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Dlubal Blog for Civil Engineers and Structural Engineers

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Interview with Civil Engineers Philip and Michael Kalkbrenner from Baustelle Bauwesen





Martina Summerer

Dlubal Podcast interviewed brothers and civil engineers Philip and Michael Kalkbrenner. The two also have a podcast called "Baustelle Bauwesen", which covers a wide variety of topics. They tell us what exactly they do. You can read the full interview here.

In our first interview, we talk to the guests from Baustelle Bauwesen. Pioneers of podcasts in the construction industry - Michael and Philipp Kalkbrenner.

Link to Episode: #015 Podcasts in Construction feat. Philip and Michael from Baustelle Bauwesen

Who are you and what do you do?

M: I'm Michi and I'll start because I'm the younger of the two of us. I'll take the privilege. I'm a civil engineer, and together with Phillip, I'm also a podcaster. I work as a construction supervisor, so not really as a civil engineer. I also work in an architecture office. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes less fun. What it's like to work on a construction site and have to deal with everyone. But in general, I decorate my private life with basketball games and, if possible, meet people.

P: That brings us to the topic. I don't meet that many people. I am a PhD student at the university in Barcelona. I'm just about to finish my doctorate, which I'm really looking forward to. Otherwise, I put an incredible amount of time into the construction podcast Baustelle Bauwesen, where Michi and I are the podcast hosts. That's a real buzz. Otherwise, I'm also a civil engineer.

We also study civil engineering. For this reason, we wanted to know why you actually decided to study civil engineering. Have you always wanted to do that?

P: Personally, I didn't always want to do it. After my graduation, when I had no idea what to do, everyone told me that I was good at math and had always been able to do calculations. Then just become an engineer, they said. I figured that would be a possibility. I was actually much more interested in architecture, because I've always found the creative process behind it to be much more interesting, but because of the talk of everyone around me, I decided to go into engineering. I'm really happy about it now. During my studies, there have been many moments where it just made you want to go. Perhaps not because of my studies, but I was lucky enough to be active in such an association, and it really made me to enjoy it. Then, in this association, I can easily apply what I have learned as a civil engineer during my studies. I really noticed that what I do as a civil engineer makes perfect sense.

M: For me, I definitely didn't always want to be a civil engineer. When I started studying, there were similar reasons. I was good at math and physics. So I thought to myself that I have to find something where I can apply it. Mechanical engineering was dropped for me, because I found it completely uninteresting. So there was actually almost only civil engineering left. Then I went more or less the same way as my big brother - even to the same university. Then I also studied civil engineering. When looking back, I definitely don't regret it, also for the reasons similar to Phillipp's, because as a civil engineer, you simply have the opportunity to do a lot of great things. During our studies, we also had the opportunity to do really cool things that helped me personally as a person and as a civil engineer.

That is very interesting. What exactly is it that fascinates you?

M: Well, what fascinates me every day, is that the whole world around us is civil engineering. At least when you're in the cities and where people are. That's all civil engineering. Whether we're walking on a footpath, whether we're going into a building, whether we're going up a lookout tower, whether we're watching a football game, whether we're driving over a bridge. That's all civil engineering. These are all the achievements, our operations. It is almost impossible to live today without being somehow involved with civil engineering. It kind of makes me proud to be part of it all. To continue to promote this and to continue to make it possible in the future as I know it and probably also to improve it.

In any case, that's great. I see it that way in every structure and building wherever I look. If you were involved in some form of planning or execution and you can say that you were involved, then that's something really great. When I was still working as a student trainee in an engineering office, I also planned buildings. A year or two later, when the building was finished, I showed my sister that I had planned the reinforcement at the time. It's kind of fascinating.

P: I think it never stops either. You are getting older and more experienced with what you are doing. Then at some point, you will plan and build more and more innovative things. I wouldn't say that I have already built something innovative, but that is all still to come. Then you get even more proud of how you got involved. As Michi has just described in relation to the entire built environment, which enables what we actually do.

