PropTech wants to transform the built world
PropTech has become a cornerstone for building a smarter and more sustainable built environment, says Rony Hobeika, senior urban planner at Atkins.
PropTech has become a new buzzword in today’s highly digitized world. An umbrella term for innovative technology-driven building industry solutions, its adoption is accelerating rapidly – increasing by 1,072% from 2015 to 2019, according to Forbes.
Real estate technology is poised to continue growing. A recent study by PwC and the Urban Land Institute pointed out that the use of technologies by real estate companies in Europe will tend to increase over the next three to five years.
Further accelerated by the pandemic, real estate technology is reshaping how all stakeholders relate to the built environment, from how they experience, design, construct and market buildings to property management.
Below are some of the main ways this plays out through the five stages of real estate development.
Data technology is the cornerstone of smart cities. Offering multiple sustainability benefits, it is used to integrate building and infrastructure systems.
Sensors, data centers, and digital twins monitor key historical and real-time indicators of demographic trends, building inventories, electricity and water use, and building carbon emissions. By using urban data analytics, policies for reducing waste, decarbonizing buildings, and even affordable housing can be better realized.
Singapore’s pioneering digital twin experience is a prime example. Data in the form of GIS, lidar and satellite images were processed to create a 3D digital replica called “Virtual Singapore”.
A snapshot of Virtual Singapore, the city’s pioneering digital twin project. Source: National Archives of Cartography – gwprime (geospatialworld.net)
The single, centralized, real-time database is already helping the city address water supply management challenges, track real estate market developments, and deploy solar farms to meet domestic and growing industries.
PropTech adoption accelerated by 1,072% between 2015 and 2019
In the real estate sector, technology helps solve problems such as lack of transparency, information asymmetry and high investment risks. In the United Arab Emirates, someone renting or buying a property exclusively through a broker is almost unheard of, while 93% of American buyers use real estate websites when looking for a home. This can mean that the whole market is going digital.
And for very good reasons. On the one hand, online sales platforms simplify the daunting task of real estate research for people with little basic knowledge in a sophisticated and highly technical field. Platforms like Bayut and the RealAR app offer detailed information on listing features, provide analysis of comparable properties, and even provide virtual simulations to help guide buying and modification decisions.
But the technology is ready to go even further. For example, price-raising algorithms are being developed to use predictive analytics that process transaction data, forecast future trends, value real estate returns and rate mortgage quotes, all aimed at oiling the wheels of an evolving sector.
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Building Information Management
BIM sounded the death knell of the era of Computer Aided Design (CAD). Architects and planners now use advanced software to model multi-layered information instead of physical shapes. In doing so, integrated design – so crucial to sustainability – has become business-as-usual.
BIM allows professionals to design, modify and manage the entire life cycle of the building using a single virtual model that simulates its performance. Additionally, using parametric tools, designers can even modify design factors to achieve priority sustainability goals.
This is how the National University of Singapore delivered its new School of Design and Environment. Thanks to BIM technology, the architects were able to explore options for volumetry and orientation, sizing of the glass roof and openings, and the layout of rooms by indicating their environment and their energy performance in real time.
By optimizing them, they passively minimized the basic energy and material requirements of the building. Then, parity was achieved by deploying renewable energy technologies such as 1,225 photovoltaic panels and hybrid cooling systems, enabling the university to launch the city’s first net-zero energy building.
The School of Design and Environment – Singapore’s first net-zero energy building. Source: NUS School of Design and Environment, SDE 4 – Surbana Jurong
The introduction of technology in construction is transforming the sector into a safer, less wasteful, profitable and faster business. This is happening in particular thanks to innovations in 3D printing machines. These use BIM models to digitally produce on-site or pre-engineered components more efficiently, while complementary smart machines robotically perform repetitive tasks such as pouring concrete and plastering.
A notable example is the world’s largest 3D-printed Dubai Municipality structure, built in 2019. At 9 meters tall and 640 square meters in area, the edifice employed just three workers.
The award-winning 3D printed building of Apis-Cor, Dubai. Source: Apis Cor builds the world’s tallest 3D printed building in Dubai (dezeen.com)
The breakthrough was the construction of the walls by a printer instead of the traditional methods of wooden formwork, steel reinforcement and concrete pouring. This was complemented by precast slabs and precast windows, which offered multiple cost and environmental savings.
Nevertheless, the extent of scalability from 3D printing to multi-story residential and office buildings remains to be explored.
Technology is permeating and reforming every step of the real estate value chain, from smarter cities to efficient building design, construction, operation and marketing
Green building management
Surprisingly, it has been reported that green rated buildings can miss their performance and savings targets. According to a recent study, the main cause is human behavior. Either ill-informed or with little incentive to take custody of carefully designed systems, end users frequently misuse them.
But technology provided the solution: building management systems (BMS), via IoT or digital twins, can track parameters such as energy and water consumption, waste generation, emissions carbon emissions and indoor air quality, and help to control them.
BMS can even compare performance to design metrics. This is demonstrated by Beeah’s new headquarters in the United Arab Emirates. Recognized as the first fully AI-integrated office in the Middle East, this LEED-certified smart building uses a digital twin as the foundation of a smart facility management system.
By learning occupancy habits, one of the novelties of this system is its ability to forecast energy demands and optimize electricity consumption, perform predictive maintenance checks and even make autonomous decisions for correct equipment performance flaws, achieving a huge energy efficiency saving of 90%.
Zaha Hadid’s Beeah Headquarters is futuristic in form and function. Source: BEEAH Headquarters – Zaha Hadid Architects (zaha-hadid.com)
Although relatively behind in digital transformation, the construction industry is catching up fast. Technology is permeating and reforming every step of the real estate value chain, from smarter cities to efficient building design, construction, operation and marketing.
In doing so, PropTech is helping to solve some of the industry’s perennial problems. It improves information transparency, social inclusion, building design and resident well-being, in addition to reducing risks and limiting waste generation and carbon emissions, among many other benefits. .