The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry aims to solve problems and improve the wellbeing of communities and their citizens.

In today’s post-Coronavirus world, a new set of challenges has arisen for those planning and designing public spaces, making it even more crucial to use technologies such as building information modelling (BIM) and generative design to help solve these challenges. 

Generative design uses automation to give designers and engineers better insight so they can make faster, more informed design decisions. BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives AEC professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.

Right now, Australians are heading back into the office, reopening events, and rethinking public spaces to be COVID-19 compliant while being ready for any issues if they arise. Others are either currently in or bracing for further potential shutdowns.

Significant and costly adjustments are required, whether it is to adapt public spaces to the new mobility, to reimagine public access to the metro to reduce the number of people in a train, or to rethink the organisation of an office from the parking access to the number of people working in an open space so more people can safely return to these spaces.

Restaurants and retail must quickly rethink layout and customer flow. Airports are redesigning security queues. Hospitals are looking for ways to adjust layout and better manage air quality.

In Australia, national COVID-19 safe workplace principles state that businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, and that they must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.

The AEC industry is being called to design and build in an environment of rapidly changing objectives and constraints, related to new regulation including social distancing requirements of 1.5m, and client needs.

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for digital transformation for businesses to adhere to these requirements, as well as remain resilient and competitive. Embracing data-driven technologies will enable the AEC industry to solve and adapt to some of these challenges so that businesses and public spaces can be optimised with minimal disruptions, while maintaining customer and employee experience.

Technology to support designing for COVID-19

There are four main themes that continue to come up when speaking with our customers and health and medical experts about what needs to happen to get people back to work in a post-COVID-19 world, and each of these issues can largely be solved with technology.

1.         Enabling remote and flexible work

The ability to transition from in-office to remote working is now business critical for the AEC industry. Whether on the design of construction side, the capacity to continue working from home – or anywhere – has powered business continuity for organisations large or small.

BIM enables AEC teams to work in real time with anyone, from anywhere with an internet connection. Teams can stay connected to their work and communicate with each other, no matter their location. They can skip complex server management and keep projects moving while saving valuable hours and streamlining project process with centralised data, workflows and progress reports. Teams can manage increasingly complex projects and employees collaborating remotely with a solution that is built specifically for the AEC industry.

A digital tool changing the way the industry designs, plans, constructs and operates buildings, BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives industry professionals the insight and tools to manage projects faster, more economically and with less environmental impact.

An example of two architectural firms who engaged BIM 360 Design to transition into working from home are VK Architects & Engineers, which engaged BIM 360 Design and saw an 83 percent rise in time savings – resulting in a huge improvement in productivity, and New Zealand architectural and interior design practice, Warren & Mahoney.

Warren & Mahoney successfully mobilised their entire business to working from home in under five days when the New Zealand government forced businesses into remote work set-ups overnight due to COVID-19.

2.         Space planning

As more people return to the workplace, design decisions take on new significance. From the safe arrangement of desks, the width and spacing of aisles, to the density of seating – better data informs better decision making. Tools such as generative design bring the art and science of informed decision making to design exploration, enabling the building of safe distancing standards, better data visualisation, and weighing different room layout options without the manual work of physically re-arranging or re-orienting desks and interior elements.

Generative design provides practitioners with the ability to quickly explore, optimise, and make informed decisions to complex design problems.

3.         People movement

We’ve never been more conscious of how we travel. Health recommendations are changing the way people move inside airports, through transit hubs, and from their cars to their desks as they return to the workplace. Mobility simulation models people movement, bringing data-driven insight to physical distancing needs and efficiency of travel. It helps with route planning, occupancy calculations, and flow rates.

4.         Air quality and flow

Indoor air quality and proper ventilation can make a significant difference to the safety of employees and customers. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation can be used to identify areas of risk and then explore multiple mitigation strategies for occupant safety before making any physical changes to the building.

CFD enables architects, designers and planners to leverage their existing 3D models to address airflow safety concerns, including the areas of re-circulation within a room; tracking where contaminated air may flow; identifying areas of high risk; and evaluating multiple solutions.

Challenges have always led to innovation

History shows us great innovation can come from public health crises and now is no different. Public sanitation and paved roads are examples of innovations that sprung from previous pandemics. Urban design elements such as wide, tree-lined streets and city parks were a result of 19th-century cholera outbreaks. By pairing human ingenuity with powerful technology, we can reimagine how we work, learn, and play together, and help our communities thrive.

Image: Getty Images

Rod Hunt is head of Industry Sales Development, Autodesk (Australia & New Zealand).