We can do so much more now. We have access to a range of technologies unimaginable a generation ago. In the property world, can they help us combat climate change?
The Government’s construction strategy, launched in May 2011, set the goal of cutting the cost of public sector construction projects by 15%–20%. This would be achieved by reducing waste, reforming industry practice and securing better value through procurement. Central to realising these ambitions was promoting building information modelling (BIM).
BIM brings together meta data about every component of a building, in one place. Thus, making it possible for anyone (or any machine) to access that information for any purpose. Used as a collaboration tool throughout the property lifecycle, the risk of clashes, mistakes or discrepancies can be minimised at an early stage, saving time and cost, and perhaps as significantly reducing coordination or fit failures on site. BIM reduces the frequency and amplitude of design iteration by integrating the work of many disparate consultants into a single, shared model.
Using digital technology for design and construction opens up the opportunity to address some key climate change issues. On its own, BIM promotes the efficient use of resources in the sense that it seeks to minimise errors and speed the design process. Beyond BIM however, algorithm based parametric design allows architects and engineers to design in a way that traditional mathematics would struggle to keep up with. The focus here too is the optimal use of materials to perform a particular function, so it is about efficiency and economy. Combine these technologies with the increasing research in the area of material science and sustainability, and designers have much more information with which to make informed decisions about the buildings they design. The gathering momentum of society, increasingly expressed through legislation, continues to shift sustainability up the agenda. For those us involved in building its front and centre now.
BIM has a legacy beyond design. In completed buildings, owners and operators inherit a detailed digital representation of their asset, with a host of metadata organised in a way that can help property asset managers drive efficiencies during operation. This metadata held in the resultant Asset Information Model (AIM) can then be linked directly to a live Building Management System (BMS) which can learn from how the occupants use the building and adjust the environmental systems to provide the exact support the building needs without waste.
IoT Sensors and advanced plant monitoring systems such as CBRE Asset IQ gives property asset managers performance metrics to help assess how we consume the buildings we occupy and what we need them to do for us. By linking internet connected sensors with AIM dashboards, we can now predict trends, monitor system performance and even harness machine learning algorithms which can learn how we like to use our spaces over time, then formulate reasoned advice on potential practical day to day operational savings. Systems like this can eventually learn to autonomously adjust settings in the building when they are not required, providing both fiscal and environmental rewards.
The ability to collect, process and learn from all the digital information which it is now possible to gather from our buildings represents a means to minimise waste, only use energy where we need it and create a close mirror reflection between our needs from the buildings we occupy and how they match them for us. Building is an urgent need for the global population and it’s one of the least sustainable activities on the planet. Technology can show us how we can soften its impact, avoid irreversible decisions and only use the resources we need. In Europe we have a responsibility to champion sustainable, low energy development; as this will lead to lower running costs in our buildings that seems an obvious virtuous circle.