Sensing the city of the future

By Catherine

By Catherine Bolgar*

Absolute World TowersSay “architecture in the future,” and you’re likely to think of buildings with a radical design, like the Absolute World Towers near Toronto, which twist some 200 degrees from base to top. But while architecture in the future might still be a feast for the eyes, other senses and feelings are likely to get more satisfaction as well.

Over the last 100 years, architecture has been a conversation about style,” says David van der Leer, executive director of the Van Alen Institute, a New York-based nonprofit architectural organization dedicated to the belief that design can transform cities, landscapes and regions to improve people’s lives. “What still largely is lacking in the conversation is how do we actually respond to the spaces we inhabit. If we know how the mind or body responds to the city, we may look at completely different ways of designing buildings.”

Recently, the institute undertook a project to understand people’s reactions to the city around them. The researchers walked around New York with residents of that city to find out how one, for instance, responds to a busy intersection. Often the subjects, who were wearing brain monitors, would respond that everything was fine, but “their brain activity says something else,” Mr. van der Leer explains. “If we don’t respond well to structures, why do we build them?”

The growing field of environmental psychology attempts to better understand the link between people and their surroundings. But scientists and architects still tend to work separately. “Research is happening, but there’s a disconnect between people being trained as designers and this type of knowledge,” Mr. van der Leer says.

Eventually, such research may lead to a different type of design, the way computer-aided design led to a surge in curvy buildings, and in the 1800s cast-iron structures allowed buildings to go higher without the need for thick walls.

In the 1960s we were so excited about the car in cities,” he says. “We put big parking lots and highways in the center of cities. We believed in speed. Sixty years later many still love the speed of the car but think about these particular design interventions in the city very differently.”

Today, the focus is on resilience and sustainability. “We need to know what is working and what isn’t, so buildings and cities become more sustainable to run,” he says.

Understanding how people react to architecture requires data, and sensors offer a new way to collect that data.

Masdar is a sensor-thick city being built from scratch near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates that is expected to be home to 40,000 people. Movement sensors, rather than switches and taps, will control lights and water. Transportation will include a driverless, point-to-point personal rapid transit system. Masdar will be the “world’s largest cluster of high-performance buildings that, together create a real-time laboratory to monitory and study how cities use, conserve and share resources,” the city’s Web site says.

Christchurch, New Zealand, also intends to carpet its infrastructure with sensors. The city’s downtown was almost completely destroyed by a series of earthquakes in 2011.

What are the issues facing Christchurch as it’s being rebuilt and what kind of data would be needed to help make decisions?” asks Roger Dennis, who founded Sensing City, a project to collect data to drive Christchurch’s rebuilding. “We’re creating the first place in the world where you can measure lots of variables in real time,” from air and water quality at a granular level to footfalls and traffic on major streets.

I’m interested in things like the air quality outside my son’s school between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” he says. “Data on a citywide level averaged over a year doesn’t tell me anything.”

Christchurch is aiming to become not just a smart city but a “sensing city with smart citizens,” he says.

Modern city at night with technology background
Mr. Dennis is counting on Christchurch’s 340,000 citizens to use ever-cheaper technology and ever-smarter phones to deliver crowdsourced data. He says although top-of-the-line sensors deployed by governmental agencies will give more accurate readings, they are too expensive to put everywhere. The richness of crowdsourced data can make up for lower accuracy. “Information from lots of people can give you better accuracy than from one government agency,” he says.

An early project is water quality testing, using paper-based kits that test levels of potassium hydride, nitrite, hydrogen and hardness in the rivers. Called “the Little Water Sensor,” the kits were designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Little Devices program and cost only a couple of dollars apiece. Residents can use them to test water in the city’s rivers and upload the data via smart phone to MIT, where it will be interpreted, geotagged and added to the crowdsourced database.

Another project involves using sensors on inhalers of patients with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. When someone takes a puff on the inhaler it will send information and a geotag to the cloud. The data can be compared with air-quality data, which could help doctors understand which conditions provoke patients’ symptoms.

*For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

What Is BIM Level 3?

By Akio

The following is an excerpt from End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3: An Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry Solution Based on Manufacturing Best Practices.