There are subjects that people prefer to study and some that they don't really enjoy doing. What did you particularly like and what was the most difficult part of your studies?

P.: During the first semester, I was almost desperate about all the mechanics subjects, because I always despair of everything. But I never liked those subjects, all these FE subjects. I am also always desperate to learn from it. But the problem was that I was just a little too perfectionist. I was always incredibly good at these subjects, even though I didn't really enjoy it. I always liked the other subjects that I was never good at. For example, I really enjoyed planning roads.

M: I'll take over then. It is so funny for me that what I do now, that is, management, construction, execution, all sorts of things, was absolutely no fun in my studies. I found that very boring and that's why I didn't actually take it in my master’s degree. I only did these compulsory subjects in my bachelor's degree.

I had a bit of difficulty with exams with every subject. So what does that mean, as far as you were asked. In any case, I have enjoyed steel structures, because that was the only subject in my entire course in which we were allowed to design something ourselves. I designed a bridge there. In a group work with two great people who I still love, we designed a really cool bridge. You then had to calculate and present them. I had a lot of fun, because I believe that building bridges is one of the core competencies of civil engineers that you could really live out.

P: Absolutely. I also see bridge construction as the supreme discipline of every civil engineer. What is really fun about the course also depends a lot on the teaching. So if a professor or lecturer really manages to make the lecture beautiful, entertaining, but also informative, he can really do it, that you are interested, although you don't really show much interest in the subject. At least that was the case with me. I had a relatively good professor of steel construction and I was really passionate about steel structures. That made a lot of fun, because he got it across really well. The apprenticeship really matters a lot, whether you like the subject or not.

M: Yes, definitely. We also had really good teachers. Then you went to the lecture and you knew that it would be entertaining for 90 minutes. Especially in the first few semesters, you think to yourself that this is a mind opener. Really cool!

You have now finished your studies and are working as civil engineers. What do you like best? Maybe you can take a little bit of what each of you does.

M: I mentioned before in the introduction that I am a construction supervisor. That's why I see my tasks in my job, because I'm currently working in turnkey construction, not as a civil engineer, if I'm honest. I just have to make sure that walls are painted and carpets are installed in good time. That's why it's difficult for me to say what I enjoy doing in my job as a civil engineer.

At my old employer, where I worked before, I was also in the execution. I was a site manager for civil engineering and supported two different bridges for Deutsche Bahn. That was really cool, because you have had some really exciting projects where the old structure is demolished in a very short time, and the new structure is being completed and then pushed in, so that the railway line only has to be closed for seven or eight days. That was cool, but that would have been cooler if I had planned it than carried out.

P: Yes, what I have just touched on is that I am doing my doctoral thesis, right now. Before that, I worked in a structural engineering office in Munich, Germany, for Bollinger and Grohmann engineers. I got my first impressions of how things work in structural engineering. I've been given a lot of responsibility for the projects I've done there, which was really fun and where you can get really good insights into how structural engineering is actually used. What I've learnt in my studies was really fun.

Then I went to Barcelona to do my doctorate and I'm doing something really weird right now. Actually, I work with historic buildings, that is, with the oldest that the construction industry has to offer, but I use one of the most modern computer technologies, namely machine learning, for masonry. Masonry is a component building material. As you all know, it is not just made of any homogeneous building material, but is composed of different materials. In order to make this applicable to large FE models, functioning material concepts are needed. With machine learning, you can do this by training and predicting such a material law for the application of large historical structures. It was really cool, and also a bit difficult and was not so classic civil engineering, because you have to program a lot and read a lot. I have to learn how to write such a machine learning program yourself, but I've already got excited. It also makes me to continue, because I'm not quite finished yet.

Very nice and also very interesting, because it is something different.

P: Yes, definitely. Of course, it always depends on the professors you work with, because they'll always have ideas. They also worked in groups before. I'll say they spin around a bit and then hope that a doctoral student will somehow understand that, and then make something of it. That's how it was with me. I've tried what to make of it and it seems to work just fine.

