[Interview] Marzia Bolpagni, “on the need to bridge industry and academia for a broader and more sustainable perception of the AEC Industry”

Marzia Bolpagni, international figure of BIM at MACE and around the world, presents her incredible journey

This week, we have the immense pleasure and honor of welcoming an International BIM Star, recognized worldwide for her excellence, career and leadership in BIM, Marzia Bolpagni, Head of International BIM International at MACE.

Marzia is an engineer from the University of Brescia, a former student of the famous professor Angelo Ciribini. For several years, she has been implementing digital strategies for MACE. It is a great opportunity to be able to understand both the journey and the vision of Marzia who has followed and influenced the evolution of BIM on an international scale in recent years.

Marzia Bolpagni
International BIM Manager – Associate Director
Twitter m_bolpagni

Marzia, thank you for doing us the honor of being interviewed on ABCD Blog. You are famous all over the world, can you introduce yourself in a few words to our readers?

Thank you Emmanuel for this invitation and congratulations on your work. I am a building engineer specializing in the digitization of the construction sector. I create digital strategies for international clients in 5 different international hubs, I take care of standardization at European and international level. I spend a lot of my time bridging the gap between industry and academia and changing the perception of our industry to be more diverse and sustainable.

What was your academic and university background? Have you always wanted to be an engineer? Or did you also think of becoming an architect at some point?

Art and science have always been my passion. I studied architectural construction engineering at the University of Brescia, which gave me a background in both engineering and architecture. This allows me to be professionally qualified as an architect and engineer. After finishing my studies, I decided to train as a civil engineer: maybe I would also get my chartership as an architect in the future, never say never!

I notice in several countries that many “BIM experts” do not have solid training, I think it is a lack because above all, you need professionals who understand the complexity of the construction sector to be able to digitize it!

When did you first discover digital and BIM? Has it always fascinated you?

At the University of Brescia, I had the chance to meet Professor Angelo Luigi Camillo Ciribini during the site organization course. Professor Ciribini was among the pioneers in Italy and abroad to study and implement BIM. The theme immediately fascinated me because it was something extremely innovative. I therefore decided to deepen it during my graduation thesis, also collaborating with the Finnish research center VTT, which then published my thesis in 2013 on the use of BIM in public procurement. The text was immediately a huge success and served as a reference for government strategies in different countries.

Moreover, in the construction industry, and in Italy in particular, did you feel that there was a lot to change and that digital approaches were necessary?

Absolutely yes. After finishing my studies, I realized how many opportunities there were and wanted to steer my career in that direction. I refused to start working in the traditional way using a purely 2D approach!

Who was your mentor and why? Angelo Ciribini?

Professor Ciribini was certainly the first and remains a constant source of inspiration today. Then, I met many people who believed in me from the start and understood my potential: I am extremely grateful to them. For this reason, for some years now, I have also started to be a mentor for other women or men. I currently accompany more than 10 people and I like to see their progress on a daily basis. Just today, a talented young man informed me that he had been hired for his first job!

Have other people inspired you?

Absolutely yes, and they still do today! It is important to have role models. When I started my PhD at Politecnico di Milano, I attended an international conference where several experts spoke, including Annalisa De Maestri (also interviewed by ABCDBlog) and Luciana Burdi (and.. you were also present Emmanuel). After seeing them on stage, I said to myself: “One day I want to get there too. » .. and after a few years I succeeded, also thanks to their advice: they are two incredible Women! I also had the chance to collaborate with David Philp who followed my doctoral thesis and Bilal Succar with whom I still collaborate within the framework of the BIM Excellence Initiative.

In your career that I know, I know that you were immediately interested in working internationally and in standardization, in particular by collaborating with research institutions. Could you please tell us about your beautiful career?

As mentioned before, I worked in 2012-2013 with the Finnish research center VTT on the subject of digitization of public procurement, then I collaborated with the Italian research center ITC, CNR. In 2014, I started a doctorate at the Politecnico di Milano which took me first to Boston in 2015-2016 working with Massport, then to London in 2016-2017 at the English Ministry of Justice where I met Mace, the company I work for today. In 2016, I published a text « The Many Faces of LOD » which allowed me to start a collaboration with CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, where for 5 years, I have been coordinating a group of experts from 16 different countries. on the topic of Level Of Information Need.

Could you please explain us your current role and introduce us to the company you work for, MACE, its organization and its objectives?

Mace is a consultancy, construction, property development and asset management company operating in five different international hubs.

Our goal is to redefine the boundaries of ambition by promoting a sustainable society, growing with the communities in which we carry out our projects and bringing distinctive value to our customers. Some of Mace’s achievements include: The Shard tower by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and the London Eye in London, Dubai Expo 2020, Tottenham Stadium and East Village #08.

You have experienced an incredible evolution, certainly linked to your passion for digital and your great skills. Could you explain us your internal progression at Mace? And your role now in particular. What is your mission?

I started as a BIM advisor in 2017 before being promoted to senior BIM advisor and now I am associate director – international BIM manager. I deal with the implementation of BIM at the international level, helping public and private clients to start a digitization process that respects their level of digital maturity: from Australia, India, the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, North America and South America.

After only 15 months at Mace, I was recognized as the best employee in terms of innovation and service excellence among more than 6,000 employees.

For a few years, you have also been managing a very important subject on Level Of Details in the world, in Europe and in Italy. You are certainly the most experienced personality in this field. Why ? Was it already linked to your passion or did it happen by chance?

It all started when I was in the USA in Boston and I realized that the way project owners specified the information required was often generic and did not allow automatic or semi-automatic checks. So I wanted to study the problem in depth and work with other experts to find a solution that could improve the industry.

