Prof.dr. A.H. van Marrewijk

Professor of Construction Cultures
Department of Management and the Built Environment

Alfons van Marrewijk is professor of Construction Cultures. Where the built environment is being faced with a need for change, the construction industry will have to provide solutions. But is the culture of the construction industry sufficiently geared to change? Construction cultures deals with this interface of technology and behaviour: “The construction industry is packed with rituals, which people are hardly even aware of. By paying attention to the how and why of these rituals, you create space for change.”

As a practising consultant as well as an academic, Van Marrewijk is specialised in organisation science, and in particular change processes. “I look at the way in which organisations work together, in chains and in projects, examining the shared values and standards, habits and patterns and written and unwritten rules that together make up what we call culture.”
As an academic he combines his work for the TU Delft chair, one a day a week, with part-time appointments at the University of Oslo and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. ‘Construction cultures’ has found a natural home at the department of Management in the Built Environment, and has been made possible by Bouwend Nederland [association of building and infrastructure companies in the Netherlands]. “The building industry is faced with huge sustainability tasks, but in addition to a long tradition of craftsmanship, is also characterised by a conservative culture and a high level of competition; two characteristics that can stand in the way of innovation.” Governmental bodies, from local municipalities to the Central Government Real Estate Agency, have far-reaching ambitions for circular construction. “Architects are also keen, and have ideas on how to achieve this, but they have to be willing to work with recycled materials. Then the builders and installers say that they want to create a building in the way that they are used to. So at the end of the day, little of the original ambition remains.”

From his chair, Van Marrewijk wants interventions that have led to behavioural changes in other sectors to be applied to the building industry. One example of such an intervention is reflecting on collaboration behaviour and opening it up for discussion. “There is a tendency to say: we have a contract so let’s get on with it. People start work straight away, without making good agreements on what will happen if any setbacks occur. While the practice of public-private partnerships shows that you need to start by investing heavily in trust.” The questions needed to achieve this are not being asked. How do the various parties see the project? What is the working practice of the others like? How do we give each other feedback? “How do we deal with escalations? A behavioural intervention can lead to these questions being asked at the beginning of the project and – just as important – that they remain on the agenda throughout the building process.”

There is a need for cultural change at every level, from interacting individuals or groups in the building chain to organisational level, according to Van Marrewijk. “New practices that are set up as part of circular constructions also need to become institutionalised, or they will not stick.” This happens when they are made a part of the tendering procedures of the Central Government Real Estate Agency and in the guidelines and methods of the BNA (the branch association of Dutch architects) and Bouwend Nederland. “However, innovations that have come about in recent years at project level have not been fixed or formulated. So often we continue to reinvent the wheel.”

Alfons van Marrewijk