Very well. Then you also do something else that is not the classic civil engineering profession, namely, you have a podcast that we have of course already listened to. I find it very interesting. How did you come to this podcast? Do you just want to tell us what your story was for this podcast?

P: That was actually my idea. Michi was always the one who listened to a lot more podcasts, but at the end of the day, it was my idea to actually start it. Michi and I always talked a lot on the phone, because we also have the distance. Michi is based in Karlsruhe, Germany, and I've been in Barcelona, Spain, for a long time. We're brothers too, that's why we talked a lot, including talks about construction. Sometimes we just got into a speech flow where we thought that our thought processes were completely incredible. We have to hold onto them somehow.

How can we do that? That's why we had the idea, let's just start this. But let's not just start it off somehow. Not only do we start babbling, let's really tease it up a bit with a look so that you have a face and a little opinion. That's why we actually got around to it. It was the idea of the podcast and then, of course, the content, where you can say that we are simply missing a lot in construction.

We are now living in the 21st century. Our slogan is that we are civil engineers who work in the 21st century, but not for the 21st century. That is our opening motto in every episode, because as a civil engineer, you never really learned how to be creative, how to build sustainably, how to work with architects. In the planning stage, these are the main contributors with whom we have to work. How can we manage to really take this risk and say that we are now working more with architects. In general, how are we braver people and not such arithmetic servants?

So that was actually the main message on our podcast. We want to address that, and therefore, want to talk to people who have already done a lot there, or talk about topics with pioneers in the construction industry. We are still on the way, because we are still a long way from achieving that. It's an everlasting process. This is actually our podcast. So this process of finding something, looking for something, and also to find like-minded people who want to participate and think, that is a cool idea.

That's pretty cool. You mentioned briefly that you actually have almost nothing to do with such areas during your studies or at work. What are the civil engineers who do a podcast? This is also due to the degree, that people interprets the teaching in such a way that you are trained to be a specialist idiot. Seldom does one look outside the box unless something comes from the outside. That is why I can only recommend to every student to look into other subjects from time to time, I mean, also in the economic direction or even a little bit in the culture, so that they get a little bit of different impulses. This can also give rise to the idea of a podcast, for example. I always find it cool that you move on to other areas just to get the ideas.

P: It's not just about civil engineers saying they have to do a podcast. That is actually not the goal. If you have a media affinity, then you just do it. Then it's also cool that you can use that to somehow inspire other people and point out other things. It's just a cool medium, so a great medium to do something like that.

Speaking of a medium: Do you have any goals that you want to achieve or are you just doing it as a hobby? What do you expect from your podcast?

P: Do you mean business goals, right?


M: As a hobby, it is first necessary to define a hobby. But it's definitely a hobby, because we don't get paid either. We also have no intention of making this podcast dependent on anyone. As long as we can work independently and do what we want with it, I think that's the goal. Of course, we have also defined specific goals. We wanted to have this message somehow and also convey this feeling of adding these missing parts in the training. But supplement is, of course, a broad term. Nor can we fill in all the gaps with a 60-minute interview or a 60-minute podcast episode every two weeks.

But we're actually trying to stimulate people a little bit. They say that they have heard something that they find cool and that is their specialty, which they know more about and go deeper into. Creating this awareness that civil engineering is more is our goal. In architecture, for example, it is entirely part of the social discourse. Architecture is about the impact we have on society. How do our buildings affect our surroundings? In civil engineering, it is always the case that you are trained to be a specialist. You learn how to calculate. But what are my buildings doing? What do my buildings do with the environment in which they are located, what can I get out of the building? What does our building do to the environment?

These are the questions that an engineer usually does not ask himself. They are not given to an engineer either. But I believe, as Philipp has already said, if we want to have this networking between civil engineers and architects, then the civil engineer must be aware of this responsibility. The responsibility is the influence on the environment. The goal is also to network a bit and see which people think similarly to us. It has always been clear to us that we will not be the only two civil engineers who think that way, just from a few fellow students we talked to. But how do we reach people across Germany who think that way? Can we perhaps network with people who think like us and have similar goals or have similar criticisms of construction? How do we find such people? How can we create something with them? Whether it should be a company now, but create something good for it, if it is a collective.