What is the state of the art of LOD or LOIN or LOx and what is the difference and how will it help the industry grow?

Worldwide, there are many definitions relating to the level of development / detail / information etc. which I summarized in the article “The Many Faces of LOD“. These definitions do not precisely define the information needs and are too often subject to interpretation. This is why we have created a standard in Europe (EN 17412-1) to improve the way of requesting information in the field of BIM: the level of information requirement. The standard provides the concepts and principles of the information request framework (geometric, alphanumeric and documentary information). We are also working on a guideline and data schema for software developers.

You can find more information (in Italian) in these articles here, as well as here.

You are recognized and have received many awards and honors over the past months/years. Can you tell us which ones? And what award did you find most striking or touching?

The one to which I am particularly attached is that of 2017 as the best Woman Engineer in Italy, because it was the first recognition obtained.

I’m also very keen on the 2019 award my team received as Best Digital Initiative of the year.

In 2021, I then received 9 individual awards and I am truly honored! Receiving the UK’s best young engineer award and meeting Princess Anne was a unique experience that I will never forget in my entire life. I was also included in the 50 most influential women in technology in the UK by publishing an article in the Financial Times. In November, I was also awarded as a woman of the future in the Construction, Real Estate and Infrastructure category and… Forbes Italia talked about it!

WOF Awards 2021

It’s good to see that different countries recognize your work. Do you think Italians are proud of you?

I think so. In fact, the Alumni Association of the University of Brescia awarded me the title of alumnus of the year in December: I was very happy. I also often receive messages from other Italians who see in me an example (or a hope) of being able to emerge, despite my young age!

Are you still doing engineering and design or more? And don’t you miss it?

At the moment, I am not directly involved in design, but in life, you can’t stop being an engineer! I apply my knowledge on a daily basis in the projects that I follow. As I mentioned before, it is important to have professionals in our companies and not just “digitalization experts”.

However, I believe that the myth of the “linear path” must be dispelled: more than ever, it is possible to start a path of training and professionalization, and then take another path. As I explained in my recent book Industry 4.0 for the Built Environment, there are many roles and emerging needs for new cross-disciplinary skills!

In the UK, are you also involved in national working groups such as CDBB, UK BIM Alliance, buildingSMART UK, National Digital Twin?

Yes of course, I am an Ambassador for the UK BIM Alliance, worked on a CDBB project on Digital Compliance (D-COM) and I am a Special Topic Project Manager for the Construction Innovation Hub dealing with assessment of the maturity of customer requirements to support the industrialization of buildings (platform approach).

You are also working on the BIMDictionary. Could you please tell us about this great initiative?

The BIM Dictionary (BIM Dictionary) is an open source project supported by a community of over 140 volunteers to create a trusted source with key BIM-related terms. It currently has 810 terms in 27 different languages. The project is part of the BIM Excellence initiative founded by Bilal Succar, a leading BIM expert. I assume the role of Associate Editor coordinating the international teams and overseeing the Italian translation (developed by an all-female team formed by experts Silvia Mastrolembo Ventura, Silvana Bruno, Isabella Selmi, Giovanna Alacri and Marina Block).

How do you explain that there is such an advanced Italian diaspora in BIM and construction all over the world and more particularly in England. How do you explain this superiority and this situation? Is your university system creating excellence or are there other reasons?

It’s a good question. The Italian university trains professionals who are internationally appreciated. We often complain that there is too much theory compared to our foreign colleagues, but it allows us to solve complex situations. It is true that in the UK there are many Italian professionals; precisely for this reason, in 2019 I created the Italians in Digital Transformation UK (IDT UK) community, made up of Italians who work in the UK and who have a passion for digital innovation and a spirit of collaboration: we are now more than 500 people. Together with the organizing committee – whom I take this opportunity to thank for the time and passion they put in – we organize events that aim to be a bridge between Italy and the United Kingdom (and beyond). beyond!) on the theme of 360-degree digital transformation. Follow the LinkedIn page to be informed of our next free events!

In Italy, it was academia that lobbied for mandatory BIM, a situation opposite to many other countries. How can we explain it?

It’s true. Several university professors have lobbied for the adoption of BIM in Italy; we are fortunate in our industry to have excellent minds in academia! Through research and development, they understood the potential of BIM and they worked with institutions and professionals to form and create a government obligation.

You have done so many great things in your career. What are your goals for the future? What would your next dream be?

Thank you. I have several: but one of the main ones would be to work so that the construction sector can change radically in order to respond to the question of climate change and to propose solutions.

Besides BIM and digital, what are your personal passions?

Traveling ! I also like art and I like to visit exhibitions, I look forward to the winter months to practice winter sports (skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and ice skating).

What do you like in Great Britain? And how difficult was it to fit in?

The opportunities it presents to us young people, especially to us talented young women. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to fit in, as I surrounded myself with smart people who shared the same interests as me.

Do you know a little about the French AEC market. What do you think about it?

Unfortunately, I don’t know it that well. A few years ago I collaborated with the MINnD project on the legal and contractual part with Professor Ciribini and we also participated in EDUBIM in 2016. Compared to other countries, it seems to me that France invests in the infrastructure part which is a very important topic of course. Often, the published materials are only in French and it is a shame because it cannot be used by a wider audience. Fortunately, it is you Emmanuel who, with your blog, allows a wider audience to discover French work!

Would you like to say something special to our readers?

Leave room for young talent: together you can go a long way and achieve results you never imagined possible!

Photo by Stewart Turkington – www.stphotos.co.uk

Dear Marzia, we thank you very much for this interview and we wish you continued success.

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