that shifts between the technical, the managerial and the informative sectors to focus also on what are the related risks and what are the strategies to work on in order to digitalize in a coordinated way.“
Your personal and professional path is very rich and it seems to us that it’s characterized by the search for connections and contaminations between people, places and themes… Tell us briefly about the path you followed and help us understand what is the common thread that connects the different stages you got through.
I am a very curious person and I like to dive into new adventures: ancient cultures, theatre, coding, foreign languages… But growing up I realized how we can achieve much more from collaboration than on our own. This principle cannot be applied to everything, but in this historical moment it seems to me that there is a growing need for interconnections (and for synthesis figures that work as organizers, filters, translators and relaunch points for messages). The common thread that connects my training is perhaps one that has never been purely for work but, more extensively, aimed at opening new windows in an attempt to create contaminations that could excite not just me but also the people I have the pleasure of meeting. Therefore, I would like to take the opportunity of this question to thank you for this interview, hoping that I have intrigued someone. You can find us on the Italian Linkedin group of Women in BIM!
Let’s talk about your current work at ISG. What are your responsabilities and how does it fit into the digital vision of your company?
After working for almost 3 years in an architectural firm, I moved on to the “dark side” (as they call it here in the UK), that is the construction world. After one year, I feel this as the environment where I want to develop my career. Here, Bim is supported by substantian investments in the use of new technologies. At the end of each project I always fell part of the team that succeeded to create the building step by step.
My current role, Digital Costruction Manager, well describes my different responsabilities: I take care of the implementation of BIM within ISG as well as any other kind of new technology. We test it, we apply it to selected projects and, if it works, we extend it to the whole company. In addition to research & development (R&D), I also work on specific projects by coordinating the pre-construction phase, I assist the team during construction, to then finish with the handover phase, making that the client receives all the informations and data required in the EIR (model, COBie, Asset register, etc. ).
“My mission is to implement BIM in the workflow of my collegues and to learn from them, so that we can have a mutual and constructive exchange”
Which project do you particularly care about and what themes interest you most at the moment?
The project I care most about is essentially linked to what ISG is also trying to implement. I believe that in the construction world, in 5/10 years, there shouldn’t be a specific BIM team, but the BIM processes will gradually have to be absorbed by the varius stakeholders as an additional task. That doesn’t mean extra work though! BIM techniques can simplify and streamline processes for all employees: Design Manager, Construction Manager, Commercial Manager ecc.
My mission is therefore to implement BIM in the workflows of my colleagues and to learn from them so that we can have a mutual and constructive exchange.
Moreover, driven by my curiosity and desire to learn, I am working on site alongside construction managers to learn from them and understand how to combine their knowledge with mine. Knowing different construction methods and rules helps and improves BIM coordination during the pre-construction phase. For example, knowing that certain pipes cannot be built at a minimum distance of 100mm from walls, allows me to check models and create a specific clash-test to verify that this will not happen. Coordinating everything before the construction phase allows a considerable time and cost cut for the construction site.
We really like your Job Title: Digital Construction Manager. We like the focus to be on digitalization and not on BIM. Can you tell us something more about it?
ISG recently re-branded the department. All the “BIM” roles have become “Digital” and in fact my role is now “Digital Construction Manager”. I was very happy with this change because the BIM Manager title was getting a little too tight compare to all the things we do. In fact, my team does not only deal with BIM (which is still one of our biggest tasks) but also with the implementation of all kind of technologies, from new platforms to new digital tools such as HoloLens.
ISG’s digital vision aims to make new technologies accessible to everyone and to ensure that everyone can implement them in their workflow (even the people who are most reluctant and only familiar with traditional methods).
“Today I live in London and I’m very happy with the choices I made. This country has taught me so much and still has so much to give me!“
You graduated in Italy, took a Master’s degree in the UK and started your career in the UK. Can you tell us about this experience?
It all started with a scholarship from the Lazio Region and the European Community. After my bachelor’s degree in architecture and the master’s degree in restoration (both at La Sapienza in Rome) I applied for and then won a scholarship called “Torno Subito” (I’ll be back soon). I left and, unfortunately or luckily, I never came back.
The Masters course in the UK was very interesting and helped me understanding how the AEC (Architecture Engineering Construction) world works in the UK. Thanks to the Masters it was quite easy to find a job in Bristol (where I studied). At that moment I realized how different the situation between Italy and the UK was. Within 2 weeks I had 2 permanent job offers and a rather competitive salary considering my first work experience. At that point, nothing was stopping me from signing those papers and staying in the UK. Today I live in London and I’m very happy with the choices I made. This country has taught me so much and still has so much to give me.
Everyone should have the possibility to live an experience abroad, it is formative from both professionally and and personally. After 5 years and a half I won’t deny that I miss Italy and that I often think of coming back, but unfortunately, I am very frightened by the rumors I hear. At the moment, Italian professionals often work long hours and don’t get paid enough. Building a career is not easy, it takes many years and often the remuneration is not adequate. However, I am sure this doesn’t happen everywhere, and I have great confidence in companies who want to make a change in Italy!
You, an Italian woman, are WIB Regional lead for London. What is Women In BIM, why is it important and what do you see from a London perspective?
With WIB, we found out that there are a lot of Italian girls around the world doing BIM and it’s very promising. However they don’t work in Italy (and I speak for myself too).
WIB is a company founded in Australia by two sisters (probably with Italian origins) 10 years ago. Today we have WIB delegations all over the world. Our aim is to invite and support more women in the AEC field and especially in the BIM field. Even today there is a great disparity between the number of women and men occupying BIM positions around the world. WIB wants to encourage young girls (or any other gender), to start this career.
It is sometimes true that creating a women’s group might seem non-inclusive, but we can’t pretend not to see the big elephant in the room. The problem is there, and WIB will exist until this gap is filled. All young men and boys in the world of BIM are absolutely welcome, in fact showing your support for the group is a very appreciated gesture!
As London Regional Lead I organise WIB events in London, write newsletters and attend monthly events and meetings. Supporting this community makes me happy, especially if I can help other women with the mentor scheme. In fact, every year WIB organises one-to-one support courses between Mentors and Mentees. Everyone can participate, it is the Mentor’s responsibility to follow the Mentee and to provide different kinds of help in their careers.
In London there is a big community, so we often get together for a beer or an event. Having the opportunity to discuss with other women and to share similar problems and frustrations is really helpful! We support each other.
In the UK I haven’t had any major problem with being one of the few women in the industry, and that gives me great hope!
WOMEN IN BIM
“Supporting this community makes me happy, especially if I can help other women with the mentor scheme“
Next November you will be among the speakers of London Build 2022. What are you going to talk about?
London Build is always an interesting event where I meet people who work in my field and make new contacts. WIB will participate to the event, and I will moderate a panel on “Future Skills Requirements: How our industry can build skills and knowledge in digital techniques supported by a diverse industry”.
I’m excited to interview the 3 women who will be attending the event and to get to know their point of views.
I personally think that in this case “diversity” means integration with disciplines that had never come close to the AEC world before. These new collaborations will generate new ideas that will certainly lead to very interesting results. Nature teaches us that diversity means strength and for me this is reflected very well in our field of work.
So this time we will not only talk about gender diversity but also about different skills and disciplines that will be used, in the future, by the construction industry to improve the functionality of systems and workflows.