Download the full paper here.


Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been the Design & Construction industry’s answer to improve the flow of data through the building process, and, therefore, help to create efficiencies.

Industrialized practices work well when design information is structured appropriately for downstream application by builders, fabricators, and operators. BIM data standards have been gradually maturing to meet this purpose.

Building owners and operators are driving the industry to achieve higher levels of BIM maturity by demanding process improvements and technological innovations that reduce costs, increase value from suppliers, and increase sustainability.

Much of the industry is now moving from BIM Level 1 to Level 2, thanks in part to a directive by the U.K. government to adopt BIM practices by 2016.

An Updated Building Information Modeling (BIM) Maturity Model

From Computer-Aided Design to Building Lifecycle Management

BIM Maturity Model, Updated

Tweet: An updated #BIM Maturity Model: From CAD to BLM @Dassault3DS #AEC http://ctt.ec/7pz2C+Click to tweet: “An updated #BIM
Maturity Model: From CAD to BLM”

Some companies are trying to find efficiencies with BIM Level 2 processes, traditional workflows, and point solutions.

The industry innovators are rethinking collaboration and leveraging integrated BIM Level 3 technologies to become more competitive.

Construction teams that successfully adopt BIM Level 3 processes benefit from strategic advantages: they create less waste, deliver in less time, and produce a better outcome while retaining a healthy profit margin.

BIM Level 2 vs. Level 3

In 2013, the U.K. government mandated that all government projects utilize BIM Level 2 by 2016 in order to reduce information ambiguity. While BIM Level 2 has indeed brought significant benefits to architects, Level 2 tools tend to focus on design coordination problems, and do not maintain much of a role in construction processes.

Models produced using Level 2 point solutions are ultimately exported and imported into disconnected systems. This handoff can create unintended consequences: data silos, errors, version control problems, and rework.

Tweet: #BIM Level 2 still requires exporting data, creating data silos, errors, rework, etc. @Dassault3DS #AEC http://ctt.ec/MCe44+Click to tweet: “#BIM Level 2 still requires exporting
data, creating data silos, errors, rework, etc.”

Data produced by the design team at the beginning of the project does not flow seamlessly through to the rest of the project delivery.

Architects ultimately miss the opportunity to adjust for means and methods, lose control of their design intent, and are pulled into a reactive process of responding to Requests for Information (RFIs).

Under Level 2, with no integrated system to leverage BIM data, builders and suppliers are removed from fully collaborating on the model and are left to absorb the cost of rework.

BIM Level 3 is the only approach that fully connects the data chain from start to finish, helping to create end-to-end efficiencies.

In a Level 3 system, BIM data is not converted into files and emailed or sent via FTP sites to various parties. A Single Source of Truth is established, stored in a database on the cloud, and accessible by all project contributors through web services.

BIM Level 3 allows data to be transactable for construction, fabrication, and even facility management purposes, enabling open collaboration and building lifecycle management.

A robust Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system creates an efficient environment for coordinating complex Architecture, Engineering & Construction data.

Adding BIM data to a PLM system creates a Building Lifecycle Management (BLM) system, which enables BIM Level 3.

BIM + PLM = BLM

Tweet: #BIM + PLM = BLM @Dassault3DS #AEC http://ctt.ec/ZOAd7+Click to tweet:
“#BIM + PLM = BLM”


Cover: END-TO-END COLLABORATION ENABLED BY BIM LEVEL 3 An Industry Approach Based on Best Practices from Manufacturing

Related Resources

Download the Dassault Systèmes whitepaper, “End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3: An Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry Solution Based on Manufacturing Best Practices”

Energy planning for a world turned on its head

By Catherine

By Catherine Bolgar*

Data centers guzzle it. The coming Internet of Things, with the gadgets and appliances in our homes and workplaces interconnected, depends on it. A shift in our automobiles away from petroleum fuels will vastly multiply our need for it.

Solar Power Panels

Our future is powered by electricity. Demand for electricity by 2050 will increase 127% from 2011 levels, the International Energy Agency predicts, with demand in developing countries booming fourfold.