I actually thought the training was really cool. To fill gaps in knowledge or to familiarize yourself with other areas, because you never use it again in your studies or in general in your job, or less. We had our latest episode. It was about road construction, that is, recycling in road construction. Martina once gave a lecture on this. For me, it was the case that road construction was always an issue for me. I've always been in classic building construction, I only did structural engineering and road construction once in the 3rd semester and never again. Then again, I found it extremely exciting to see what new topics there were to discover. I also learned something new again. I think that's pretty cool. Also the approach that you expand your knowledge through the podcast. Of course, I'm happy that I helped you in this way. How do you two actually work to get your consequences?

P: To what extent do we find new ideas or how do we work with distance? I'll just tell you how we come up with ideas or consequences. I've already mentioned the ideas a bit. We started with stories about pioneers. We talked about Fritz Leonhardt in one of our first episodes. German building icons who achieved something very special in their time. As Daniel said earlier, they also looked outside the box in their day. They also simply saw how things work differently, how one can plan anew and use new materials in order to be able to solve social problems.

We like to talk about that. We have a few episodes about pioneers, there aren't that many yet. Then we talk about sustainability, because it is important to us. We just want to uncover facts about building materials. We have consequences about sand, about cement, and, of course, we are also talking about very sustainable building materials, for example, about the most sustainable building material there is, namely timber.

Furthermore, we are currently trying to gather a small collective. We have also received feedback from our listeners as to whether they can do a series with us. They want to work their way into a topic. We have then already dealt with some topics related to circular construction, that is, also a topic of sustainability. Then we also talk to people who have simply taken an unconventional path in their civil engineering life. For example, an interview with structurae. It's such a database, I don't know if you know it. Definitely worth a look - with pictures of buildings. In any case, it is really interesting.

We spoke to the founder of the platform, but we also spoke to professors. We have already spoken to Mike Schleich. We spoke to a professor from the TU in Dresden. There are always very interesting guests who simply talk about their specialty. We always try to steer the conversation in the direction of what interests young people. Is it just an engineering talk, or we want to show your face, what drives you. Also to show that you as a professor do really cool things and that you also have a personality. That is always what we want to represent and what we want to hear from their point of view.

It just happens that you meet an interesting person and just write to them whether they want to participate. Then the answer often comes: Yes, of course, and then you work something out. This is how you get to new episodes. Now, we have to find two or three episodes again, so we can continue.

Do you contact these people via email or via LinkedIn? Because I'm very active there, for example.

P: It depends; we actually write to some people in the traditional way via email, for example, via the university. We wrote to Anette Bögle from Hafencity Uni via email. An episode with Jan Knippers is coming soon. We just wrote to him on Instagram. He then immediately said that he was up for it and was there. We are currently planning this. It is always different. So we just use all the channels we have. We have already written to someone via LinkedIn. It depends.

M: Yes, sometimes we simply contact them using the contacts. For example, Martin Mikat, who works at Grünhelmen, worked with a friend of mine. He just gave me his phone number and I called him. I don't even know where he was, scattered around the world. He said that as soon as he's at home, we could then take it up. In the end, we recorded the interview with him and he was still in Lebanon. Or do you remember that? I think he was back there, right?

P: I think he was back then.

M: Yes, that's how it works, we use all possible channels.

Do you suggest certain topics to them or do they usually come up with their suggestions, or how do you agree on an exciting topic?

P: In principle, we ask if there is any interest in doing a series with us. The topic is not even discussed at that point. Then, they usually say yes or no. If they say yes, then I'll send out a script for an episode in the next few days and weeks. The script is then actually already complete and usually the message comes up that it fits. It actually never comes back that it should be revised again. It fits like that and you go through it that way. You work that little bit off, stupidly said. It's very stress-free for you in this way.

