Connect with Emerging Technology: Meet Albert Zulps
Skanska’s Director of Emerging Technology Albert Zulps has lived many lives—from serving in the Canadian Navy and traveling the world to designing buildings and residences in Japan. Now, he’s working at the intersection of construction and technology. In this Q&A blog, Albert discusses how he got into the construction industry, the best part of his role and what he’s most excited for in the field of emerging technology.
How did you get into the construction industry? Did you know you always wanted to be in construction?
My love of the built world was sparked by travel, and then my love of construction began while working in Japan.
Growing up, I was interested in science and engineering. As a teenager, I enlisted in the Canadian Navy in the Marine Engineering Officer program, for the adventure and to serve my country.
While sailing to various ports of call I began to take notice of the built world—from shanty towns in Quito, Ecuador to the Sydney Opera House. This opened my eyes to architecture and urban planning (or lack thereof!) and the people and cultures that created them.
After I completed my tour in the Navy, I studied architecture and became a registered architect. I have led or worked with teams designing buildings in Singapore, Japan, the Dutch Antilles, Canada and the U.S.
A particular experience that shaped my future was working for Yasuo Yoshida Architects in Japan. We not only designed interesting buildings and spaces, but we performed the act and art of physical construction.
We built trendy bars and restaurants, and modern houses using an array of contemporary and salvaged materials. I learned to create the architectural elements and structures that made up buildings.
In Tokyo, we used found materials from a newly demolished building to create an industrial stage set for a production of the Shakespeare play King Lear.
In Osaka, we built an entertainment complex on a vacant plot of land – to stand for 730 days to take advantage of this land destined for future more intense development - with a disco and bar as a focal point and several food pavilions arrayed on the site, forming a makeshift courtyard.
In Nara, we built a modern house, snuggled within a historic neighborhood of traditional houses, and used the tatami mat as a measure for design and construction.
The 4’x8’ sheet of plywood is a unit of construction that informs much of our work in the U.S., the same way a tatami mat still has influence on Japanese construction.
What drew you to your current position at Skanska?
The opportunity to learn about construction processes from the best at Skanska, and then communicate these processes through the modeling and 3D logistics work (4D) that I was performing for pursuits and construction phasing.
What has kept me here is the people! A common thread through my commission in the Navy, working as an architect, and now working for Skanska is the importance of teamwork and respect.
I was working as a field architect on a Skanska project, the Ross School Center for Well Being in East Hampton, New York, for Richard Cook & Associates, Architects.
As the field architect, I developed a sense for the flow of the construction, and I mediated between the design intentions and the reality of site conditions, which sometimes were in conflict.
I began empathizing with the contractor and field team and the pressing issues of keeping a project moving. I learned to be sensitive to potential issues, to keep the project on schedule and within budget, while respecting the desired aesthetics and outcome of the owner and the design intent.
To communicate issues and solutions, I used hand sketches and 3D modeling, which the owner and CM appreciated. This project was very successful and stands as one of the marquis buildings of the Ross School campus today.
After this project was completed, Skanska offered me a position in their New York office as a logistics architect, a precursor for what is now a VDC Manager.
Many projects are designed, but never realized. So, it’s very satisfying working for Skanska with a team of great people, actualizing the designs and creating the built world.
What is a typical day like in your role?
A typical day may involve working with drone network leaders, reviewing processes for supporting emerging technology pilots in various regions, researching or documenting a new technology, and working with IT to negotiate a software contract renewal.
On a good day, I get the opportunity to visit a project site to learn about a team’s processes and potential problems, brainstorm solutions, and conduct ongoing drone and reality capture services and training.
I’m lucky that I don’t really have a typical day. Every day is exciting and with purpose, and overtime a rhythm is noticeable—the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle as it relates to emerging technology, underscored by our newly developed tech enablement process.
What is the best part of your job?
Working with my colleagues at Skanska. I’m constantly amazed at the passion and support of those that I work with directly in emerging technology and into operations.
Everyone has a can-do attitude and is willing to try new ways of working and technology to solve pain points and improve the business.
What are you most excited about that’s coming up in emerging technology and construction?
I’m excited about the next generations of construction robotics, enabled by AI and machine learning. For example, autonomous indoor drones are just around the corner.
This will free up our people from daily or weekly chores of construction documentation and progress tracking, and identifying problems revealed in the data so that they can develop solutions.
Do you have any cool apps/productivity tools/useful plugins/tech solutions you think everyone should know about?
I’m a huge fan of 360 photos. We’re lucky to have an enterprise agreement with StructionSite, which helps to organize the 360-photo data we use to document our projects.
What you may not know is that you can easily send a 360 photo from the program, with interactive markups to anyone inside or outside the company.
No special software is required for the recipient to open the interactive 360 photo, whether on a phone or a computer. This is a game changer when it comes to simple, quick communication.
Is there an app you can’t live without? Why?
MS Teams is my new go-to app. It does so many things, whether on the desktop or iPhone. I also like the 3D Scanner App, which allows you to create 3D geometry and take accurate measurements using the iPad, using the built-in Lidar.
What is something most people might not know about you?
I was reluctant to become a drone pilot, but after studying, taking the exam and becoming licensed, I’m honored and humbled to be part of this vibrant community. It’s never too late to learn something new!
On a personal note, my daughter is off to college, so I have a little more time to spend surfing.
Enjoyed this conversation? Check out our previous Q&A blog in our Connect with Emerging Technology series where we get to know Senior Director of Emerging Technology Danielle O’Connell.