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May 20th, 2008
Sustainable Urban Environments – Challenge & Opportunity for AEC Industry Change

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thumb_hoffer Our understanding of the critical nature of climate change is converging with the migration of the world’s population to urban environments. As a result, concern with sustainable urban environments, or “green cities”, has come to the forefront. Serious challenges face our world’s infrastructure and motivate new approaches and technologies to improve how we design, build, operate, and maintain our constructed physical environment – both buildings and infrastructure. How can we face these challenges and succeed in developing sustainable and economically efficient urban environments for our growing communities? Fortuitously, a rethinking of digital data which underlie infrastructure and building design approaches is underway.

New technologies and processes are being created to address challenges in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industries today. The vision of an aligned data structure will enable us to understand the impact of design and policy decisions on sustainability and bring us closer to the green cities of the future.

{sidebar id=132 align=right}Sustainable Cities and AEC Industry Challenges
The AEC industry is one of the most important markets in the world. AEC companies are responsible for generating close to $2.3 trillion (Euro 1.5 trillion) of which $1.2 trillion (Euro 0.8 trillion) was spent in the US alone in 2006/2007 US Annual Construction Spend. This effort drives many other industries and is often a gauge of the health of world economies. Along with the imperative of climate change, the AEC industry faces many challenges, including the need to contribute design and construction solutions to effectively replace aging infrastructure, to increase productivity with a dynamic and increasingly global and diverse workforce, and to leverage the data generated across the design and construction process by eliminating silos of information.

All of these challenges relate to the opportunities for success in tackling climate change through green cities, and all are motivating the adoption of new technologies such as building information modeling (BIM), 3D visualization, simulation and analysis, model-driven design including standards for interoperability for example LandXML.org, International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI), BuildingSMART Alliance, and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards.

Global Climate Change
The number of Americans who believe that global warming is the most important environmental issue rose from 11 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2006 Global Warming Survey. The US Green Building Council and similar organizations calculate that buildings account for 39% of total energy use, 68% of total electricity consumption, and 38% of total carbon dioxide emissions. The AEC industry is faced with the challenge to replace or renovate buildings and infrastructure – road, bridges, waterlines, sanitary and storm sewers, dams, and levees – to minimize environmental impact. This means striving for carbon neutrality, water neutrality, or other the achievement of local community goals associated with specific environmental impacts. Of course projects must perform financially at the same time as they perform environmentally.

{sidebar id=133 align=right}The movement to innovate alternative sources of energy for our world has a direct impact on the form of our built environment. Some environmentalists state that we must reduce fossil fuel consumption of buildings by 50 percent by the year 2010 as a crucial goal to prevent climate disaster. Climate groups, such as Architecture2030, state that buildings must reach goals of carbon-neutrality by 2030. This will require designers to incorporate the understanding of a range of potential design strategies and alternative energy sources – such as solar, wind, “clean” nuclear.

New approaches will be needed to design for new structures and renovations. Roads, services and site specific objectives must be reached for sustainability. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System LEED, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable design & construction. Since its inception in 1998, LEED practices have been incorporated in over 12000 projects in 30 countries covering 2.060 billion square feet of development area. The standard was recently selected for the leading edge design and construction projects being developed in the city of Dubai by Sheikh Mohammed, Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

Sustainable infrastructure
Aging infrastructure is a prominent issue in many parts of the world. Infrastructure repair and replacement will be a particular concern in urban environments and will impact the realization of green cities. Every two years the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) prepares a Report Card for American Infrastructure 2003 2005. One of the sectors the ACSE evaluates is roads, highways, and transit. In 2003 the ACSE awarded this sector a grade of D+ and in 2005 a grade of D – just barely passing.

To put this in context, the ASCE estimates that traffic congestion costs the US economy $67.5 billion (Euro 42 billion) annually in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Even more seriously, the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) reports that outdated and substandard road and bridge design, pavement conditions, and safety features are factors in 30% of all fatal highway accidents. In the US on average, there are more than 43,000 fatalities every year. The ASCE also reports that motor vehicle crashes cost U.S. citizens $230 billion (Euro 144 billion) per year, or $819 (Euro 512) for each resident for medical costs; lost productivity; travel delay; and workplace, insurance and legal costs. The ASCE estimates that an investment of $1.6 trillion (Euro 1 trillion) over five years is required to bring US infrastructure to good condition. The replacement and repair of infrastructure represents opportunities to integrate sustainable practices.

Workforce capability
The shortage of skills in sustainable design and construction is exacerbated by demographic shifts in the workforce. A Conference Board study Managing the Mature Workforce predicts that, by 2010, the number of US workers aged 35 to 44 will decline by 19%; aged 45 to 54 will increase 21%; and aged 55 to 64 will increase 52%. This is a world-wide phenomenon.

{sidebar id=134 align=right} The number of workers aged 35 to 44 is expected to decline by 27% in Germany, 19% in the U.K., 9% in Italy, 10% in Japan, and by 8% in China. A recent study from the American Public Power Association (APPA) Work Force Planning for the Public Power Utilities: Ensuring Resources to Meet Projected Needs reports that the loss of critical knowledge and the inability to find replacements with utility-specific skills are the two biggest challenges facing the industry. In the utility industry the average age of utility workers is close to 50 and by 2010, as many as 60 percent of today’s experienced utility workers will retire. A survey conducted in 2005 by the Carnegie Mellon University Electricity Industry Center found that human resources executives in the utility sector overwhelmingly listed the aging work force as their number one concern.