M: Maybe a little more stress-free for me than for Philipp, but I don't think completely stress-free, right?

P: I think that if you get promises for interviews, then it's definitely a nice feeling, and I can say that the work was worth it. It's always been a lot of work. How much work do you invest there? Is there any way of telling how many hours is that in a week?

P: This is really difficult to say, because it's always different. So one day it can be 10 hours per week.

M: I'll say it's a little less for me, it's simply because I have my 40 hour job every day. But it's always been something that you deal with almost every evening. Even if you don't record an episode, you have a short time every evening to invest in it.

Yes, but it's absolutely good for your listeners, so they always have enough episodes. Which episode did you like the most, or which episode, of those you've recorded so far, do you remember most?

M: I should say the one that popped into my head first, right? Because that's probably the point of your question. I don't even know if it was the best we did. I don't want to rank that at all. But somehow I think the episode about Ove Arup was pretty cool, because I actually didn't know him that much before. Phillip just dropped the name. Then I read something about it and was just a fan of the person. Then I kind of thought to myself, that's exactly how I want to work as a civil engineer and I want to be just like him.

I used to do sports and soccer as a kid, but I never really had role models. Now I'm 29 years old and I read something about Ove Arup and suddenly I have a role model. That's why I found this episode particularly cool. During the interviews, we always have a guest that we interview. Then we say goodbye and Philipp and I talk briefly on the phone again. Then, we sometimes sit there and wonder what that was, because that was just awesome. That has now completely flashed me and I don't want to take any out of it. These are just these interviews. For us, these are always moments of surprise and I think they're good, too.

P: So for me, there's one that is definitely in my memory. It was one of our first episodes where we talked about circular construction. We had Angela Feldman as a guest. That was just really cool. That was our very first guest on our podcast. We didn't really know what we wanted to talk about. We touched a topic where very little research can be done, because there is very little left. The fact that we talked and recorded it resulted in really good ideas that we then had with her. In my opinion, you could even write a book about the ideas we had. But that’s another topic.

Another episode with the big guests like Mike Schleich or with Annette Bögle, or with Steffen Marx. We recently released an episode there. These are just such incredible icons in civil engineering. We really enjoyed it and it was an honor to talk to them. What else is very dear to my heart is an episode with Barbara Nilkens.

She is an expert in site communication. That is one thing. She told me so little about how to communicate properly in construction so that we don't get on each other's nerves. She can really teach it professionally. But the other one, where she is also very committed, is in the German Association of Women Engineers. This is an association where female engineers are extremely supported, because it is not that easy for them in such a male-dominated world, of course. Her commitment is simply fascinating. In the episode, we really sat there and thought it was very awesome. What they are doing is really a pioneering achievement and an important work for equality in construction.

M: Yes, it is really cool what the whole bunch does. So not just her, but the whole club.

P: Yes, of course, it has an influence in civil engineering.

Yeah, cool thing. It's always nice when certain episodes stand out the most. Our podcast is about digital and innovative topics in construction. I would be interested in hearing from you, how do you actually see the future in construction? You already had some topics in your podcast about promising future technologies. How do you see the future of construction in general?

M: I think there is a realistic vision of the future and a very utopian one. The maximal utopian is very similar to a hippie commune. Everyone is together in an open field, where you know roughly what you want to build. Then, you just say let's start. What do we need? What do we have? What can we take to build?

That would be utopia and everyone is happy at work. The realistic one is, I think, because it is no longer a secret, that the construction industry is a huge polluter. Buildings are something that you definitely cannot waive. However, you should think about when I can in any case. I hope that in the future, we will use existing buildings more and prefer to see where buildings are being converted, before starting to build new ones. Otherwise, I also see the future that we will no longer build absurdly high skyscrapers. Time is running out, at least in Central Europe and perhaps also in the global north. I think it will be built in a more logical and useful way and not so ostentatious and prestigious. This is how I think the future of the construction industry will be.

