How Data-Driven Simulations Improve Building Performance

Data-driven simulations allow multiple stakeholders to contribute to a design and ultimately improve a building’s future performance.

From the tips of the Pyramids to the spire of the Empire State Building, height has always been equated with power — be it proximity to God, governmental dominance, or holding a world record. But building a tall structure is no longer the only measure of architectural prowess. In an age dominated by data and efficiency, I’d argue that today, high performance matters more.

High Performance Before High Buildings

Data-driven simulations are making high-performance buildings a more feasible and regular occurrence. By wedding BIM and VR technology, AEC professionals can accelerate and perfect design decisions by improving collaboration between various project stakeholders and providing lifelike visualizations at each stage of the building process.

BIM delivers complex 3D geometries that integrate relevant data into every component of a design, facilitating critical analyses like clash detection. It reaches its true potential when it’s used in conjunction with VR technology. Utilizing the comprehensive data embedded within a BIM model, a VR platform can provide an architect or engineer with a fully-immersive, manipulable, life-sized rendering of their design.

Within a virtual environment, project stakeholders can preview what their building will look like at 8 a.m. versus at 8 p.m. or during July versus during December, how their building will react to other environmental factors like weather, and, perhaps most helpfully, how a single design change will impact the viability of the entire building.

It’s also a critical part of understanding what a building will actually look like when completed. Gensler Design Director and Principal Hao Ko describes the difficulty of designing without VR: “You still have to make a translation in your mind, in terms of how tall this space is going to feel,” he says. “More often than not, I’ll go to my own projects and I’ll be like, ‘Wow! That’s a lot bigger than I expected.’ You still have those moments.”

VR utilizes all of the data of the traditional BIM model, but allows for a level of scale, depth and spatial awareness that cannot be achieved with other settings.

Looking Towards a High Performance Future

Combining BIM and VR not only enables highly realistic, data-driven simulation. It also helps designers envision structures that are currently impossible to build. For instance, a team at KieranTimberlake, along with the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), NASA, and the Total Learning Research Institute (TLRI), is using them to design and interact with a structure on Mars.

The simulation incorporates light, mechanical systems, living spaces, and even the Red Planet’s harsh living conditions. Humans would need to generate their own power and food, which creates new daily routines, such as dusting off the PV panels once a day in order to maintain power. The VR simulation helps architects and engineers see what the structure needs before it can function as intended.

Such an immersive experience allows designers and other stakeholders to observe how people interact with a building, and helps cut costs by reducing the likelihood of redesigns and adjustments after construction has begun.

Use Simulation to Integrate with Urban Landscapes

In addition to optimizing a building’s internal performance, data-rich BIM models can illustrate a building’s interactions with neighboring structures when combined with mixed reality (MR) tech, guaranteeing that the building won’t disrupt the current urban landscape. Whether an architect is attempting to coordinate a new structure with existing structures, or is determining the best way to approach a renovation project, consolidating all of his or her data into a single BIM model and then utilizing MR to allow for dynamic interaction between the virtual and the real, reduces the chances of a negative impact or disruption with the surrounding environment.

From Simulation to Reality

Despite the numerous benefits that VR and BIM data integration and visualization bring to the AEC, the industry has been slow to embrace this approach.

When asked why he believes the AEC industry continues to be, on the whole, tech-averse, Zhang Yue, Chairman and CEO of the China-based Broad Group explained, “I think this is largely due to mind-sets and that humans must change. The construction industry is inherently long-term…Yet the industry does not always think long-term. We tend to think in terms of a project — one building or infrastructure asset — and its timeline.”

The adoption of BIM and virtual simulation technologies allows for shorter timelines, more accurate plans, and better building performance. While we still have a long way in catching up to other industries in terms of tech adoption, it’s clear that the future of the AEC lies in data-driven VR — whether we’re building futuristic structures on distant planets, or skyscrapers right here on Earth.

Note: this article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse

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