How holistic modelling and smart dust are going to transform your project

Imagine a world where your client says at the end of a big design project, “Thanks. You’ve designed exactly what I wanted, and I have no issues at all with the look, feel or cost of my new building.”

Client satisfaction is always top of the list, but in every project, there will be a gap between aspiration and end product. Cost, changing regulations, availability of materials, changes in use; all these affect the outcome of a project. However, the advance of design technologies in engineering means that this gap between expectation and reality is closing.

A lot of the work Bentley & Hayes has been doing recently for clients has involved how tech is influencing both the design process and performance post-occupancy – how to reduce that gap between expectation and reality in terms of project outcomes.

Performance comes first

Until recently, the successful design of a building focused very much on appearance, not performance. How well or badly the building performed in terms of light levels, energy consumption, humidity, temperature or acoustics were seen as the result of the design; something to be measured and managed, but the ‘look’ of the building was the primary design factor.

Not anymore.

Whilst aesthetics remains important, the advance in data collection, connected sensors, the quantum leap in computing power, and sophisticated visualisation tools gives, as Marcus Morrell puts it in his Arup piece on the fourth industrial revolution, “…designers and engineers true ‘systems-level’ perspective for the first time.”

Closing the outcome gap

The tech teams at Buro Happold have been working on an innovative framework within which a whole building can be modelled, and the value of its parts evaluated simultaneously. Dubbed ‘digital rapid prototyping’, this process gives unprecedented insight into a building’s performance at an early stage. According to Dr Al Fisher, Head of Computational Development in The Edit, “..clients are now able to shape the design alongside us, as opposed to us presenting them with a number of options to choose from. Together, we can identify priorities and preferences, and then adjust the parameters that are driving the design accordingly.”

The rise of smart dust sensors

According to a 2023 report from Business Wire, the smart dust market size will be valued at 0.2 billion dollars in 2025, predicted to reach USD 0.7 billion dollars by 2030. What is smart dust?  Made of up of micro electromechanical systems (MEMS), these tiny devices can sense “light, temperature, magnetism, vibration, or chemicals”, according to the report.

Post occupancy, these tiny computers could be distributed across a building to sense and report on the environment around them. As Marcus Morrell puts it in his Arup report, “This level of embedded awareness means buildings become intelligence-driven, almost self-aware, allowing owner, designer and operator to subtly refine how an asset is used throughout its lifespan.”

Data-driven decisions

Advances in Bluetooth technology, increased use of quantum computing and the rise of AI all allow both modelling and monitoring tools to be used in a much more holistic way. Computer modelling and parametric design tools have traditionally been used by individual disciplines in isolation, with designs optimised from a single perspective, which can result in skewed performance. As Buro Happold’s Michael Hoehn, senior computational designer puts it, “Rapid prototyping enables us to connect different discipline models and datasets in an analytical environment to make decisions based on transdisciplinary performative outcomes.”

Which all means that when a finished building is handed over to a client, any issues in terms of design have already been discussed, and a solution found. Crucially, if an issue is found post-occupancy, advances in data monitoring, storage and analysis mean that the building’s systems can be reviewed and tweaked to ensure optimum comfort and productivity.

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