A report prepared in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) entitled America’s Construction Industry:Identifying and Addressing Workforce Challenges Report of Findings and Recommendations For The President’s High Growth Job Training Initiative in the Construction Industry reported that “industry leaders noted that the construction industry is experiencing a shortage of workers. This current shortage is complicated by two trends: the growth of the industry, and the retirement of the “baby boomers.”
The ETA projects that the construction industry will grow at an average annual rate of 1.3 percent between 2002 and 2012, adding over one million new jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs in construction will increase by 800,000 in the next ten years from 2004 (6,964,500) to 2014 (7,756,900.)


Declining productivity

The AEC industry is highly competitive, and firms must continually improve their productivity to remain competitive. Sustainable practice is one area that firms have identified as a strategic opportunity for growth and differentiation. At the same time as firms build new expertise in sustainable design and construction, the challenge of continual productivity improvement has reached crisis proportions in many parts of the world. Statistics published by US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the productivity of the construction industry has actually declined in the last 40 years while non-farm productivity has increased by over 200% in the same period.

The productivity imperative has spawned a reconsideration of project methods. Leveraging the concept of Project Alliancing in Australia, Integrated Practice or Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) looks at how relationships will evolve toward greater collaboration and information-sharing between the design and construction professionals, leading to improved project outcomes.

More open sharing of information using Building Information Modeling (BIM) allows for the visualization simulation and analysis of a design, addressing errors prior to construction. This effort is aimed at more efficient and less error prone construction while also allowing for better designs that are more sustainable to meet our future needs. But sharing of information means we must look at how the technology itself must change to accommodate this new way of collaborating between professionals, and how the independent “silos” of information can be integrated for improved sustainable impacts.


Silos of Information

The traditional lifecycle flows through planning, designing, construction, operations and maintenance, and decommissioning of the world’s infrastructure – buildings, highways and roads, network elements such as telecommunications, power, water, wastewater, and gas.  Discipline-specific software applications support professionals and tradespeople who plan, design, build and maintain this complex set of systems.

{sidebar id=135 aiign=left}For building construction, the diverse set of disciplines involved may include land developers, surveyors, architects, civil and structural engineers, environmental and geotechnical engineers, heating and ventilation specialists, plumbers, telephone companies and utilities, and road departments of local governments. Different software applications support these participants in the design and construction process. Each discipline has traditionally maintained its own professional standards, and has conducted its work independent from the others. As a result, each discipline has maintained an island or silo of technology related to design and engineering information and work product (see Fig. 1).

However, the lifecycle of infrastructure is being compressed due to economic reality. Owners and operators are concerned about the costs of operating and maintaining these structures. Over the lifetime of an infrastructure element, these costs tend to comprise 90% of the total cost of ownership. Economic pressure to reduce overall cost, and therefore to address the large percentage tied up in operating costs, drives owners to look at the opportunities afforded by data and process integration.

For example emergency responders responding to a terrorist threat, exploding gas main, a bridge collapse, or a building fire need immediate and seamless access to information about the building where an emergency is occurring, including interior, surrounding buildings and access roads, and telecommunications and utilities, aerial as well as underground. At the present time they would need to have been trained in many applications from a multitude of vendors to be able to access all of the different design and geospatial files that would help them deal with an emergency.

As a concrete example, all of the world’s utilities (water, sewer, power) and telecommunications firms manage infrastructure in essentially the same way and are facing similar challenges. In analyzing the information flow in these organizations, the most striking problem is islands of information (see Fig.2).

The engineering group uses CAD applications, construction uses large format paper, the records or network documentation group may use GIS tools, and operations uses paper or a handheld viewer. The information flow between these groups is more often than not paper.  The result is a very inefficient process characterized by data redundancy, redundant processes, and poor data quality.


The cost of interoperability

Several years ago the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) commissioned a study on Interoperability to attempt to quantify the efficiency losses in the U.S. capital facilities industry resulting from inadequate interoperability including design, engineering, facilities management, and business processes software systems and redundant paper records management across the entire facility life-cycle. NIST estimated that in 2002 poor interoperability cost the US capital facilities industry $15.8 billion (Euro 9.9 billion).

In addition additional significant inefficiency and lost opportunity costs associated with interoperability problems were identified that were beyond the scope of the NIST analysis which suggested to NIST that the $15.8 billion cost estimate developed in the study is likely to be a conservative figure. The NIST estimated that two-thirds of these costs are borne by owners and operators, predominantly during ongoing facility operation and maintenance. This has to change if we are to address the challenge of a exploding world population, the need to double all the worlds infrastructure in the next 45 years or so, coupled with fixing all the aging infrastructure we have today. A redefining of process and technology sharing amongst design and construction professionals is underway.

Vision for a Sustainable AEC
Visionary green cities are being announced, such as the plan to create Masdar City, the world’s zero carbon, zero waste, car-free city near Abu Dhabi International airport in the United Arab Emirates, recently announced by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the environmental consultancy BioRegional. In China, Virginia architect and sustainable design visionary William McDonough has been engaged for many years in the master planning of green cities such as Huangbaiyu. The design consultancy of Arup was hired by the Chinese government to lead the construction of Dongtan near Shanghai, a green city which will implement techniques for recycled water, alternative energy from cogeneration and biomass, with a high degree of carbon neutrality. The city of Greensburg, Kansas is rebuilding its entire community to the highest LEED rating standard after being completely devastated by a tornado in 2007. The growing list of inspiring projects suggests a compelling move toward green building and city design on the part of the AEC industry. This move drives increased commitment to retool as an industry, with innovative approaches to professional collaboration, increased productivity, workforce skill, and sophisticated data integration. There is a critical need for sustainable urban environments around the globe, and the AEC industry is evolving to meet this challenge.


Written by Erin Rae Hoffer, AIA LEED® AP & Terry D. Bennett, PLS, LLS, LPF, LEED® AP, Autodesk and Geoff Zeiss, Director of Technology, Autodesk

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