Smart Buildings and Automated Technologies: The New Potential of Management Software

From home construction to city services, big data is resolving big problems for design

Cars parked in automatic parking lot
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Technology has made extraordinary strides in the fields of architecture and construction over the last 50 years, spurring great minds and companies to experiment with new solutions addressing age-old issues with both design and management.

Unveiled in 1972, Les Olympiades in Paris’ XIII° Arrondissement was among those new experiments, delineating a vast urban area eager to welcome a new generation of professional workers (pictured below). Incorporating 3,400 living units, the innovative complex took over seven years to complete.

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However, for many potential buyers, the neighborhood was simply too far from the city’s westside, where many were forced to commute. To make problems worse, the area wasn’t serviced by the subway system, making distances all the more evident. And so, after its construction, the project failed to live up to its creators’ expectations, quickly abandoned following the elevated costs in management and maintenance.

Learning from the mistakes made at Les Olympiades, major developers, architects, and planners have turned to new optimization processes — often based on increasingly complex technologies — which include solutions like modular buildings. Diffuse in the United States, these constructions promise low costs and limited management. To minimize assembly errors, companies like Full Stack Modular (pictured below), utilize photogrammetric systems installed in drones to measure each phase of construction, verifying the correct positioning of the various modules.

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From SHoP Architects, the tallest modular tower to date, 461 Dean in Brooklyn (pictured below), features 900 prefabricated modules which were assembled on site. Working with Forest City Ratner, construction times were said to be slashed by 70%. However, due to communication problems between the various parties involved, the tower took over 4 years to build, becoming the longest construction project in the history of the city.

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After hitting various speed-bumps on their groundbreaking project, Forest City Ratner called it quits, selling its factory to former executive and Full Stack Modular Founder and CEO Roger Krulak. Learning from their past mistakes, Krulak told the “the time to build will decrease by 25 percent. And you’ll save between 15 and 20 percent” on the total cost of a project.

Meanwhile, residential projects aren’t the only ones to undergo innovative experimentations relying on disruptive technology. In recent years, robotized parking systems have been among the most popular applications to begin incorporating innovative technologies: automatic silos without conductors are used to stack and organize vehicles in compact towers and underground facilities (pictured below).

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Even here, however, those on the front line of experimentation were left to sort out the kinks. In 2004, at the country’s first automatic garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, a Cadillac DeVille reportedly fell from the tower, crashing into the ground six floors below. Then, just a year later, a Jeep Wrangler fell from over four floors in the same garage.

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Today, systems have improved, says Yair Goldberg of U-Tron Automated Parking Solutions (pictured above): with the help of an application, drivers can retrieve their parked car in just 5 minutes.

Taking a 3D snapshot of each vehicle before assigning it a place in the system, the parking tower is able to assure adequate space and an optimized configuration. What’s more, to adjust to the habits of frequent customers, the system is able to strategically place vehicles to avoid long lines for a more convenient and expedient service. Beyond maintenance, there are no other needs to intervene on the structure, meaning operators can save on labor costs, ventilation, and illumination.

So, with new softwares at the heart of the technological revolution, cities are increasingly well-prepared to manage their systems through more efficient and streamlined processes and applications.

Capturing the curiosity of generations, robotic projects continue to exploit advanced automation, reaching a point of collective management. These advancements are then developed to further understand the city thanks in part to the data shared by our telephones.

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That’s exactly what’s happening over at the SenseAble Lab run by Carlo Ratti. Unparking (pictured above) uses the data of Singapore residents to propose a quantified system analyzing the fluctuating demand for mobility. It works from two scenarios: the current situation, with private vehicles occupying two parking spots (home and work), and another with self-driving cars that are able to partially alleviate the imbalanced commuter flows.

Self-driving vehicles, according to researchers at MIT, can reduce the necessity for parking by 70%. This would mean fewer silos in an efficiently managed city, which researchers claim will foment a gradual transition towards shared transportation models reducing parking infrastructure.

Back to Les Olympiades, it’s worth nothing that the failed experiment provided vacant lots that were later inhabited by political refugees — mostly from southeast Asia — after 1974. Detailed in the book published by Skira, USE Uncertain State of Europe, authors explain how the infrastructural failure would later lead to the creation of one of Europe’s biggest Chinatowns.

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The neighborhood has been completely altered to adjust for the needs of its new inhabitants, incorporating Buddhist temples, residences, small shops, and warehouses. Transformed over time as a fractured project, it follows no pre-established order and is self-modeled, self-organized, and self-configured as a small Asian city developed vertically. Just as autonomous order has colonized the overarching structure here in Paris, new softwares are used to subvert pre-existing functions of the city through innovative views and collective mappings.

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