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From Silo to Innovation Hub: The Rise of Construction City

The chance conversation that led to the largest ever collaborative effort in Norway's building and real estate industry.

Published 15. January 2020
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The construction and real estate industry has been critisized for its low productivity and innovation power. Construction City is the industry’s own reply to these challenges.

When Daniel Kjørberg Siraj and Morten Grongstad talk about the future of construction, the industry pays attention.

After all, the CEOs of OBOS, Norway’s largest residential developer, and AF Gruppen, a leading contracting and industry group, are primary movers in the Norwegian construction and property industry.

For the geographically diverse Norwegian industry, it has been a challenge to bolster the culture of collective innovation to meet an onslaught of international competition. At a meeting meant to discuss the possible co-location of their companies’, Siraj and Grongstad instead ended up suggesting a project that would change the way a whole industry works and competes:

«It certainly was a breakthrough meeting. We agreed to do something that would lift the entire industry’s competitive power: A property and cluster concept that welcomes all industry stakeholders - competitors, partners and educational institutions», says Daniel Kjørberg Siraj.

The idea of Construction City was born.

Oversikt 1
Rather than develop and sell the property as they normally would, Obos, AF Gruppen and Betonmast agreed to build Norway's leading innovation cluster for their industry.

Campus rising

Construction cranes hover over the Ulven area in Oslo as a new, sustainable innovation district rises just ten minutes from the city center.

Here, Construction City will find its first physical home in more than 80 000 square meters premium office space. Obos, AF Gruppen and Betonmast, a large construction Company, will be the first to co-locate here when completed in 2025.

Six spacious office wings will shoot out from a lofty and pleasant social atrium where people meet for events and meals to share insights, initiate collaboration and drive new solutions. The inviting physical space will be accompanied by a vibrant digital community where cluster members discuss industry strategy.

«Most of us spend as much time at the office as we do at home. That is why we need to work as hard shaping the future workplace as we do shaping the future home», Siraj Says. «The greatest advantage of co-locating at Construction City is that you’ll be close to the people you collaborate with. The shorter the mental and physical distance, the easier it is working together».

Spanning a quarter-million employees ranging from architects and constructors to electricians and real estate agents, Morten Grongstad believes co-locating the industry will create scalable innovation that will benefit everyone:

«It means we can offer digitally smarter working environments, and that we’ll be able to offer the environment, products, and services that future employees want», Grongstad says.

If there is one place a cluster can play a pivotal role, this is certainly the industry. Construction City can be the powerhouse that creates new insights, better quality and lower costs for the entire field.

Torger Reve – Professor, Norwegian Business School BI

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«Accommodating the full value chain, from suits in the office to helmets in the field, Construction City needs to be where cross-sector players meet to share insights, collaborate on projects and lift the industry’s collective competitiveness», says CEO Benedicte Økland.

The cluster way

Cities around the world are redeveloping industrial areas, downtown districts, and office parks with a mix of retail, housing, and the anchors of the new digital economy: startup incubators and co-working spaces.

«Industry clusters create and promote dynamic development. They have become incredibly important to knowledge sharing and business development around the world. Industries that succeed always have strong clusters», says Professor Torger Reve at Norwegian Business School BI. He is Norway’s premier expert on clusters and an advisor to Construction City.

Clusters have gained a strong foothold in Norway, particularly in the maritime and health industries. Working with the seminal report «A knowledge-based Norway», Reve discovered that the construction and real estate industry, one of the country’s largest, had no clustering whatsoever.

«If there is one place where a cluster can play a pivotal role, this is the industry. Construction City can be the dynamo that creates new insights, better quality and lower costs for the entire field», Reve says.

Reve’s assumption was underscored when Construction City one year after its launch, was awarded official status as a Norwegian Innovation Cluster, for its work to promote long-term innovation through collaboration.

It is paramount to step away from the ‘You Win, I Lose'-attitude. If your company does better, so does mine.

Erna Solberg – Prime Minister

Collaboration is the new competition

«While existing professional networks are mostly limited to one profession or sector, Construction City is a cluster with a mission to be the driving force for collaboration and new solutions across the industry», says Benedicte Økland.

Økland was Construction City’s first CEO in 2018. She has worked to accommodate the complete value chain from suits in the office to helmets in the field, from major construction companies and infrastructure companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and Telenor, to startups with groundbreaking ideas. There is already a plethora of events, field trips, and courses on offer. As forward-leaning companies, educational institutions and organizations are joining the cluster, Construction City is becoming an important industry player.

«Norway leads the world in energy solutions, bridge and tunnel construction and novel project management technologies. Construction City represents the entire value chain. The resulting cross-sector solutions is what will put us ahead», Benedicte Økland says.

They are also launching a sophisticated digital community platform where members connect to solve strategic challenges and learn about technology, business models and sustainability - long before the physical premises are completed.

«This virtual arena is important to connect across sectors and geography. We hope these new synergies will allow us to catch up to the boosted productivity rates that other industries have experienced», Økland says.

CoLab – Construction City in a nutshell

Nowhere is the cluster’s vision more visible than in CoLab. 300 square meters of flexible work stations and state-of-the-art meeting facilities, CoLab is a 24/7 coworking space where members meet, host events and inspire each other.

The space was officially opened by Prime Minister Erna Solberg in September 2019. Wearing the goggles that allow her to move around in a 3D-rendered building model, the PM emphasized the industry’s importance as a supplier of critical infrastructure that affects everyone's bottom line:

«Moving away from the ‘You Win, I Lose’-attitude is paramount. If your company does better, so does mine. If your company delivers products with fewer errors before my business takes over, the lower costs for both of us», Solberg said. «That is the beauty of broader collaboration. Competition is not the only way to become better.»

Member rush

Daniel Kjørberg Siraj and Morten Grongstad are eager for industry change:

«I am convinced that Construction City will be the uniquely best industry cluster in Norway for the construction and real estate industry», Grongstad says.

Kjørberg Siraj wants to create the ‘world’s best workplace’ and to see large and small companies succeed:

«But most of all, I can’t wait to walk in the door with 22-year-old students and to share my own knowledge in a way that allows them to develop as people and future employees of our companies».