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New centre aims to marry data expertise and smart building tech

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A proposed centre for digital construction in Newcastle will aim to exploit the skills of data scientists and bring smart building technologies and BIM into closer alignment.

The £40m International Centre for Connected Construction (IC3) is being developed by Northumbria University and regional IT network Dynamo to boost the region’s growing reputation for BIM, virtual reality, smart cities and cloud computing.

The project’s partners are preparing a business case for the facility and seeking funding, including a portion of the £170m available to construction through the government’s Industry Strategy Challenge Fund.

IC3 will aim to forge a strong connection between computer and data science and construction, said Graham Kelly, associate at BIM Academy, the award-winning joint venture between Ryder Architecture and Northumbria University.

“This is a huge and largely untapped market not currently being addressed by existing construction centres in the UK,” said Kelly. “The inevitable direction of BIM is to produce smart technology to support the built environment and IC3 will aim to bring them together.”

BIM Academy operates as a global consultancy and employs a team of computer scientists who have worked on BIM/smart building data projects, including a project linking data from Sydney Opera House to a new BIM model for facilities management and the current Innovate UK-funded project Smart Connected Buildings, set up to connect sensors and BIM models to create actionable advice for landlords and tenants.

“Closer integration between smart building technologies and BIM is the future of the industry,” added Kelly. “There are already around 20 billion Internet of Things devices deployed worldwide which is an incredible number, with huge swathes of data being collected on our buildings and cities every day.

“At the moment people aren’t entirely sure how to exploit that data, the inevitable drive is to use it, together with BIM technology and smart processes to better inform where we go with the built environment.” 

IC3 is intended as a hub where industry, academics and the public will work together on technological innovations for the built environment, and identify opportunities to develop intellectual property that can be used within the industry.

The project will tap the expertise of the some 60 companies in the North East which are part of Dynamo Build, one of the cluster groups established by not-for-profit membership organisation Dynamo. Dynamo was established to grow the North East’s IT economy, which has experienced the second highest growth outside of London.

The full scope of IC3 is being finalised and it is uncertain whether the Centre will be housed in a new building, or an existing building run by Northumbria University. There are plans to have a digital presence, potentially including virtual courses and detailed information for industry, said Kelly.

The project partners plan to contribute £20m of funding, matched by equal funding from government. They are currently speaking to existing construction centres around the UK, including the Centre for Digital Built Britain and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, set up by the Scottish Futures Trust, with a view to future collaboration.

“IC3 will follow many of the principles we follow at the BIM Academy,” said Kelly. “It will be an independent, impartial service with academic ties to Northumbria University and industry. As a business, we try to optimise the built environment through smart processes and world class technologies, and IC3 is trying to do a similar thing at a macro level,” he concluded.

Image: Team IC3 (l-r) – Graham Kelly, BIM Academy, Northumbria Uni; Catherine Coulter, Dynamo’s event supremo, Beaconhouse Events; Charlie Hoult, Dynamo; Anne MacDonald, Dynamo Build, engagement manager

Closer integration between smart building technologies and BIM is the future of the industry. There are already around 20 billion Internet of Things devices deployed worldwide, with huge swathes of data being collected on our buildings and cities every day. – Graham Kelly, BIM Academy