We love electricity because it’s so nonpolluting at the point of consumption. We don’t have nasty fumes coming from our refrigerators or our computers. But electricity isn’t carbon-free. Emissions from electricity generation rose 75% between 1990 and 2011, the IEA says. Increasing electricity generation to meet future demand requires a 90% cut in emissions in order to limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius.

That means not only relying more on renewables but also rethinking the entire electricity industry, from generation to distribution.

There is a big revolution occurring in the power industry,” says Martin Green, professor at the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “The whole business model has collapsed in a few years.”

Peak prices for electricity, whether in Europe or Australia, used to occur during summer afternoons. In Europe, where nuclear energy is widely used, plants had to trim output just as demand was peaking, because they weren’t allowed to dump the hot water they create into rivers, Dr. Green explains. That exaggerated the gap between supply and demand, and created even higher prices.

In Australia, many utilities were able to make their profits for the whole year thanks to summer peaks, he says, adding, “Everyone was bidding up their prices.”

However, the huge surge in solar panel installations—cumulative installed global capacity rose about 44-fold from 2010 to 2011 , the IEA says—has changed that equation, by producing the most electricity exactly at the times of peak demand: summer afternoons.

Utilities need to find a way to make money from solar. For the unadventurous ones, solar is really bad news. It’s taking away from demand for electricity,” Dr. Green says.

Renewables pose two big challenges for the power industry: They are intermittent and thus require storage or a backup, and they require a different kind of grid.

To ensure that when the wind is calm or the sky is cloudy there’s still enough electricity for peak demand, the system needs extra capacity. Average power demand in Germany, for example, is 80,000 megawatts, and peak demand is 130,000 megawatts, says Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg, Germany. If 80% of the energy mix is renewables, as Germany intends by 2050, such a system would need 200,000 megawatts of wind power and 200,000 megawatts of solar power—overcapacity is necessary to compensate for the times when it’s calm or dark.

So at off-peak times and on sunny, windy days, Germany would have far more electricity than it needs. “The future will be characterized by times where we have excess electricity,” he says.

One way to take advantage of the surplus is storage. Better storage, in the form of batteries or other means, is advancing. For example, electric cars that charge while parked during the day would be one way to store some solar power. Another way is to use the solar energy to split apart water molecules, releasing the oxygen and keeping the hydrogen for use as fuel.

As for backup power, “natural gas is the absolute complement for renewables,” says Oliver Inderwildi, senior policy fellow at the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at Oxford University in the U.K. “Gas can be shut off or turned on quickly and can operate at various levels. If it gets cloudy, you can fire up a couple of turbines to make up the shortfall from solar. You can’t do that for coal or nuclear.”

The boom in cheap shale gas in the U.S. is crowding coal out of the energy mix there, he says. Building a gas-fired plant is much faster and cheaper than for coal or nuclear as well. A gas-fired plant can be built in 18 to 36 months, versus about six years for a coal plant.

In much of the world, however, gas is more expensive than coal. India and China are building coal plants to meet electricity needs, but they are locking themselves into a high-carbon infrastructure over the long term, Dr. Inderwildi says. The catch, he adds, is “CO2 is a global problem. It doesn’t matter where it’s emitted.”

The other challenge with renewable energy is distribution. The dispersed nature of renewable sources, such as rooftop solar panels, makes planning difficult.

The grid network is moving away from centralized plants to more distributed generation: wind, solar, biomass and other options,” says Dr. Green. “Some costs and benefits arise from that. You don’t have to have power lines carrying the same density of power. You used to have electricity flowing out from power plants in one direction. Now a lot of electricity is flowing the other way. The grid needs upgrading.”

Solar panels in front of wind turbines and mountains

And since the cost of maintaining and upgrading the grid’s assets is typically bundled into the cost of electricity consumption, people who generate renewable energy – through rooftop solar, say – are using the grid infrastructure for storing their extra solar energy without paying for the grid, which is an unsustainable utility model.

Smart grids use technology to communicate between energy suppliers and users to make the system far more efficient, for example, by allowing consumers to choose to reduce energy use at peak times.

“Smart grids are definitely happening,” he says. “It won’t be overnight, but they are incrementally being implemented.”

*For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.



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