Challenge 3:
Impact of the unexpected

“All the design documents and models were blown up by a bomb."
Professor Carfrae, structural engineer at ARUP

The construction of La Sagrada Familia was stopped by a military uprising in 1936. Anarchists broke into the cathedral and stole building plans, vandalised plasterwork and set the crypt on fire. At the time, barely a quarter of the project was complete. Work only resumed after the unrest ended in 1939.

In 2020, Covid-19 saw construction halt again. International travel collapsed, visitors ceased, and the main source of financing plummeted. Lockdown and social distancing made construction either problematic or impossible.

In the late 1800s, La Sagrada Familia had an abundant source of Montjuic stone from 28 quarries around the city of Barcelona. By the 1970s, the last quarries had closed, creating a material scarcity and a bottleneck in the project as sufficient quantities of sandstone must now be sourced from across the continent.7

Climate change is seeing La Sagrada Familia face extreme weather conditions, causing supply chain disruption and intolerable working conditions. Last year, the church baked in 43.6ºC heat and the summer of 2024 is predicted to be one of Spain’s hottest on record.8 There have also been severe storms; in 2023, Storm Ciarán battered the basilica with 150 km/h winds.

A planner’s 21st century perspective

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Mitigating risk with generative AI

Whether it is civil unrest or scorching sun, risk managers must be braced for whatever may be around the corner and ready to respond assertively.

Did you know?

La Sagrada Familia’s construction will also mean destruction. To install the entrance’s staircase, three city blocks housing 15,000 people will need to be demolished. Designated as protected green areas in Barcelona’s urban planning, this hurdle may jeopardise the church’s proposed 2026 completion date.

Generative AI makes this possible with...

Quantitative Schedule Risk Analysis (QSRA)

Generative AI significantly enhances the process of assessing and analysing schedule risk and identifying potential schedule delays caused by material scarcity or severe storms, for example.

AI-enabled QSRA offers significant advantages compared to traditional manual methods, with its superior speed and agility allowing for frequent adjustments and, therefore, more accurate predictions of schedule risk.

Hypothetical Use Case

In March 2020, a national lockdown was announced in Spain to combat the spread of Covid-19. QRSA aided by generative AI would calculate the impact of schedule delays and support a faster and more informed response to closure of the site or extended periods of reduced activity thanks to social distancing.

Risk mitigation

Generative AI can show the potential impact of a risk on an activity, from the late delivery of insulation to a week of heavy rain.

By forecasting potential risks upon project activities, the amount of delay can be calculated, and contingencies created.

Hypothetical Use Case

In March 2010, a thundersnow—a storm with more snow than rain—saw the heaviest snowfall in Barcelona in decades, stopping traffic across the city. Risk mitigation would be able to foresee the potential delays and invite proactive measures.

Risk monitoring

Generative AI can continuously assess the status of identified risks, appreciating that risk profiles are dynamic and fluid. By tracking changes in risk levels, control measures to address changes in project conditions can be implemented.

Regular updates to the risk profile ensure that risk management efforts remain relevant and effective as the project progresses, and not stuck as a moment in time.

Hypothetical Use Case

Red porphyry—a rare volcanic rock from a remote Egyptian quarry—is used to construct the La Sagrada Familia’s tallest interior columns, which provide essential support to its five towers. Risk monitoring would track the supply chain and quantity of this precious material, flagging any sign of jeopardy to its delivery.

Find out more about the other struggles La Sagrada Familia has had.

Choose which Challenge to learn more about.

Learn how to use Al to avoid delays, prevent cost overrun and accelerate capital projects.