P: In principle, I see it similarly to Michi. In addition, I think I mentioned in a nutshell earlier that the young generation, which is just growing up, also has a few different goals in the construction industry. We see movements of children, like Fridays for Future. But there are also adults as there are also Architects for Future. There are just so many people who will also form the offspring of the construction industry at some point. They're also already somewhere in there.

Anyone who participates in Fridays for Future will also be a civil engineer at some point. This group is so large that they simply want to make the construction industry much more sustainable. They have to. We know we have climate goals. Therefore, in my opinion, it is already far too late, so tough measures would have to be taken to achieve them earlier. A lot of people are demanding that, and this is definitely where the future of construction goes, that we optimize all the processes that exist now in such a way, that we can get there, because that is actually the only possibility we have. In the way we have done it now, it just won't work. That's how I see it a little bit.

You have already taken up the topic of digitization. In my opinion, there are not exactly those in Germany now, who can make friends with the topic of digitization. Especially when I think of our internet now. What do you think about that? I mean we have ambitious climate targets, but can the construction industry really change that quickly? Why does it take so long? The construction industry isn't exactly known for jumping on the bandwagon.

M: I think that's a bit due to the nature of the construction site. If you compare the construction industry with the automotive industry, where the developer and the builder and the planner are all in the same company. They are all employed by the big three, four or five companies that exist in Germany. The whole process from the idea of a car, through development, to completion happens in the same house. In the construction industry, we have different phases that are staggered. It means, that the communication between the individual phases can also be implemented. This is also a very tangible progress.

When it comes to digitization, we should assume that we are on the move a bit better because, as I said, we live in Germany. Our biggest problem is still our internet. This is of course a huge disadvantage if you want to 100% digitize an entire industry in an entire country. I worked on construction sites and I didn't even have a real mobile network. Sometimes, I had to walk to a certain corner so I could actually make phone calls in the boondocks where they built the bridge. That is absurd. We don't need to think about digitization on a construction site like this, because I have to drive to the office to be able to work digitally. That's still the case in Germany.

I'm not a telecommunications network expert now, so I don't want to make any big judgments. There are probably various reasons why this is the case in Germany, but this development process is generally difficult in the construction industry, because the architect is the architect, the client is the client, the civil engineer is the civil engineer, the executing company is the executing company.

They all have their own personal interests. The cooperation of all together is always related to one own project. Most of the time, the processes have already been updated in a planning office to such an extent that the innovation cannot come from the person who ultimately screws the steel beam to the column. When we think of a company like Toyota, and I don't want to advertise it. They introduced lean management. The craftsman who ultimately screws the door into the car can intervene in the entire development process if he sees that nothing fits anywhere. So the development is much easier to implement. I think that's a bit problem in the construction industry.

P: It is always said that Germany is doing so badly when it comes to digitization, but there is one thing you should never forget. I've been living abroad for a long time and things happen differently. Perhaps you can even say that Spain, where I live now, is a bit further in terms of digitization. But it is also a country, where the economy is run very differently. In Germany, something is brought onto the market if you are sure that it will work that way. That's why it's the same with digitization.

People want to be sure that what we want, namely to be digital, really works. In other countries, it is thrown on the market and then changed again. Important information is lost, but it's a different philosophy. I would never say that Germany is such a bad country. However, what does it mean, of course, because that is the problem in many other countries, that with such extremely hierarchical company systems, as Michi has already said on construction sites, that one simply has far too many clear roles, because there are many who do not feel responsible for many things. Then there are the different generations between the older ones in the company and the younger ones at the bottom. It is something completely new, something very difficult to act digitally.

These are just those kinds of vices that are really in between. We will always have this conflict. Because everyone who is 15 years old is ten times more digital than I was when I was in my early 30s. It will always stay that way, it's really super difficult to say. They'll see me like an old man and wonder how I use my cell phone. For me, it's a modern way of doing things. I don't know. This is really just a touchy subject. Nobody knows exactly what this digitization is that we are all talking about. What is it exactly? Nobody really knows that. It's not that funny.

