Market forecast

Smart Cities

Harnessing data and technology creates better urban developments.

New technology developments make incorporating existing buildings and utilities into Building Information Models easy. Developers can get the full benefits of using BIM even on brownfield sites.

Software is a key element in the architecture and construction world, creating today's connected world. From design drawings to promotional images through building construction, software is tracking the stages and presenting the results to improve productivity and ensure timely delivery. BIM manages this data coherently.

Power of BIM

With a new building on a pristine site, the benefit of BIM and the value of capturing data in digital tools is easily realized. The appeal of applying these same techniques to projects involving existing buildings and infrastructure is growing. The drawback is the cost of capturing the digital model of a building or site that exists only on paper.

With a new greenfield development, the model is developed in parallel to the design and construction phases, becoming an integral part of the design and decision-making processes. With brownfield developments, involving pre-existing structures, the challenge becomes capturing sufficient data to retrofit a digital model.

The complexity involved multiplies when factoring the buried assets of the utility and telecom infrastructure serving them. In these cases, 3D scanning and point cloud capture techniques can be used to capture above ground assets and buildings. High-resolution scanners can capture data at a range of scales from inside and outside existing structures, placing the scanned image into real-world 3D space.

For instance, an impressive multiplatform scanner can fly on an unmanned aerial vehicle. Scanned images are resolved into vector data for editing and integrating into models and drawings.

New Developments Context

Understanding how a new development will fit into the existing landscape is essential for winning client approval and gaining regulatory permissions. By showing the context of a new structure, developers can win acceptance for a project and ensure the investment is protected.

For cities like London, the development of citywide, 3D models  of existing and planned buildings visualizes the ability to place a new development into an existing neighborhood. Once in place, this model shows exactly how the development fits into the existing buildings: where light and shade are affected, how protected views can be assured, and what verified views can be shared with clients. Buildings still in the planning phase show how the city may look post-construction.

Unearthing Hidden Utilities

So much for what is coming, but what about the hidden assets? If the underground infrastructure of a busy city is not adequately understood, it can affect the viability of a site and construction schedules. Without careful, accurate verification of utility records, costs can mount.

Utilities have a responsibility to maintain records of their buried assets and to make the records available to developers. Each utility, however, has its own records and combining these is the first obstacle to overcome.

However, when it comes to the decision about where to dig - where to actually break concrete and how far down to go - relying solely on the single line representation of a utility route on paper or electronic image may not be enough. A breach in a main water line is costly to repair, and a misplaced shovel through a high voltage cable is dangerous.

Seeing Underground

Technologies to see what is going on below the pavement and roadways are not new, but their complexity increases every day. Electromagnetic locators, cable avoidance tools, and signal generators have been around for many years, often providing a hand-held tool to check the position of cables  or pipelines.

Techniques using Ground Penetrating Radar provide a faster way to gather the necessary data. Mounting a Ground Penetrating  Radar scanner on a trailer means a steady driving pace is all that's needed to get a view of the services in place, saving the expense of road closures.

Ground Penetrating Radar results still require a certain level of interpretation, and experienced surveyors will balance the radar results against other evidence before confirming the position of an underground feature. Does the radar coincide with the utility drawings? Is the coincidence of drawing and radar result within an acceptable range? Data can then be loaded directly into building information models and compared with the plans for new work. Understanding the location of buried assets will support design decisions while avoiding costly re-routing of utility services.

In the end, development is all about the data. Increasingly sophisticated discovery tools are pushing out more data to produce a digital picture of assets above and below ground. The data management, display, and rendering tools that support BIM need to be able to combine this data, supporting better planning and cost savings right from the early design stage. 

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Christine Easterfield

Christine Easterfield is principal consultant at Cambashi in Cambridge, England. Contact her at


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