Charting the Future of Construction & Engineering - Partner Shares Thoughts on Sustainable Development with Students

Michael Utsumi, Funding & Programs Coordinator
January 21, 2019

Seventh period at Dublin High School on a rainy afternoon is about to commence. I walk the stairs of the J building and enter room 204. I am greeted by computer science and engineering teacher Adam Brown. The 40 or so students in attendance are in for a treat as today’s guest speaker is Dr. Calvin Kam. Among many other things, he is the CEO of Strategic Building Innovation and an adjunct professor at Stanford University. The presentation is one that he has conducted with engineering students and architecture professionals across the country and around the globe. 

At the heart of it, the thesis outlines how far we have come with innovation in design and construction – yet, how far we still need to go. From a global perspective, the entire architecture and building industry contributes to 10-12% to the gross domestic product. Yet on the downside, the construction and subsequent operation of buildings adds 36-40% of carbon emissions into our environment. So, the ongoing challenge is to incorporate innovation and engineering best practices in the search for sustainable development.

Another affiliation that Calvin possesses is as a Principal Investigator with Disney Research China. One might think that we have made exponential gains in construction efficiency over the last several decades. Consider this: Dr. Kam cited research yielded from the Contemporary Hotel project at the Disneyworld Resort. The data from the 1970’s show that the construction crews could produce about 40 hotel rooms per week. However, very similar crews could not maintain that pace in the construction of Shanghai Disneyland Park in 2015. Why? Because most of the methodologies and construction best practices have remained largely unchanged. Again, elements of robotics and artificial intelligence may hold the keys to future building innovation.

As presentation wound down, Calvin shared two opinions. Though he is a member of the American Institute of Architects, he cited that architects are frequently given “too much credit” – particularly for signature structures. He highlighted the work of engineers and fabricators and he believes that it is one of greatest examples of teamwork and collaboration. So, participation at any level of the project should be recognized as a key contribution.

Finally, he offered some personal advice to the students. When he arrived from Hong Kong, he enrolled at the University of Southern California at age 16. Despite the guidance he was offered, Dr. Kam pursued a double major in engineering and architecture. His message: Choose not to follow the path of others and be daring enough to carve out your own path. It was an inspiring session. After a Q & A session, the class ended with a hearty round of applause. For one rainy afternoon, a bit of Stanford Univeristy came to Dublin High.

Group photo from Dr. Kam's presentation

Left to right: Ms. Karen Kam, teacher Adam Brown, Dr. Calvin Kam, student Adrian Liu, and Michael Utsumi from DPIE.

Author's Note: Dr. Calvin Kam and his sister, Karen Kam are avid sponsors of Dublin Partners in Education. Ms. Kam is the owner/proprietor of the Ulferts Center on Dublin Blvd and is a Silver Sponsor with DPIE. We are grateful Dr. Kam was willing to speak with DHS students who share his interest in Engineering.