AI’s role in the built environment’s future

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We have not yet seen the full impact of AI in the built environment, says Emily Scoones of Ramboll. She muses on the ways in which the technology will benefit the industry.

Although a lot of industries have adopted AI, the architecture, engineering and construction industry has been slower at leveraging this new technology. AI has begun to infiltrate the industry more and more over the past few years – and the chancellor committing £1bn to the next generation of supercomputing and AI research in his Spring Budget has kicked into action wider discussions around intellectual property, governance and best practice.

There are still many clear barriers to adoption. But it is exciting to see how and where this technology could impact our industry if harnessed correctly. AI is emerging across a host of sectors, impacting day-to-day tasks in the design, productivity, health and safety and sustainability of spaces.

Productivity gains

Just as it has been helping us in the apps we use daily on our phones, such as use of chatbots, AI is something we are likely to see more of in a built environment context. One example is data transformation, whether it be for pulling together images, survey or scans data into 3D models of our assets in smarter more efficient ways to rendering sketches into virtual environments.

Similarly, the industry is seeing more tools and software that are helping with the planning and programming of construction projects. It is enabling companies to schedule and programme their construction sequence, identify possible risks and help track progress.

Health and safety

AI also has a lot of potential to improve health and safety in the industry. The technology’s improvement in recognising and identifying objects in combination with robotics is allowing more remote site visits and site work to occur.

Similarly, the use of AI with data in the form of digital twins and models is enabling asset maintenance to be predicted and conducted when needed. This results in a reduced number of inspections, particularly of assets in difficult environments, such as offshore wind and tunnels, which reduces the risk to people. It is highly likely that use of AI will become more widespread in this sphere to support construction sites in identifying and monitoring risks on site.


Sustainability is another key area where use of AI is likely to increase. It provides us with the ability to compute highly complex, multi-faceted problems faster and without the biases and blind spots that we have as built environment professionals. This is not to say that it knows everything or is always correct, but, as a supportive tool, it enables us to see patterns and results we may not have been able to consider. Therefore, AI is a key facilitator in helping the industry advance in terms of sustainability and decarbonisation.

AI is also helping in the design process, particularly in the early stages, to support designers to test more options and consider a greater number of quantitative and qualitative variables. Emerging generative technologies are supporting teams to develop designs that can balance the often contradictory parameters and find the balancing points between social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Understanding complexity

Whether it be the use of buildings and assets, construction site resources and materials, or generation and distribution networks of power and energy, the industry is full of complex systems that have multiple variables and levers. AI can help to create ways of understanding and managing the complex interplays. These systems will be dynamic and be able to adjust to change, but also help us to be more strategic in our energy and resources use.

The industry is likely to see more smart buildings, AI-controlled energy network systems and construction site tools that support us in using the built environment more efficiently.

Although the fourth industrial revolution has been discussed for a while now, ultimately this is an exciting time for AI. The technology seems to have improved enough that it is starting to become disruptive, and we are just starting to see what is possible. Investment at a government and industry level into AI’s application and governance are starting to bear fruit, helping the industry to understand how this technology can be adopted and scaled so that we can really begin to leverage its potential.

Emily Scoones is head of digital innovation, buildings, at Ramboll.

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