How Smart City Construction Has Changed the Industry

What is Smart City Construction?

What was once envisioned only in works of science fiction is becoming reality in the form of smart city construction. Broadly speaking, a smart city is an urban environment in which community development priorities and government policies converge with information and communications technology (ICT) and innovative design and construction processes to seamlessly connect people, places, and things. 

Smart cities rely on ICT infrastructure. This is similar to the concept of an Internet of Things (IoT)—a network of physical objects equipped with sensors, processing capability, software, and other technologies exchanging data between and among themselves and connected systems over the internet and other communications channels. 

Some cities are implementing “smart” infrastructure elements, most notably in their airports, energy projects, and traffic control systems. However, with the exception of some demonstration projects, smart city construction is still a thing of the future, though nearer than one might think.

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A Model Smart City (Woven City)

There soon will be one example of a smart city construction planned from the beginning—the Woven City being built by Toyota on a 175-acre site in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, which broke ground in February 2021. Deliberately designed to be a model smart city construction for testing out new technologies, including automated driving, robotics, and artificial intelligence, in a real-world environment, Woke City will serve as a living laboratory. 

When Woke City is fully operational, all the people, buildings, and vehicles can communicate with each other in real-time. Every element of the ecosystem will be powered by clean, renewable energy sources, such as solar and geothermal energy. Three types of interconnected roads (one for pedestrians, one for personal mobility vehicles, and one for autonomous vehicles) will provide transportation for people and goods, requiring reliable sensors and communication technologies to acquire and transmit massive amounts of positioning data and other information.

Implications for the Construction Industry

Clearly, as the smart city construction concept gains traction, there will be some implications for the construction industry.

Stakeholder Expectations

With the widespread information sharing that is a hallmark of smart cities, project owners, government officials, everyone involved in building design and construction planning and management, and even the public come to expect a high degree of transparency. Everyone is likely to have questions at every point in the process along the lines of: How is this likely to affect me? What is needed from me? How can I make my voice heard?

Different Kinds of Projects

Continued movement toward smart city construction will require a great deal of building, from infrastructure projects to the creation of smart buildings of all types and sizes. Many of today’s construction companies lack experience with the design and construction tools and technologies to support the innovative projects that will become commonplace. 

Building designs will need to incorporate information and communication technologies. And construction companies will need to transition to virtual design and construction (VDT) integrated with business information management (BIM) systems, if they have not already done so. Just as smart buildings enable people to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate, VDT and BIM allow all members of a project team to do the same–including architects and engineers as well as construction managers, subcontractors, and material suppliers. 

Union of Construction and Computer Science

One way or the other, construction companies will need to acquire the technology tools and skills needed to complete smart city projects successfully. That can be a matter of partnering with a technology firm and developing a long-term collaborative relationship. Or it could involve hiring IT and communications professionals to build inhouse technology capacity. 

Collaboration Becomes Essential

Collaboration is already becoming common in the construction industry. There has always been some degree of collaboration between project owners and the construction firms they hire to make their vision a reality. 

Architects and designers don’t start with a blank slate. They start with the needs and wishes of project owners and translate them into concepts, drawings, and models for the client’s review and feedback. Contractors and construction managers collaborate with architects and engineers to translate building designs into construction plans, and with subcontractors and suppliers to translate those plans into project milestones, work schedules, purchase orders for materials, and so on. A certain amount of communication and collaboration is required to make all the moving parts of a construction project fit together.

Smart city construction projects will only intensify the need for collaboration. And newer construction approaches, methods, and tools (e.g., VDC, BIM) enable construction companies to rise to the challenge. 

For example, 3-D building models generated through VDC facilitate not only information sharing within a project team and between a project team and its stakeholders and external contributors. They can also be shared with city planners and urban development officials and with other project owners and their design and construction teams for infrastructure planning purposes. 

Timeframe

The move toward smart cities is inevitable, but building a connected world is a long-term goal that will be achieved incrementally over decades. Progress may come in fits and starts, as we’ve seen from the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on new construction. Change will come, and when it does, the construction industry must be able to respond. Some construction companies have made significant progress in developing their ability to compete for data-driven projects requiring a high degree of technological competence and collaboration. At some point, those who have not will have to ask themselves, “What are we waiting for?”

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