Digital twin: Cities and their digital doppelgangers

digital twins, twin technology

As cities around the world begin adopting digital twins, the AECO industry must examine how exactly they impact large-scale projects and how this impact will develop in the future

Digital twins are capable of disrupting how capital projects and infrastructure globally are planned, built and operated.

This is attributed to their enhanced predictability and performance capabilities. The most significant use case of this innovative technology is on capital projects during the development and operation of cities. Cities have become early adopters of digital twin technology and, as such, city planners are using virtual models to gain a competitive edge.

As more global cities, including the world’s largest cities, begin adopting digital twins, the industry must examine how exactly they impact large-scale projects and how this impact will develop in the future.

Benefits for city developments

A digital twin enables more effective asset design, project execution and asset operations by integrating data and information throughout the asset lifecycle. As a data resource, it can improve the design of a new asset, the understanding of an existing asset, run simulations and scenarios, or provide a digital snapshot for future works.

For stakeholders across the supply chain involved in the operation of a city, this technology provides them with access to more tools and information, compared with traditional methods and techniques.

Digital twins provide the tools needed to operate a city as effectively as possible. Construction progress, energy consumption, environmental conditions, public safety, waste management, security monitoring, mobility improvements and infrastructure management are just a selection of the areas which can be improved through the execution of digital twins.

Away from construction and operation, digital twins also benefit city dwellers, who can use the technology to explore how different planning decisions will affect their day-to-day life. Through the use of visual simulations or derived data, citizens can tell how a planning proposal will change the view from their apartment or traffic congestion on their commute.

A digital twin from the outset

The benefits of adopting a digital twin demonstrate the advantage of integrating the technology at the start of a major project, such as the development of an entirely new city.

Cities around the world are beginning to recognise these benefits and, as a result, there has been an increase in the adoption of digital twin technology.

Announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2019, Amaravati, the new capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, is thought to be the first entire city born with a digital twin. The city is the most recent urban hub to develop a digital twin, joining the cities of Singapore, Glasgow and Boston, which also use this digital technology.

Digital twin technology is being used for the city to be built as effectively as possible; everything that happens in Amaravati will be scenarioised in advance, optimising outcomes.

It is hoped this project will provide the industry with the push needed to revolutionise how cities are designed, built and managed.

Retrospective building

As with digital twins of built assets, digital twins of cities can be created retrospectively. A calibrated model can be created through the interrogation of real-time data from a built asset, which is used to determine the appropriate inputs for a simulation model that, in turn, is compared to measured sensor and meter data. This calibrated model then becomes a digital asset.

For cities, this means established urban locations can be recreated digitally to not only test and analyse city outputs and patterns but to also function as a simulation model.

Originally a research project between Newcastle University and Northumbrian Water, Newcastle was the first city to use technology to recreate the entire city digitally. Based on data, mostly being supplied by Newcastle University’s Urban Observatory, from across the city, the virtual counterpart is being used to test how the city would respond to various challenges, such as climate change and population growth. The computer replica allows experts to perform real-time resilience testing to see how its infrastructure will respond.

The first project of its kind, the aim is to enable more cities around the world to respond quickly and effectively to future threats, including rising sea levels, freak weather events, drought and energy shortages.

What does the future hold?

While digital twins could vastly reduce errors and improve the planning, building and operation of a city, it is clear that data security and the sharing of information remains a challenge.

To allow the use of digital twins in cities and realise their potential, the AECO sector needs to adopt an interoperable, integrated and inclusive approach to construction globally.

Should the sector overcome this challenge, digital twins will transform how our cities are planned, built and operated, creating more efficient and effective cities around the world.

Asite has been at the forefront of innovation in the AEC sector since its establishment in 2001. As such, we have recognised the potential digital twins have to not only transform and improve our industry but also transform and improve our lives on a whole. Asite’s platform supports the collaborative nature of digital twins and provides stakeholders with the tools they need to collaborate and share information in a secure online environment. To find out more, email




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