Big Data Drives Wise Construction

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Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
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The construction industry in Australia is on the cusp of a great change.

It’s time to collaborate and embrace the technologies of the 21st century to create meaningful and lasting productive thinking in the way we build. It is critical that we prepare our businesses for a more connected, intelligent and demanding customer.

Becoming Fearless Digital Leaders

The UK Government, in collaboration with industry, has released a structured plan that paves the way for the UK construction industry to radically transform by 2025 – jointly aspiring to “an industry that drives and sustains growth across the entire economy by designing, manufacturing, building and maintaining assets which deliver genuine whole life value for customers…”

Australia needs an integrated approach to collaboration of data collection and the knowledge that flows from this in order to innovate and compete effectively in the future.

The design table is about to get crowded — really crowded. We’re talking hundreds, even thousands of voices, all providing input on your next project. For the first time, the masses can have a real say in how the built environment around them is formed.

Computational methods which balance the reciprocities of form, material, structural and environment, and integrate technological advancement in manufacturing are delivering brand new performative material and construction systems, which could change the design and construction world imminently.

The “Internet of Things” – the linking of physical objects with embedded sensors – is being developed at a breakneck speed. Companies and consumers are now using technology daily to track movements, improve collaboration and customer service to increase productivity at an organisational and personal level. This simultaneously creates massive network effects and opportunities for global industries to shape our lives.

The age of the quantified self is here, shifting the boundary between humans and technology. Currently, this data management and these ‘social analytics’ mostly benefit organisations, but soon people will demand a share of their “data value.”

‘Big Data’ Will Drive Wisdom in Construction

There is a direct correlation between the input (data) and output (knowledge and wisdom). The more data that is created, the more knowledge and wisdom people can obtain from it. Individual data by itself is not very useful, but volumes of it can identify trends and patterns to make informed decisions.

Knowledge is also evolving. Knowledge stocks are no longer valuable because knowledge is so easy to come by. There is a movement toward “knowledge flows” resulting from collaboration to replenish knowledge and leverage the collective knowledge to gain greater productivity through the process.

Building teams will benefit from Big Data for data-driven design by:

  • Enhancing iterative design through capture and analysis of building performance metrics
  • Using project data on future work to eliminate rework and apply best practices on future projects
  • Understanding how people interact with spaces
  • Automating the planning process by applying algorithm-based approaches to improve the traditional project planning process

As the Big Data movement takes hold, clients will be looking to us for more than just well-informed opinions and industry benchmarks. Analytics will soon drive many planning and design strategies, and detailed occupancy evaluations — both pre- and post-occupancy evaluations (POE) — will play a larger role on projects.

Building-occupant research has long played a critical role in planning for some projects. What’s changing is the immediacy and sheer amount of data, and the ease by which it can be collected and analysed. The retail supermarket sector is emblematic of living, breathing and using data to track customer behavior and applying these metrics to benefit the future design and fit out of stores.

Additionally, the rise of mobile devices and social media, coupled with the use of advanced survey tools and interactive mapping apps, has created a powerful conduit through which building teams can capture real-time data on the public — what spaces they like most and least in a given building, where they prefer to hang out on campus, whether they take public transportation or drive to work.

With advanced traffic flow simulation programs that allow users to program thousands of avatars with unique behavioral characteristics, building teams can predict—with a much higher degree of certainty—how people will interact with a space layout. Arup, Perkins+Will, and Sasaki Associates are among the firms now developing custom digital tools for polling building occupants and end users and using analytics that apply advanced data-driven design techniques.

The Next Big Shift

Once data has been collected, it is often obsolete by the time that it is put in practice, so anything based on this in the future is out of date. We obtain knowledge from our experiences of doing something and then apply this knowledge the next time we do something that requires it – but what if in the future it didn’t have to be like this?

“Deep Learning” is the concept of computers continuously learning and improving their algorithms, and therefore their functionality, so that their output in current time is up to date – turning a concept of reactive user input into proactive and personalised output for the user.

Deep Learning for construction is something that has yet to be explored and it is hard to imagine how it fits into the scope of construction since buildings are very hard to change once built. But that’s as we know them right now. Perhaps this is the first step toward a building that can change its shape, form and structure based on data it mines from its users in current time over its whole life cycle – connecting its internal infrastructure to the “Internet of Things”, users’ smart devices that ‘talk’ to the building and infrared scanners.

The most notable commercial example of an advanced, automated façade is PNC Tower in Pittsburgh, designed by Gensler and slated for completion in 2015. Focused on delivering a “breathable building” according to the design team, the enclosure features sensor-controlled air gates in the outer skin. Integrated with a solar chimney and heat sink, the gates bring cool air in as warm air is drawn out above. Stakeholders anticipate the gates will be open up to 42 per cent of the time, achieving a 50 per cent reduction in power loads.

We have reached 2015 – the age of the “Internet of Things” and the target date for the UN Millennium Goals. By 2020, there will be 75 billion devices connected to the internet, creating a powerful intelligence grid. Millennials will comprise 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025. There is a new wave of positive change at hand, with new technologies and a connected world we did not have at the turn of the century. What we achieve in the next 10 years will depend on our level of collective consciousness and willingness to collaborate, change and adapt to the new world, and at the heart of this is how we capture, mine, analyse, apply and preserve our data.

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