Yes, that's right. But the digitization also stands for some key technologies and also for new trends, so I want to ask what you can think of. For new trends in construction in the future.

M: I'll get started. What I find incredibly interesting, but also a bit threatening somewhere, are 3D printed houses. On the one hand, I think it's really cool, because you can really use the material in the optimal place. On the other hand, it must always be taken into account that every technological advance, where a person is replaced by a machine, implies an increased consumption of resources, thus also having an increased impact on our environment and thus also destruction.

I still find the 3D printing of houses very interesting, because there are also various designs where materials other than concrete are used. In Italy, I wanted to do some research before taking our next episode, but they don't make 3D printing devices, they make materials. They say the technology for 3D printing is provided by others. We only specialize in materials. They also said that if they want to build things quickly and productively, then they need materials that are also sustainable, and really sustainable. In other words, suitable for circulation, if not cradle-to-cradle. They said we would make a mixture of clay and straw. This is what the 3D printed little shelters make. So no real houses yet, but they have the material and are developing it further. I think if you put something in connection with a high-tech device like a 3D printer, you can design very interesting buildings and also solve the problems on a small scale that we have when we say that we can make living space quickly, easily, and maybe also need small scale. That's why I find 3D printing technology very interesting, but also a bit threatening, of course, if we want to achieve our climate goals, because a machine can build faster than a person.

This means that it can use up resources faster than a human being, and thus also produce more CO2 and cause more damage to the environment. That is why such technologies in connection with sustainable products are very exciting.

P: Well said, Michi. For me, that actually relates a bit to my field of work. By doing my doctoral thesis on machine learning. We live in the data age. Everything we do and how we act is implemented and controlled by data. It controls what we buy on the internet and so on.

Especially in subjects, such as mechanics in civil engineering, where you can somehow say that we're talking about technical mechanics. In the past, engineers always tried to draw models and represent them mathematically in formulas. Everyone knows some crazy formulas that nobody understands, except maybe ten percent of all civil engineers, so to say. These formulas are somehow proven and also work. That is all well and good. But they still have some simplifications in what we can do with the data. We have exact mechanical properties that can be read out of a wide variety of data.

In particular, the topic of machine learning and so on or AI can really predict the modeling of buildings and material behavior, because you simply have different data. It has already shown that one has so much and the other so much. We combine this automatically via machine learning. That has huge potential. There's also a cool lecture by an American professor here at the university in Barcelona. He is already retired. All his life, he was looking for formulas. Now, the data age comes.

Today's engineers have to develop a key technology that allows us to use all possible data that we currently have to structually or dynamically design buildings, without having to have any formulas.

This is definitely a very exciting topic. Especially when I think of AI or computers or algorithms. There are already many programs that have implemented this. Certain algorithms that optimize them a bit. Be it in the structure, be it in the form, be it CO2 footprint or weight, material, and so on. The time will come when a user will say that he has the best for his application and wants to have the building spat out. This is the great future.

P: That's not so new anymore. Everyone knows it from the design subjects. There are the calculations of how much steel has to be put in. Then there are these mü diagrams. Maybe I'll say something wrong. But there are these diagrams where you have to go in, you see the x-axis and y-axis, and then you get the value. Everyone knows that from their studies or work. All of these tables are empirically determined data. There was once a doctoral student standing in a laboratory doing experiments for five or six years. Repeatedly changed parameters and then created a curve.

It's just a lot faster now. Nobody needs to sit down in the laboratory for six years. We can do this numerically and run these experiments numerically. When we have the data, we can simply scroll through it and read off any dependencies. It's such a key technology, that relates a bit to the principles of what I'm doing.

What is a trend nowadays and everyone talks about it: BIM - Building Information Modeling. What do you think about that? Is it just a bullshit bingo, or is it really being done? I know a good colleague who has studied with me and he said we plan in 3D, and we call it BIM now.

