Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

Architecture and urban planning: the future at our doorstep

Modern architecture is changing the rules for builders. International criteria for a comfortable environment are evolving every year, while building designs are becoming more innovative and complicated. At the same time, the construction industry has not been immune to global trends such as green projects, energy efficiency and energy modeling. These changes demand wider application of digital technologies, better engineering, transparent construction processes and well-coordinated interaction between all parties involved.

The recent achievements of modern architecture would have greatly amazed the generation of our parents, and even the versions of ourselves from 15–20 years ago. Construction projects now use recyclable materials, materials that can absorb carbon dioxide, and solar panels. There are types of facades that can reduce heat loss or adjust the amount of light entering the building with controllable lamellas. When working on a project, designers can provide for the building’s higher energy efficiency such as the reuse of water.

Some new construction projects in Russia incorporate unique design solutions. One of them is the Badayevsky multifunctional complex now under construction in Moscow. According to the concept of the project, the building will float in the air above a 19th century brewery, leaving the historical building intact. To achieve this, its supporting platform will be mounted on 40-meter pillars. An architectural project on this scale, where multiple utility communications need to be linked into a single and smoothly working system, and all potential errors need to be eliminated at an early stage, cannot be implemented without performing extremely complex calculations and tight, well-coordinated interaction between all participants in the construction process. This cannot be achieved using conventional tools such as 2D design drawings.

New technologies benefit all project participants

It is becoming more and more important for architects and designers to be able to plan their project to minute detail all the way through designing, building and operating the structure. They need to calculate how much each element of the building will cost in construction as well as during its lifecycle, and analyze the materials consumption. And this is where information modeling is becoming increasingly used today.

The technology refers to a collaborative process using a coherent system of 3D models that contain vast amounts of information about the project, constantly updated with new inputs. This 3D model becomes a single source of information for the customer and the architect, the designer and the manufacturers of prefabricated structures. After the construction industry transitioned to project financing, a credit institution financing the project also joined the chain of the system’s users.

For a bank, this 3D model is a source of the necessary information about the project to be used to calculate risks and make a decision on funding the build.

Digital solutions and increased productivity

However, so far, modernization processes have been uneven across the construction industry. While architects are designing innovative energy-efficient buildings, the industry’s productivity remains low. According to Rosstat state statistics service, from 2011 to 2019, it actually fell by 6.5%, while growing, for example, in agriculture and on average across the economy. According to experts from the Institute for Urban Economics, a Moscow-based non-profit think tank, construction generally shows the lowest labor productivity, and its level is constantly decreasing.

This trend has objective reasons: the plummeting productivity in construction is a direct consequence of the low level of open interaction among the various participants in the process. Unfortunately, the industry still relies on autonomous businesses; the various teams participating in the project are pretty much left to their own devices, and the level of interaction between them is extremely low.

Designers can use advanced software, builders can use modern machinery, and factories can produce prefabricated structures using robotic lines, but there is no general automation of processes between them, as there is no open communication. Much of the construction industry still relies on manual data entry and 2D drawings.

How can this be fixed?

The trend can be reversed with digitalization of construction processes. Building information modeling (BIM) provides an ecosystem for all parties involved in the construction process to interact and exchange data across the entire project lifecycle—from design and engineering to construction site management and operations. It connects teams and workflows into a system where decision-making is driven by a single set of accurate data. Using BIM will become mandatory for state customers from 2022.

BIM will also help solve another problem plaguing the industry, which is lack of transparency. Construction has always been considered as one of the least transparent and most corruption-prone industries. Information modeling will make all processes as open and transparent as possible and at the same time, will streamline developer time and cost, and improve quality.

Urban planning challenges for the future

In the future, urban planning will focus on creating a comfortable environment for the end user, will rely on optimized construction processes at all stages and smooth and effective communication between the participating teams. This vision will require a global restructuring of the construction industry. While developing innovative energy-efficient facilities, specialists will use — they are already using — information models that enable them to implement bold ideas, link the most complex engineering and utilities systems, and fine-tune collaboration of all participants in the process. And, given how fast the digital transformation is unfolding in construction around the globe, this future is already at our doorstep.

By Denis Kuptsov, Regional Director, Trimble Technologies for Construction; Andrei Yashanov, head of training center, APEX Project Bureau

Previous ArticleNext Article