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Reimagining a Property in a Digital World

How digital technology is beginning to reshape the property sector, changing the way buildings are designed, built, and used.

Arup, the global design and consulting firm for the built environment, recently issued a report, “Reimaging Property in a Digital World” which revealed how digital technology is beginning to reshape the property sector, changing the way buildings are designed, built, and used.

According to Fiona Cousins, PE leader of Arup’s sustainability team in New York and an Arup Fellow, “Digital technology is redefining the property sector as we speak, bringing the potential to radically improve our working lives, increase asset value, and create more sustainable buildings. With the right strategy in place, we can align the property sector with the demands of our digitally enabled society and truly deliver buildings for the future.”

The report predicts that physical and digital environments will merge into hybrid spaces. It’s a world in which 3D printed and Internet of Things—enabled desks can adapt to every user, while the buildings they’re in will become truly intelligent. That means they can better meet environmental regulations and provide users with a completely different experience of work, shopping, and play. Every element of the property development cycle will dramatically change and improve in response to our increasingly digitalized society.

The report is based on Arup’s work, including the development of IHG Green Engage, which enables InterContinental Hotels Group to set and track property-specific reduction goals for carbon, energy, water, and waste, as well as the development of data-driven visualization and auralization tools such as the Arup SoundLab.

The report identifies the key drivers underlying digital growth in the property sector, which touch on almost every aspect of modern life. These range from expectations of instant access to information and services, as the capabilities of smartphones continue to evolve, to the falling price of sensor technology, which is changing the business case for investment.

It also highlights how environmental regulation is dictating the need for buildings to be smarter and cleaner. In the developed world, the real estate sector consumes over 40% of global energy, emits 20% of total global greenhouse gasses, and utilizes 40% of global raw materials. With the required public disclosure of energy use in commercial buildings on the rise, property owners and managers need smart buildings and infrastructures that perform better and utilize resources in a cost-effective way.

With the property sector under pressure, Arup highlights how faster, smarter, and more powerful technology is changing every element of the property development cycle, including:

Design and construction

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning can collect, visualize and analyze data to enable more immersive stakeholder engagement and intelligent decision making. The report also discusses the latest in virtual and augmented reality technologies, with cutting-edge 3D cameras scanning interior environments to develop customizable models that can be manipulated by design teams and shown to tenants to refine every element of a space before it’s built.

End-user experiences

As technology innovations like Alexa and Amazon Echo begin to change the home environment, so will they impact the world of work. The digital experience is becoming as important as the physical one for the modern worker, resident, or shopper. That means they get greater information from the building around them, putting them in more control. For example, Arup has prototyped desks that can be customized for individual workers or know when the place is empty, so shutting down power to the desk.

Better performing assets

By gathering detailed data on properties using IoT technology and combining it with ongoing analysis, owners and managers can ensure potential problems are tracked earlier and dealt with quicker, and operational elements (ventilation, lighting, heating, water, etc.) are optimized to deliver energy and financial savings. What’s more, data collection and analysis across portfolios can lead to more strategic decision-making about asset renewal schedules and site prioritization.

Long-term valuation

Data analytics is now central to making key investment decisions, combining detailed information from buildings with external data about the surrounding environment. This could be the better understanding of seismic risk factors or training computers to continuously evaluate macro changes in traffic patterns to fully understand commute implications for new office locations. Arup’s work for The University of British Columbia, for example, digitally simulated thousands of earthquake scenarios to identify high-risk buildings, assess how long buildings could be offline, and determine which should be retrofitted or totally de-commissioned in the near term.

Arian Nemati

Co-Founder & CEO

Arian Nemati is a serial entrepreneur and investor for the proptech and real estate industry. Currently CEO of ADEx and active member of YPO.