Dale Sinclair, AECOM’s Director of Technical Practice, the CIC BIM Champion and the RIBA’s Ambassador for Industry Collaboration and Technical Innovation sets out the challenges for the industry as we move to a new digital future…
When considering how to develop planning and building control digital strategies in response to the Government’s 2025 Construction Strategy, it is easy to use current methodologies or the Level 2 suite of documents as a starting point. This approach has limitations. Creating a visionary digital strategy requires a leap towards 2025 and consideration of how digital tools might be successfully harnessed in the future.
Although Level 2 is predicated on 2D information, driven from structured models created in a common data environment, the design team, contractors, and increasingly clients, already exist in a wholly digital 3D world. In a few years’ time, 2D information will cease to exist. In this context, the critical question, therefore, is: when will planning applications or building control submissions cease to require 2D information and instead require the uploading of a 3D model and/or connected data?
New survey tools and techniques, including point cloud surveys, already enable accurate 3D, data loaded surveys. Ordnance Survey has 28 million geocoded addresses in the UK and is increasingly moving towards a 3D, data driven environment. A shift from the 1:1250 site plans submitted with Planning Applications to models integrated into verified OS models with intelligent geospatial information is not far away. Predictive analytics linking to data that has geospatial context (demographics, environmental, land ownership, etc.) will not be far behind. 2016 is the year of virtual reality with new acquisitions by global companies such as Google driving innovation and accelerating the development of this technology.
Before long every city will have a 3D model with planning applications requiring 3D models to be submitted and configured in a manner that enables integration into the city’s model. Planning applications will be viewable in immersive formats on handheld devices over the cloud, allowing neighbours or other interested parties further afield (for example, all those concerned with a high rise applications), to view proposals from any part of this virtual city and to upload comments and observations immediately.
Smart city initiatives are driving the digital agenda including different ways that big data can be harnessed to make cities more effective. Initiatives such as www.bristolisopen.com examine new ways for cities to engage with emerging trends such as data sensors and data analytics in order to ease congestion and manage aspects of cities more effectively and, of course, to make planning applications more robust.
Planners are considering what data might add value to planning processes, strategically and locally, and how might this data be obtained.
In terms of design teams, lead designers are harnessing various software tools to carry out co-ordination in a 3D environment, as well as for “clash detection” purposes. These tools are already being developed beyond geometric purposes with datasets being assembled that allow soft aspects to be reviewed. For example, checking that door swings do not clash with columns or that ceilings are accessible below items of plant. The BIM4Regs group (under the auspices of the BIM Task Group) is considering how to automate Building Regulations. Plugs-ins will enable models to be reviewed and verified against the regulations. For example, such a review might flag up non-compliant ironmongery on an escape door or confirm that escape width requirements are not being adhered to.
With designers having access to the same plugs-ins as regulators, building regulation submissions will become a tick box exercise with designers ensuring compliance as they design, minimising design iterations and creating more effective design processes. A challenge for those setting regulations will be minimising non-rules based regulations and where these are essential (such as the best means of achieving energy targets) determining ways of more effectively engaging with the design processes – proactively rather than reactively.
In summary, a number of digital technologies will drive more innovative and informative planning and building control processes. With each technology having its own innovation curve, changes will be incremental rather than immediate. Nevertheless, these innovations are on our door step and the possibilities are endless. A core challenge will be communication and ensuring that everyone involved in a project’s lifecycle is trained to engage with this exciting new digital landscape. Whole life learning will become the norm as we realise that everyone playing a part in the built environment industry needs to be upskilled or reskilled to be effective in the digital world. The digital future will be exciting but it will present challenges to us all. ■
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Director of Technical Practice at AECOM, the CIC
BIM Champion and the RIBA’s Ambassador for
Industry Collaboration and Technical Innovation