Interview with Rolf Steiner, municipality of Küsnacht - «The construction site is becoming more transparent.»

Digitalisation is also making its way into road construction and civil engineering. An interview with Rolf Steiner, Deputy Manager of the Civil Engineering Department in the municipality of Küsnacht in the canton of Zurich and the initiator of the “Eigenheimstrasse” pilot project.

What motivated the municipality to start a pilot project in road construction and civil engineering?

We feel that digitalisation will hold a great deal of promise in the future, especially for us as clients. This is why we want to actively influence the development. We could wait and see, and let two or three others take the plunge before us. However, we would then not build up any experience ourselves and would only be able to carry out copy-and-paste jobs.

Where do you see the greatest benefits for you as clients?

For me, there are two main benefits here: quality assurance and the extensive knowledge platform. The construction site is becoming more transparent. In some cases, we may have to renovate roads that were only renewed a few years ago. I want to document in the model what was actually installed and in which level of quality. Therefore, in the “Eigenheimstrasse” project, the aim is to integrate information from the construction site – such as installed layer thicknesses, materials, suppliers and the installation temperature – into the digital twin.


Do you intend to monitor the construction progress from your office?

It is not about being a control freak. That would be the wrong approach to take. However, the model allows us to implement in-house quality assurance work with the data throughout the entire life cycle of the construction. This facilitates targeted investment planning.


You have just put a digitalised construction process out to tender for the first time. So were you able to do everything the way you had planned?

An interesting question for me was: Where is the market? From the very outset, I was confronted with a wide range of concerns, including the fact that we could overburden the market. We thus deliberately kept the prequalification stage open and asked the contractors to show us how they deal with the opportunities provided by digitalisation in areas such as building materials, mechanical engineering, execution and surveying. We were surprised at the level of quality the best candidates were able to offer. We have now established the foundations for the tender of the second stage.

A two-stage process is rather unusual in road construction and civil engineering.

The two-stage process was well suited for this project. As a result, we have succeeded in conducting a target-oriented preselection. Unfortunately, the current market mechanisms in road construction and civil engineering do not facilitate innovative developments.


Why not?

Because we need a different set of rules in place to do so. We need to introduce a philosophy that allows for mistakes and does not ask whose fault it was or who is going to pay as a first reaction to something going wrong. You can only do this with a team that actively supports this. Team spirit is massively important for a new development, as you also need to have courage.

What recommendations would you give to other clients?

I would encourage them all to get involved with similar projects. Now is the time to do so, but only if they are going to be 100% committed. Anyone who just says “I want digitalisation, but I do not want to provide any resources for it” would be better off not getting involved with such a project. You cannot carry out such a development half-heartedly. You have to make it your top priority. What is more, you need to be constantly learning from real-life projects. It is really exciting, and I am convinced that there is a great deal of potential for everyone involved in the project. It is really important to me that everyone involved – the clients, the planners and the contractors – participates in the success of digitalisation.

The “Eigenheimstrasse” project
The municipality of Küsnacht in the canton of Zurich and the plants on Lake Zurich aim to press ahead with digitalisation in road construction and civil engineering. The first pilot project is the complete renovation of Eigenheimstrasse, a 370-metre-long side street. Basler & Hofmann are using a digital model (BIM Infra) to plan the renovations and will support the developer’s submission. The municipality is carrying out a two-stage procedure with a prequalification stage. Out of eight participants, three construction companies have qualified for the second phase.