M: Let me quote one of our guests. We had Kim Löffler in our podcast. He's also such a BIM expert. He said that BIM is more than just a program, because BIM is a whole way of working. We actually already have the technology for BIM. You really have to use this BIM key. I think that is the hurdle of the individual work phases that exist in the construction industry. We shouldn't mess it with the others, because it is contractually regulated that he has nothing to report. That's the big problem with BIM.

As far as I have understood, because I don't work with it myself, BIM, the technology itself, is actually so much that we could actually implement it. The hurdle is elsewhere and I believe that it will definitely be a key technology. Because when everyone is working on one model, communication is also easier. The communication is also a key for the future. For the construction industry, it is at least one key to a sustainable future. I can imagine that BIM is definitely a key in actually making that happen.

P: Now, you've turned yourself in a circle, Michi. BIM is not a program.

M: Yes, I know. A BIM program, if you only refer to the program. BIM is more important. There are the programs that are so often referred to as BIM. They are just the key to it.

P: I think it's important that people educate themselves properly about what that means, as I've just scratched. That it is just not used by companies, to say somehow that we have the latest best BIM product, then you have to optimize your entire work processes, but that people understand what the point is, what you can do with it, and then steer it in the right direction. The aim is to make it easier for all engineers to work together. You should understand that and that should be understood by everyone.

You shouldn't let yourself be seduced by the product itself, but rather it should be created out of the desire that you need it and not just want to use it, because you can get it. Not just saying that BIM is the new thing, but also understanding why you actually need it yourself. It is definitely a key technology. Definitely, it's going to be a big thing and bigger than it already is.

This is very interesting. Let's see how the future will develop, which forecasts will actually be implemented that we have now made here. But before we finish this episode, we'd like to know what your favorite structure is. Michi always talks about structures in your podcast, so it is very interesting to know what your favorite structure is.

M: I'll start, because I have an absolute favorite building. It is the Pantheon in Rome. Why is it that? Why do I find it so good? I made a series of buildings about it. On the one hand, it is impressive that they used different types of concrete to construct this structure. That's where it starts. If we go further and say that it has been 2,000 years since different types of concrete were used, it makes it even more impressive.

That the building is still standing today, 2,000 years later, makes it even more impressive. That it was the tallest dome structure in the world for 1,700 years, makes it impressive in so many ways. It's a pressure shell. I wish I could do better design of modern pressure shells, and really good ones. I would have to deal with it again. But it's just impressive. Shell structures are always great and the Pantheon is just a great shell for me.

P: It becomes almost boring when I say something about an old architectural style. But that's also fascinating. Well, I find it really difficult to say what my favorite building is, because I think a lot of buildings are cool and I also like more modern buildings from the last century or from the current era. However, there's a lot of super interesting building styles, that is, a way of building. For example, there is always a building like that, the Sagrada Família.

This is one of Gaudi's most famous buildings. But Gaudi wasn't the only one who built it, in principle, you can also build domes out of bricks, out of very thin, super-light bricks. That is actually quite typical here in the region. The whole of the Spanish Mediterranean region has built this way for centuries. They have built staircases in such a way that they just take a very thin, light brick, press it into the hand, stretching the arch step by step, and attaching the next one to it.

There are just so many of them. You can see a lot of houses here that have so simply built staircases, and this is exactly from which the architectural styles of Gaudi have developed. What is also good in this context, are the buildings of Guastavino. He was a Spaniard who emigrated to the USA. His most famous building is the Grand Central Station in New York. He built everything in this architectural style. This is also an imposing, huge hall. I haven't been there myself and only know that from photos. But there is the whole roof, the whole vault underneath, the whole basement floors are also built from this architectural style, which was built from very thin, light bricks. What fascinates me about it, is the perfect use of the material. A building material that cannot actually absorb compression and also does not bear the compression, because it cannot. It's just such an ingenious solution. Very intuitive and very ingenious. We'd have to build more in this way.

Exactly, and there we are again. Optimizing the structures so that they are used in the best possible way for their properties.


Martina Summerer, M.Eng.

Martina Summerer, M.Eng.

Marketing & Public Relations

Ms. Summerer is responsible for public relations and podcasts.


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