With BIM to the Smart City

Table of Contents

Today’s world is shaped by digitization and urbanization. More than half of the world’s population now live in a city, and for the first time in human history. Apart from that, the number of the general population is also increasing, which is why the demand for electricity and energy is also steadily increasing. The networking of metropolitan areas is immense and thus the interplay between digitization and urbanization is an exciting field that can give an insight into the cities of tomorrow.

The concept of smart city is finding more and more cases around the world. In Germany alone, two thirds of the cities are working on a smart city strategy. Another factor in the smart city concept is that 70 percent of global GDP comes from cities. The aim of the concept is to understand human behavior within the city and to learn from it. New approaches can then be designed from the data and the quality of life in the city can be improved. There are many problems that arise within cities. Examples include traffic congestion, air pollution and smog, lack of energy, general well-being and social inequalities. In order to solve these problems, a holistic urban concept has to be created.

What is a Smart City?

A Smart City (“intelligent city”) follows the principle of sustainable and future-oriented city operation. This new concept has emerged from the trends of globalization, urbanization, rising population, climate protection and digitization. The term has been used since the 2000s to define technological advances in urban living spaces. Similar to the Internet of Things (IoT), infrastructures are networked with one another in a smart city, for example. The aim is to facilitate everyday life within the city. The data collected by sensors is stored in a cloud and enables ongoing interaction between residents of the city and the city itself.

How does a Smart City Work?

The keyword in relation to the smart city is big data. This is made up of all kinds of collected data and is intended to analyse and utilise it. But where does this data come from? The cornerstones of a Smart City are sensor technology, networking and data. These are interlinked and interact with each other. Based on the collected data, it is possible, for example, to use a smartphone to see which transport options are the most environmentally friendly for getting from A to B. The data can then be used to create a combination of transport options. With the help of the data, a combination of environmentally friendly means of transport is then displayed that will get you to your destination the fastest.

But where exactly does the data come from? The data is measured and processed by the sensors based on the interactions between people and the city. Since it is millions of data measured by a wide variety of people, there is talk of swarm intelligence. This swarm intelligence analyses, for example, at which times the subways and streets are particularly crowded and then provides an alternative to get to work. The data is analyzed according to the needs of the majority, so that their everyday life can be made easier and more efficient.

So does this mean that tomorrow’s cities will become surveillance cities? There is no precise answer to this question. On the one hand: Yes, the sensors within the urban living space will collect data from people. On the other hand, a smart city can become “smart” with any intensity. In the South Korean city of Songdo, for example, 50,000 cameras were installed, and every apartment was equipped with a tablet, turning the entire city into a very distinct form of a smart city. However, this is also possible without personal data. Strict data protection regulations mean that the data cannot easily be traced back to individual persons

Example of a Smart City

There are now many cities around the world that have taken on the task of becoming a smart city. Santander is a northern Spanish city that has launched an app that connects residents with the city administration. In this app, for example, it is possible to complain about urban problems. Examples include construction sites that are lying idle or uncollected rubbish. In addition, public transport can be viewed in real time within this app. Thus, it possible to see where the bus you are waiting for is located. In the USA, the sensor technology is already being used to regulate garbage collection. When a dumpster is full, the sensor sends out an order telling the garbage disposal that it needs to be emptied. This means that normal routes are no longer driven, but only where it is really necessary.

Apart from the examples from abroad, the Smart City phenomenon also exists in Germany. In this video, various actors from urban planning or infrastructure show how Hamburg is approaching the topic and wants to take a pioneering role.

Of course, there are many more and also more advanced examples of a smart city abroad. China has over 1 billion people living in mega-metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai. It is therefore logical that the concept of the smart city has quickly caught on there. One of the largest technology manufacturers in the world is Huawei. The company describes its smart city solutions as the brain and nervous system of the city. With the help of ICT (Information and Communication Technology), many processes within the city can be automated. For example, streetlights in one part of Dubai run at 25% power until a sensor senses movement by a vehicle and increases the luminosity to 100%. This has reduced streetlight maintenance costs by 45% and energy costs by 35%.

What Are the Advantages of a Smart City?


Avoiding traffic jams, environmentally friendly local transport or intelligent waste collection saves a lot of exhaust gases.

Increase in the quality of life

Avoiding traffic jams for hours or adjusting the temperature in buildings helps to improve the quality of life.

Planning ahead

With the help of BIM and forward-looking urban planning, an efficient and well-considered cityscape is created.

Swarm intelligence

The collected data comes from millions of people within the urban agglomeration, and together they provide significant data.

What Role Does Bim Play in a Smart City?

Growing urbanization worldwide means more buildings and urban living spaces are required. BIM is the best way to plan these efficiently and accordingly, plan ahead. Especially in cities that are expecting major growth, it is more important than ever to stay on time and on budget. The construction of new buildings, whether private or commercial, requires a lot of planning and even before the actual construction, the technological components as well as the efficiency of the building during operation should be determined. With the help of BIM, this is possible and ensures a smooth project flow from planning to operation of the building. Thanks to the digital twin, it is also possible to design buildings smartly (Smart Building).

A distinction should be made between smart buildings and smart homes. A Smart Building is mainly used in commercial spaces, such as office buildings or shopping centres. It is a building automation system that, in contrast to the smart home, refers to the entire building and not to an individual residential unit. The most important difference between smart building and smart home is that the former refers to commercial buildings, while the smart home serves private households. In a smart building, the technical components are recorded and automated together. Here, the main focus is on safety energy efficiency. Particular attention is paid to energy efficiency in large logistics halls, airports, hospitals or factories. Automatic temperature, light and heating regulation within a building serves as an example to save electricity and heating costs.

A smart home, on the other hand, is the networking of individual household objects. There are already many ways to set up your own smart home, such as controlling the lamps or the lawn mower via an app.

Criticism of the Smart City

There are many voices against the further development of the smart city. They say it is a surveillance tool and in a way it is true: data is collected and stored in a public cloud. In fact, we are already in a city life in which the majority of people pass on data to Google by using Google Maps or reveals its shopping behaviour with the Payback card. With the smart city, this can take on other dimensions. A streetlight is already being designed that is equipped with pedestrian recognition, number plate recognition and an environmental sensor. In addition to the many advantages from a technological, sustainability and time perspective, the disadvantages of this new strategy must also be considered. Data can be hacked and sold for other purposes.

However, there are some arguments against this. For one thing, a smart city is coordinated by a democratically elected city administration and government, and for another, most people own devices that collect data from them anyway (such as smartphones, wearables, etc.).

Smart City- The Future of the City?

As there are already positive examples of a smart city today, it is to be expected that this new city concept will expand. Especially with 5G technology, it will be possible to use even more data for the smart city and improve it. In the future, there will probably still be disputes about data security and protection, but these will have to be resolved quickly due to the growing population and environmental protection.

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