By 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population is predicted to be living in cities.

There may be some drawbacks to cities (traffic, crowds, pollution), but they are vital for our economy and attractive environments in which to live and work.

As governments invest in technology that enables public infrastructure and services to accommodate ballooning city populations, the growth of smart cities is set to become a multi-trillion dollar market over the next decade, with Asia Pacific accounting for 40% of this growth by 2025.

In Australia, the Federal Government is planning for the future by investing $110 billion in transport infrastructure over 10 years from 2020-21 through its rolling infrastructure plan. Some projects currently underway across the country include WestConnex and NorthConnex in Sydney, the Pacific Highway along the eastern seaboard and the Metronet passenger rail network in Perth.

While the economic fallout from COVID-19 might alter the course of these forecasts, infrastructure development, especially for essential public services, will no doubt continue to grow.

As more people move to cities, the environment and existing city infrastructure is strained to breaking point, especially when it happens at odds with public transport growth.

In order for cities to continue to flourish, we need to adopt new and innovative solutions that can help design and plan sustainable cities and improve efficiency of current infrastructure.

Digital construction tools support smart city design

Because of the strain we’re putting on our natural resources, the demand for better, smarter city solutions has to be met more efficiently than ever, but with fewer resources. The only way to keep pace with these developments is by mining city data and actioning it with advanced technologies. In fact, this is already happening.

According to the recent InfoBrief by IDC, “Digital Transformation: The Future of Connected Construction[i]”, the Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) construction sector is starting to embrace digital innovation, with nearly 40% of companies planning a digital transformation (DX) roadmap in the next 12 months and 14% stating their DX roadmap is the business roadmap – a higher number than any other country surveyed.

Two of the digital solutions that are going to be used increasingly in city planning and management are building information modelling (BIM) and generative design (GD).

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives insights and tools to more economically plan, design, construct and manage infrastructure and buildings that have a lower environmental impact.

McKinsey research shows 75% of companies that have adopted BIM reported positive returns on their investments, along with shorter project life cycles and savings on paperwork and material costs. According to the InfoBrief by IDC, only 16% of ANZ construction companies have already adopted BIM, although 34% are planning future investment in BIM-based workflows.

When it comes to COVID-19, BIM has become especially relevant because collaboration between remote employees has become critical but also easy to achieve with this solution. Cloud-based construction software can be the single source of truth that keeps teams connected and productive.

Here’s a closer look at how digital tools such as BIM can help better design smart cities.

Greater collaboration

Smart city projects are complex, with teams from different disciplines working together on design, planning and construction to achieve the best outcomes. BIM enables teams to work together more effectively, even when working remotely, reducing waste and ensuring timely project completion. Research has found BIM results in better communication, fewer errors and reduced conflicts.

More sustainable cities

30% of global waste today comes from construction. In Australia, a total of 19 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste was generated in Australia in 2008-09. Of this, 8.5 million tonnes was disposed to landfill while 10.5 million tonnes, or 55%, was recycled.

To ease the load we impose on the planet we need to reduce our reliance on things like fossil fuels, building materials and long commutes, without compromising comfort and utility. The construction industry must embrace digital adoption to improve sustainable outcomes and developments.

BIM enables more sustainable planning, building and growing of smart cities. When data from smart electrical grids, traffic management and other applications are combined with BIM data from individual buildings, a rich, parallel digital universe is formed. Smart cities can leverage this information to improve infrastructure utility, environmental performance and sustainability during both construction and building maintenance.

Generative Design (GD)

For the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry, artificial intelligence-based solutions like GD offer a definitive shift in conceptualising, designing and building. GD allows for a more integrated workflow between human and computer and enables many designs to be generated and ranked according to how well they achieve designers’ goals.

A designer compares and explores the generated designs, inspecting the results based on their original criteria. After choosing a favourite design option, the designer uses or integrates this design into the wider project or design work.

GD can support the industry in creating smarter cities by making unlimited and unimaginable options possible, allowing for leaps in innovation as complex designs can be customised and printed faster than traditional or manual methods. Related information can be taken back to policy makers to help them make better decisions with regard to sustainability and climate change challenges, more intelligent design, and more.

We can no longer create our living and working worlds, make life better for residents and take care of the environment without using the data that surrounds us. Smart cities are a powerful approach to managing these challenges and are untapped sources of sustainable growth. The data delivered through digital tools such as BIM and GD are important elements to unlocking this potential.

[i] The IDC InfoBrief surveyed 835 construction professionals from large construction companies across Europe, the Americas and Asia Pacific

By Andy Cunningham, Regional Director, Autodesk (Australia & New Zealand)