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Data in the natural and built environment

The collection, connection and creative use of data is transforming what is now possible in the natural and built environment. Arup is a leader in bringing technology, innovation and market openness to bear on longstanding, real-world problems.

Volker Buscher

Volker Buscher

Chief Data Officer

The collection, connection and creative use of data is transforming what is now possible in the natural and built environment. Arup is a leader in bringing technology, innovation and market openness to bear on longstanding, real-world problems.

Data is ever-present in the built environment, from initial planning, via design specifications and BIM (Building Information Modelling) models, to the control systems that operate the built world. The challenge has always been to connect volume and variety of data, to learn from them, in order to generate new insights, services and benefits for users. At Arup data is both fuel and inspiration, an endlessly creative resource that informs and sharpens our thinking. We help clients to turn all kinds of operational and built environment data into valuable outcomes.

Whatever the organisational goal, data is increasingly at the centre of the relationship between users, assets, services and investors. As partners to organisations or businesses, our clients gain the benefit of our strengths in data analytics, backed by deep domain knowledge across every element of the built and natural world , from structures to acoustics to lighting and everything in between. Our members are experts in data infrastructure and science, data enabled innovation and user centred approaches to changing knowledge, culture and practices. Whatever the goal, our clients benefit from this creativity with data at scale.

Turning your data into actionable insights

Many organisations could do more with the data their operations or assets routinely produce. We help clients in many different sectors from transport to manufacturing, to explore the potential of their data and develop new services. Find out how we built an analysis tool that interprets live global flight data to help the owners of Heathrow Airport optimise terminal usage, and improve the passenger experience.

Featured project

Poland's Integrated Transport Model

In Poland we’ve been working at the system-wide level, helping the EU Centre for Transport Projects to define and predict future demand for public transport services. They asked us to produce a data model that reflects what the country’s 38 million people expect and want from their road, rail, aviation and inland waterway networks. The integrated multi-modal model we developed is now helping the country plan more resilient future services.

Find out more about our work

Data and the battle against climate change

Data is becoming increasingly vital as we attempt to address the major systemic changes in the built and natural environment required by climate change. Data will drive the performance changes we need, the design choices we make, and provide the transparency in reporting that builds support for the radical change that must be achieved. Data underpins the solutions we are developing for clients across every sector, form energy and utility companies to residential developers and transport network operators.

Find out more about our digital approach to sustainable development

Data-enabled engineering and design

At Arup we believe that data analytics are the best way to close the gap between design goals and how assets perform in the real world. Data allows us to build sophisticated models of the performance potential in a proposed design. We used a sophisticated data-driven energy model to optimise the design of MIT’s new student residences, calculating the optimum angle of its fin-shaped exterior to minimise the effects of solar radiation, enabling the new building to plug directly into the campus’s existing heating and water system.

At a larger scale, approaches like agent-based modelling, are helping our City Modelling Lab to develop new public transport and other urban services in ways that reflect and anticipate human needs. The team’s approach is to ‘simulate everyone’s day’, using data in harmony with a user-centred design ethos, to inform policy and help city planners and authorities to make better long-term decisions.

Featured project

Building an agent-based modelling capability for New Zealand

New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport is seeking to create a socially equitable, and sustainable transport system nationally. Using agent based modelling, we are seeking to replicate the many interactions of diverse individuals (agents) to understand how complex systems function and evolve, which then allow for a range of policy questions to be explored. For instance, how new infrastructure or road pricing affects travel behaviour and assessing the social and environmental impacts of such changes.

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Automation is also transforming the way we carry out design and engineering tasks, accelerating the development and validation of potential ideas and solutions, allowing clients to explore alternative options in detail. We develop our own automation tools in response to the project in front of us, sharing models between teams to build on each other’s knowledge and learning. Network Rail has used our Arup Fuse platform to bring new visibility and efficiency to the complex data underpinning delivery of its Greater West infrastructure upgrade programme.

Shaping the data infrastructure and ecosystem

Data infrastructure is now central to the success of major projects, from BIM models to project management to asset documentation and handover, every stage relies on efficient data infrastructure being set up at the start. We are experts in setting up the data architecture on projects, producing uniform definitions, formats and standards so that the entire supply chain can work from a shared version of the truth. For our clients, this approach saves time, money and reduces the amount of abortive work during a project.

As the UK’s open-banking initiative has clearly demonstrated, when an industry converges on common standards, incredible innovation and value creation becomes possible – new market entrants, new products and services and better user experiences are the result. Arup is taking a leading role in developing data ecosystems for the built environment, to pioneer this same level of innovation and increased sustainability, something the sector has lagged behind on for too long.

Arup is also part of the leadership of IcebreakerOne – which is helping develop an energy data ecosystem to support net zero outcomes. This is an exciting and significant project, aiming to set standards that allow the use of data as a continuous flow of evidence to inform actions and enable climate-friendly investments.

Developing data ethics

Anonymised user data is increasingly valuable in design and planning processes – it brings us closer to users and communities. But there are ethical dimensions to the sharing of that information, the level of privacy maintained, and there must be equity of benefits when personal data is used to shape commercial outcomes. We have conducted workshops with Gartner and the Open Data Institute on a data ethics approach for our industry. This ongoing work will inform our own thinking, including how we train our people, and shape the way we deliver projects for clients, communities and cities alike.

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