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Reflecting on this year’s Smart Buildings Show at the ExCel in London, and in particular the panel discussions and presentations which give an insight into the challenges and opportunities surrounding smart buildings and digital twins. We had our own presentation and audience discussion around the forthcoming Smart Buildings Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work, chaired by Ciaran Kelly, Associate Director at Hoare Lea with James Franklin, Digital Lead at Kier’s Strategic Projects business and I contributing. We, along with John Adams, Head of Product at Glider Technology co-authored the Overlay with support from a wide cast of peer reviewers and the RIBA team.

There’s a popular misquotation from Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’ of “gradually, then suddenly” (actually talking about bankruptcy) but there’s a palpable sense that smart buildings are on the cusp of that. Sure that’s been said for a few years now, and yes the show has a lot of exhibitors selling widgets now with added sensors (and rightly so) but there was lots of talk about implementation, experience, and things just coming together. There’s also more talk than I’ve heard before of it being driven by clients – and that was also a theme at this year’s Digital Construction Week. This is really important as it’s a sign that the benefits of smart buildings and digital twins are being understood by developers, estate managers, building owners, and it is making it into their requirements.

The timing is ripe for the Smart Buildings Overlay – due to be published by Christmas – as guidance that brings the rapidly-evolving world of smart technology together with the established design process for new buildings and retrofit. The guidance was conceived because of a shared experience that the decisions required to make a building smart were being made too late or not at all. The opportunity to design and install the key infrastructure in a building was missed, leaving everybody unhappy. As a group we quickly settled on the Overlay as the RIBA Plan of Work is known across the construction industry, and crucially is used by those leading the design and around at the start of a project – clients, architects, project managers, cost managers. It prompts them to ask questions of themselves, seek technical advice, and make decisions in a timely manner.

At ScanTech we play a small but crucial role in smart buildings and digital twins. We digitalise clients’ buildings by scanning and modelling them, and we do similar for new-build and retrofit projects where we scan and validate the as-installed building elements against the design model. These provide our clients with accurate 3D and BIM models of their asset – an important first step in creating a digital twin.

We had really good questions from the audience at the show, and lots of support for the overlay so I’m really looking forward to seeing it go live and doing the rounds to support its launch. Keep an eye on RIBA Plan of Work and all will be revealed.”