PropTech has become a new buzzword in today’s highly digitalised world. The umbrella term for tech-driven innovative building industry solutions, its adoption is accelerating rapidly – rising by a staggering 1,072 per cent from 2015-19, according to Forbes.
Property technology is only poised to keep growing. A recent study by PwC and the Urban Land Institute highlighted that the use of technologies by real estate companies in Europe will trend upwards over the next three to five years.
Expedited further by the pandemic, property technology is reconfiguring how all stakeholders relate to the built environment, from how they experience, design, construct and market buildings to property management.
Outlined below are some important ways this unfolds across the five property development stages.
Data technology is the cornerstone of smart cities. Offering multiple sustainability benefits, it is being used to integrate building and infrastructure systems.
Sensors, data centres and digital twins monitor key historical and real-time indicators of demographic trends, property inventories, power and water use, and building carbon emissions. By using urban data analytics, policies for waste reduction, building decarbonisation and even affordable housing can be better achieved.
A prime example is Singapore’s pioneering digital twin experiment. Data in the form of GIS, lidar and satellite imagery were processed to create a 3D digital replica called ‘Virtual Singapore’.
A snapshot of Virtual Singapore, the city’s pioneering digital twin project. Source: National Mapping Archives – gwprime (geospatialworld.net)
The single, centralised, real-time database is already helping the city to respond to challenges related to water supply management, track real estate market changes, and deploy solar farms to meet growing domestic and industrial demands.
PropTech adoption accelerated by 1,072 per cent from 2015 to 2019
In the real estate sector, technology is helping to solve problems such as lack of transparency, information asymmetry and high investment risks. In the UAE, a person renting or buying property exclusively through a broker is almost unheard of, while 93 per cent of US buyers use real estate websites when searching for a home. This may mean the entire market is becoming digitalised.
And for very good reasons. For one, online sales platforms simplify the arduous task of property hunting for people with little background knowledge in a sophisticated and highly technical field. Platforms such as Bayut and RealAR app offer in-depth information on listing characteristics, provide analysis of comparable properties, and even furnish virtual simulations to help guide purchase and modification decisions.
But technology is poised to go even further. For example, price-gouging algorithms are being developed to use predictive analytics that process data on transactions, forecast future trends, value property returns and assess mortgage quotations, all aimed at oiling the wheels of a heavy-moving sector.
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Building information management
BIM has sounded the death knell for the age of Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Architects and urban designers are now using advanced software to model multi-layered information instead of physical forms. By doing so, integrated design – so crucial for sustainable development – has become business-as-usual.
BIM allows professionals to design, modify and manage the building’s entire lifecycle using a single virtual model that simulates its performance. Further, using parametric tools, designers can even tweak design factors to meet priority sustainability targets.
This is how the National University of Singapore delivered its new School of Design and Environment. Using BIM technology, architects were able to explore options in massing and orientation, canopy and opening sizing, and room layouts by reporting their environment and energy performances in real time.
Optimising these, they passively minimised the building’s baseline energy and material demands. Then, a parity was struck by deploying renewable energy technologies such as 1,225 photovoltaic panels and hybrid cooling systems, allowing the university to pioneer the city’s first net-zero energy building.
The School of Design and Environment – Singapore’s first net-zero energy building. Source: NUS School of Design & Environment, SDE 4 - Surbana Jurong
Technology’s introduction to construction is transforming the sector into a safer, wasteless, cost-effective and faster enterprise. One way this is happening is through innovations in 3D printing machinery. These use BIM models to digitally produce on-site or prefabricated components most efficiently, while complementary smart machinery robotically performs repetitive tasks like concrete pouring and plastering.
One notable example is Dubai Municipality’s largest 3D printed structure in the world, built in 2019. Standing 9 metres tall with an area of 640 square metres, the edifice employed only three workers.
Apis-Cor’s award-winning 3D-printed building, Dubai. Source: Apis Cor builds world’s largest 3D-printed building in Dubai (dezeen.com)
The breakthrough came in constructing the walls by a printer instead of the traditional wooden formwork, steel reinforcement and concrete pouring methods. This was complemented by precast slabs and prefabricated windows, which offered multiple cost and environmental savings.
Nonetheless, the extent of the scalability of 3D printing to multi-story residential and office buildings remains to be explored.
Technology is percolating and reforming every stage of the real estate value chain, from smarter cities to efficient building design, construction, operation and marketing
Green building management
Surprisingly, it has been reported that green-rated buildings can miss their performance and savings targets. According to a recent study, the primary cause is human behaviour. Either uninformed or disincentivised to take full custody of carefully-designed systems, end users frequently misuse them.
But technology has provided the solution: building management systems (BMS), through IoT or digital twins, can track parameters like energy and water usage, waste generation, carbon emissions and indoor air quality, and help to control them.
BMS can even compare performance to design metrics. This is demonstrated by the newly completed Beeah headquarters in the UAE. Acclaimed to be the first fully AI-integrated office in the Middle East, this LEED-certified smart building employs a digital twin as the basis for a Smart Facility Management System.
By learning occupancy habits, one novelty of this system is its ability to forecast energy demands and optimise electricity consumption, conduct predictive maintenance checks, and even take autonomous decisions to rectify faults in equipment performance, achieving a huge 90 per cent energy efficiency saving.
Zaha Hadid’s Beeah headquarters is futuristic in form and operation. Source: BEEAH Headquarters – Zaha Hadid Architects (zaha-hadid.com)
Although a relative laggard in digital transformation, the building sector is swiftly catching up. Technology is percolating and reforming every stage of the real estate value chain, from smarter cities to efficient building design, construction, operation and marketing.
By doing so, PropTech is helping to solve some of the sector’s perennial problems. It is improving information transparency, social inclusion, building design and residents’ wellbeing, in addition to reducing risk and limiting waste generation and carbon emissions, among many other benefits.
The views expressed are those of the author and do no necessarily reflect the company's position.
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