Meet Marzia Bolpagni, Head of BIM International at Mace

Marzia Bolpagni keynote speaker at WDBE 2023

Marzia Bolpagni will be a keynote speaker at WDBE in September 2023. In this interview, we learn about her passion for modernizing the construction industry to become more productive, sustainable, and inclusive.

Marzia is a building engineer by background. She became interested in BIM, Building Information Modeling, during her studies at the University of Brescia, in her hometown in northern Italy. 

Professor Angelo Ciribini, an internationally renowned BIM pioneer, encouraged Marzia to complete her master’s thesis in Finland at VTT Technical Research Centre. She considers her ex-VTT colleagues Markku Kiviniemi and Kristiina Sulankivi as her ”father and mother on BIM,” as they led her to become a specialist in the field. 

VTT published Marzia’s master’s thesis on how BIM should be implemented in public procurement in 2013. A few years later, she completed her studies with a Ph.D. in ICT and Smart Construction at the Politecnico di Milano.

Helping international clients with digital transformation

Today, Marzia is Head of BIM International – Associate Director at Mace, an international construction and consultancy company. The firm is known for many iconic projects, such as the London Eye, Renzo Piano’s Shard, and Tottenham Hotspur New Stadium.

“I support international clients in implementing Building Information Modeling and also to start or to further develop their journey in implementing digital transformation,” Marzia explains.

The construction industry has traditionally concentrated on the physical side of buildings and infrastructure. This orientation is rooted in the culture of the industry and even academia. However, over the last few years, we’ve seen how leading organizations have realized the value of data and information in solving the industry’s burning problems.

Industry 4.0 drives sustainability with data

The emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution depends on data flow across processes and organizations. In construction, the Industry 4.0 concept means industrialized methods that utilize automation, robotics, AI, IoT, and other digital technologies.

Data and information are critical to making the industry more productive and sustainable. The 2050 carbon neutrality goals, net zero buildings, and circularity are within reach if current data gaps between processes and organizations are filled. Otherwise, valuable information is lost or becomes unusable.

Marzia has been a keen proponent of data standardization and participates in international standardization efforts.  She reminds us that without standardized data, we can’t, for example, compare the life cycle carbon footprints of materials and products used in construction.

Governments start requiring the use of BIM

Public sector organizations can be both users and owners of buildings and infrastructure. They’ve seen the value of BIM in managing construction, operations, and the use of built assets. Consequently, governments in the UK, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Spain have set BIM mandates for their construction projects.

The UK’s BIM mandate dates from 2016 and has since been supplemented with a further information management mandate in 2021. Though some organizations have invested seriously in honing their BIM practices and they benefit from BIM adoption, there is still work to be done to make BIM business as usual in the UK.

“One of the reasons, maybe, why there is so much diversity is because there has been a mandate, but there have not been penalties,” Marzia remarks.

Three ways forward

But is a government order the only way to make the industry adopt BIM? Marzia says there are three basic ways to advance the use of BIM, referring to Succar and Kassem’s work.

Mandates represent a top-down approach. In the middle-of-the-road model, large organizations and associations push the use of BIM and can show success stories that inspire others to follow suit. Finally, there’s the bottom-up approach, where small organizations start experimenting and adopting BIM. 

Marzia states that there’s no one right way to implement BIM. She says it depends on many factors, including the local market structure, culture, and technological maturity. To make the digital transformation as easy as possible, we should practice “digital minimalism.” When technology helps solve highly valuable aspects and not to distract us.

Setting an example as a female technology leader

Women in construction are still a tiny minority, just 10.9% of the workforce, according to studies. On construction sites, there’s only one woman per every 100 employees.

Some have claimed that digitalization makes it easier for women to enter the construction sector. Technology may help in the transition, but the industry needs to let go of stereotypes, as Marzia notes: “If you close your eyes and think about an engineer, for example. Then we think about a white man on the construction site digging, maybe, a hole.” We should change this perception to attract diverse talent.

Marzia has set an excellent example for young women considering a career in the industry. She has been recognized as a female leader in a male-dominated business environment. Her accolades include Young Engineer of the Year, Top 50 Inspiring Women in Tech, and Women of the Future.

Meet Marzia at WDBE

You can learn more about Marzia’s thoughts on WDBE Talks, the podcast for the World of Digital Built Environment. To hear her keynote and meet her in person, come to WBDE in September 2023. Meanwhile, connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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