Digital twin technology, real world clones that are utilised to monitor the status of its physical counterpart and predict its evolution, is beginning to rear its head in the built environment sector.

Unlike a 3D model, digital twins are linked to a live stream of data, allowing the twin to evolve like its real world twin would. It gives creators the ability to test future performance and its possible risks, as well as creating opportunities to improve efficiency, mitigate environmental impact and reduce costs. A study conducted by Markets and Markets suggests the digital twin market, valued at $3.1 billion in 2020, will rise to approximately $48.2 billion by 2026.

With software created by luminaries including GE Digital, Microsoft and Siemens, digital twins have been used in the aerospace, automotive and healthcare industries for some time. NASA utilises the technology to test and monitor the performance of its space vehicles. McLaren and Red Bull have created digital twins of their Formula 1 vehicles to observe its race cars on a digital platform. In the healthcare world, Dassault Systèmes created a virtual model of a human heart, which is used for designing new medical devices and analysing drug safety. 

Slowly but surely, the utilisation of digital twin technologies has risen in architecture, construction and infrastructure. It comes at a time when the Smart Cities Council (SCC) last week unveiled Digital Twins for all - a blueprint document created in collaboration with hundreds of stakeholders looking to activate data and create value for decision makers in the natural and built environments in Australia and New Zealand.

Canada’s IBI Group built a digital twin of Toronto's water distribution network, in a bid to reduce energy use and reduce costs. In London, Foster + Partners is currently collating data for a digital twin of a building under construction in Battersea. 

Organisations like the Digital Twin Consortium in the US, the Digital Twins Cities Centre in Sweden and the Centre for Digital Built Britain in the UK are looking to bring digital twin technologies to the masses.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain operates a government-supported National Digital Twin programme, with a vision for creating an ecosystem of connected digital twins across businesses and organisations.

The centre’s Program Outreach Lead, Sarah Hayes, says the technology has a major role to play in the life cycle of UK infrastructure.

"We see digital twins as a way of improving decision making," she says in an interview with Dezeen.

"A city is effectively a system of systems – water, electricity, housing, schools, hospitals, prisons, natural environment – it all fits together," she said. "When you start to connect the datasets from these digital twins, you can build a bird's eye view of a city, which gives you better information about the consequences of your decisions."

Replicas of cities are being created by various companies, harnessing data from satellites, drones and other sensors to assess risks of natural disasters and the impacts of new developments. 

Creating digital twins in collaboration with digital twins is creating a fully immersive experience for users. 51World's twins of Shanghai and Singapore, was created by using the gaming engine Unreal Engine. New Zealand-based studio BuildMedia built an identical model of the city of Wellington, which will become a tool for the city council.

Initially, this twin will be used to better understand the city's transport capacity – covering everything from cycle sensor data and car park availability to air traffic – but BuildMedia also wants to expand its use into architecture. BuildMedia’s Technical Director Tim Johnson says the technology can be of use to architects and developers in many facets.

"By visualising the data in an understandable format, you're creating a really good public interface tool," he says. 

"You can take these very complex projects in architecture or urban planning and present them to the public in a way that is visually spectacular."

With the release of Digital Twins, for all, the use of digital twin technologies in the Pacific region will dramatically increase in the coming years. To find out more, visit