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The 1930s search engine – we look at 90 years of information and technology

13 May 2021

As we celebrate the Building Centre's anniversary, we look at 90 years of information and technology, and our evolution from a materials bureau to championing robotics.

The last 90 years has seen incredible advances in how we store, receive, and share information. In order to stay relevant, the Building Centre has needed to constantly adapt in its mission to improve the flow of building information to professionals and the public.



In 1931, the postal service, telephones, and displays were the main source of building information. By 1956 the Building Centre’s Telephone Enquiry Room received over 28,000 enquiries (an average of 115 per day). Our Information Counter relied heavily on the Records Room, where a team of four individuals would collect and collate data to keep product information up-to-date. This was the Building Centre’s biggest challenge and the staff had to read all the British building papers as well as the international press.

1981 and the Building Centre started exploring the new world of information technology, which in those days was served by primitive computer hardware and lacked the universal connectivity of the world wide web. One solution adopted by the Centre was InfoDisc, a new standalone technology that combined colour images and text.

Fast forward to 1991, a report commissioned by the Centre predicted the use of technology, concluding that ‘By the end of the century, contractors will be receiving project data on disc or by network. Robotics will require greater prefabrication.’ In 2003 the Building Centre launched an online literature request service, the first iteration of today’s Product Finder, our 2021 tool that allows for online searches across over 13,000 company profiles.

Information and technology is still in constant flux, with social media acting as a regularly frequented information service. Although we do wonder if the digital realm satisfies what the eyes cannot discern – texture, weight, scale. Today we are exploring new groundbreaking technologies that, combined with age old craft, can push the boundaries of the way we build.



Keep exploring