Construction science: scientists do their best, but there is no yield

Construction science: scientists do their best, but there is no yield
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Why does the state not allow scientists to manage science funds themselves? The director of the scientific research institute of reinforced concrete addresses this question to the State Council Presidium.

The State Council Presidium, headed by President Vladimir Putin, on the problems of the construction industry will take place in spring. has planned a number of publications on various acute issues of the industry’s development.  The series starts with this article on the problems of the industry’s scientists. Our speaker is Alexei Davidiuk, Director of the Concrete and Reinforced Concrete Research Institute, DScTech, Emeritus Builder of Russia. 


Mr. Davidiuk, in spring the State Council Presidium dedicated to the problems in the construction industry, and headed by the RF President, will be held. If you took the floor at the event, what would you speak about? In particular, what is preventing the industry’s scientists from working on full scale?  

— The result of scientific developments which may be used in practice are the innovations. But before one gets the results, he should carry out scientific investigations. Entrepreneurs and businesses on the whole seem interested in innovations as they help one to get ahead of rivals. However, they do not want to finance the basis for these innovations – i.e. scientific research work. 

So I would answer your question as follows: the construction industry’s scientists are working hard now, but the innovation component is not big. Mainly we have to solve current issues: inspection, expertise, etc.  There is no backlog in fundamental research. Scientific staff training has moved to higher educational institutions to a great extent.


— But if business does not want to finance fundamental research, who is to do it?

— It is evident that it is the state’s responsibility, but construction science has been unlucky recently:  it has found itself to be the red-headed stepchild.

Some years ago, voluntarily, on the basis of three institutes, the JSC “Construction” Scientific Research center” was created. The institutes were the Concrete and Reinforced Concrete Research Institute, the Central Research Institute of Construction Structures and the Research Institute of Foundations and Substructures, and they were deprived of financial independence and turned into structural units of JSC.  Five teams of managers have followed one another, four of which consisted of people with no knowledge of construction.


А. Davidiuk: «Five teams of managers have followed one another, four of which consisted of people with no knowledge of construction»


Only a year and a half ago the center was headed by a professional, the President of the Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction sciences, Alexander Kuzmin, and two years ago, after a 20-year interval, The Ministry of Construction was restored. But there is no scientific/technical department in the structure of the new ministry yet.


— So the ministry has been restored but industrial science has remained an orphan? And you cannot account for any orders from it?

— The Ministry of Construction deals with the normative base in the sphere of construction. It is a very important tool of scientific technical progress. It allows for the inclusion of modern technologies, advanced materials in standard or construction norms and regulations, and the construction of reliable and efficient buildings.  

To make clear if an actualized norm is good or bad (e.g. if the European standards we are encouraged to use are good or bad), they are to be tested by a corresponding scientific-research body. Nobody has carried out such work. That’s why norm actualization has been carried out recently without trial design. Thank God, the norms were written by highly qualified people and they managed to avoid serious mistakes. But if any new materials were introduced, there were very few of them.

The situation is changing for better now. Last year, The Ministry of Construction, through its organization, the Federal Center for price formation in the construction and construction materials industry, ordered both the actualization of the operating SNiPs and regulations, and scientific-research work justifying the changes to be introduced. The topics on monitoring the existing construction normative base are very significant.

Last year our institute was also financed for the actualization of a number of documents and monitoring of the existing normative base on concrete and reinforced concrete. Such organizations as NOSTROY and NOPRIZ were also involved in financing normative documents, besides their own standards.

Unfortunately, rather modest financing is being allotted. For example, in the EU the development of one Euro-standard costs €1m on average. Our work costs many times less.

А. Davidiuk: «In the EU the development of one Euro-standard costs €1m on average. Our work costs many times less».


— You have said that the state is to finance fundamental research, including trade science. It is difficult to argue with that, but I’d like to hear your reasons as to why the state should be interested in it.

— The thing is that construction means creating the environment. There is a saying: “God created the Earth, and all the rest was created by constructors”. The environment must be safe for people: we spend 90% of our life inside a building, and only 10% outside.  

Construction and finishing materials must not involve harmful substances. Buildings must not fall even in the event of an earthquake.  

The problem of substandard housing is very acute in Russia. The growth in dwellings acknowledged as hazardous surpasses the volume of resettlement. According to the Chairman of the Public Council under the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities, Sergei Stepashin, the volume of substandard housing may be 100m m2 by 2020. According to the Ministry’s data, during the period between 2007 and 2015, 12m m2 were resettled, i.e. 1.5m m2 a year.

The principle task of construction science is to develop reliable, sustainable and long-lasting materials. The main (basic) modern construction material is concrete. But it is a very complex multi-component material.

“Concrete technology is fine chemical engineering”, the English professor, Dr. Adam Neville used to say. His books were manuals for than one generation of specialists in the sphere of concrete. The wrong engineering design in the correlation of components results in expensive repair work, in treating and reinforcing constructions, and in early exhaustion of the operational resource of a building.

That is why a constructor should actively seek out scientists to solve their problems. Scientific engineering following the construction of different objects of both unique and mass application is becoming more and more popular.


— In what ways should trade science’s fundamental research financing be organized better?

— Of course, the Ministry of Construction should do it better, as the major part of construction science (in particular the leading industry institutes, including “Construction Scientific Research Center” JSC) are not part of the Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Sciences (RAACS). Neither are their directors members of the Academy. Their participation in the Academy’s work would be useful.

RAACS is one of the few state academies uniting highly qualified specialists. It should be exploited as a facility coordinating construction science. Even the name of the Academy itself works to this end.


А. Davidiuk: «We need the union of the Ministry of Construction, RAACS, “Construction” SRC”, trade scientific research institutes and MSCU»


 There are respectable academic councils in RAACS that can consider scientific research coordination issues and take corresponding decisions. The financing of such scientific research work may be organized through a grants system.


— But the system of grants is good for the most pressing research and does not solve the problem of science financing on the whole.

— That’s right. We need a reliable and expanded system of fundamental research financing. And the role of coordinator should be assigned to RAACS. But the thing is that the state does not want to allow scientists to manage the money themselves. I do not know the reason for this distrust, but science will hardly benefit from it.  


— So, trade scientific research institutes may suffer the same fate that happened to the institutes of RAS (Russian Academy of Sciences), which were assigned to the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations, and now officials manage the money. Is this good or bad?

— Of course, it is bad. To my mind, scientists themselves should solve the problems of trade science financing. And the Ministry’s role is very important. And we have experience!

To remind you, before perestroika, trade science was financed via the State Committee on Construction under the USSR Council of Ministers. The Gosstroy created coordination councils for major directions of scientific research. In particular, such a coordination council for concrete and reinforced concrete was situated here, in our institute.  

More than 500 organizations were included in the council: higher educational institutions, chairs, research laboratories, and special purpose institutes. Many of them advanced proposals to carry out scientific research work, which were considered by the relevant sections, and the annual session of the coordination council adopted the financing of specific work.   

Then scientists decided themselves which project to finance and, of course, it was controlled by the USSR’s Gosstroy.


— How can this experience be used in the current conditions?

— We need a union of the Ministry of Construction, RAACS, “Construction” SRC”, trade scientific research institutes and MSCU, on the basis of which the “Construction” innovation center was created.

I think that the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities may be considered a tool of state policy in the sphere of scientific and technical progress in construction. Nowadays the establishment does not have this function, and there is no special department.

We should try to get targeted financing for construction science. And the issue of construction science financing should be put forward before the state authorities. And a special line in the state budget should be introduced.