Félix Pouchain
Ingénieur modélisation énergie-carbone, Elioth (groupe Egis)
Published on November 21, 2018

Reading time : 2 min

Is big data the guarantee of better design?

It is an irrefutable fact that digital technology has given rise to many opportunities in the areas of engineering and architecture. We now work in a much more cross-disciplinary manner in all the fields of expertise of industry and construction: structural analysis, energy consumption and production, user conditions, life-cycle analysis, biodiversity, etc. So should we be in favour of, or opposed to, data-driven design?

Pour ou contre une conception pilotée par les données ?

- Crédits : © Wavebreakmedia Ltd - Thinkstock

Thanks to calculation tools, we can monitor the variation of carbon emissions, energy and water consumption, assess the solar potential of the city’s roof from digital modelling, or simulate how the sun and wind respectively heat and cool its streets and buildings. Digital technology is a powerful tool to optimise design in view of our sustainable development goals of reducing carbon emissions, reducing waste or preparing for the effects of climate change.

But there is also a flipside: the tools at our disposal incorporate increasing amounts of data sourced from connected buildings, networks and cities which are becoming “smart”. This profusion of information is sometimes difficult to process and analyse, or data might be inaccurate, incomplete or obsolete. This means that the time that we spend on the actual task of design is minimal compared to the time we spend checking, modelling or rectifying data. Here, we have reached the boundaries of digital infrastructure.

Nevertheless, digital infrastructure is here to stay, and its expansion constitutes a huge opportunity to help us rise to the challenges of our era, from climate change to resource depletion. While there is undisputable economic and scientific value to be captured from its construction, the benefits that it contributes to society and the environment are, however, much less evident. Is it our best-available solution to design sustainable urban development, buildings ready for the world in 2050, or infrastructure that can help a community to decarbonise its economy?

Perhaps we should start by relying more on basic and simple models which are also understandable and pragmatic. Since the situations at hand are sometimes complex and need the right tools and responses to address them, we could naturally continue to develop our infrastructure in silico, but always by seeking to balance its benefits with its complexity and environmental footprint.

The digital revolution must be much more than just a way of storing and moving data around in a complex network of procedures and participants. Its aim is above all to supply information which is of use to the design process and to its various contributors, whether they be the client, the architect, the engineer or the end user. One of the keys to the future will be to design better user interfaces, databases to perfect our digital models of buildings or cities. Over to us!

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