University campus capital works construction programs typically entail single-client, multi-project scenarios that provide unique opportunities for research and innovation in architecture, engineering and construction. They involve recurrent work over time in a context where building is not done speculatively but rather aligned with long-term institutional vision – an enabling environment for persistent university-industry interactions aimed at knowledge generation and diffusion. As tertiary education institutions all over the world commit to ambitious construction programs directed in large part at strengthening their research and innovation ecosystems, university-led construction should be looked at both in terms of potential and limitations deriving from current ways of organising it.
The overall objective of the proposed research is understanding how project organization enables and conditions specific technological knowledge dynamics in university-led construction leading to its potential use for building research, development and innovation. Project organization is considered here as the layering-up of the formal organizational structure of the project and an extended socio-technical network that include actors who are not involved in the formal structure yet nevertheless mediate the social and technical development of the project. Specifically, the proposed research seeks to reveal how the socio-technical domain contributes to the two main innovation dimensions of construction project development: the technological outcome of its social organization (i.e. knowledge generation and capture), and the social outcome of the technological change that takes place within it (knowledge diffusion and adoption).
A cross-sectional multiple case study of international scale will be carried out to, first, analyse the current organization of university-led construction in a diverse set of institutions and, second, derive the likely effect of changes to current practice on the basis of a comparative in-depth study of prototypical cases. Knowledge dynamics will be studied by directing attention to the organization of construction at two levels: campus capital works construction programs, as a persistent source of test-beds where university-industry alliances can generate new knowledge by performing concurrent research and innovation; and capital works project coalitions, as temporary knowledge diffusion networks capable of triggering industrial change, including the adoption of socially valuable innovation. Information on selected construction programs and projects will be gathered from leading public and private universities in Switzerland, Australia and Chile.