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3 innovations that leverage AI in the building sector

Sept. 21, 2023
Shadow Partners founder and CEO KP Reddy shares how building professionals can embrace rather than evade AI-enhanced technologies.
The built environment is facing challenges, from climate change to workforce shortages. However, several emerging technologies are helping the sector address these issues while also revolutionizing the way we design, deliver, and operate facilities.

In this article, KP Reddy, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based consultancy Shadow Partners, shares major industry trends and opportunities he expects to see in the near future. These trends will likely become talking points at the Oct. 24–26 Shadow Summit, which his consultancy organizes.

1. From education to execution with AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) and industrialized construction are converging. AI can automate tasks in the construction process, while industrialized construction can help to reduce costs and speed up construction times.

“We’re now in the execution phase of AI,” Reddy says. “We’re actually doing things with it.” For example, many people are familiar with large language model platforms, like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Poe. In the realm of construction technology, the latest version of sketch-based design tool Codesign—another Shadow Ventures investment—introduces an AI component. Other generative design tools include SWAPP and TestFit. Meanwhile, CodeComply helps automate building code research, and Occupspace, also a Shadow Ventures investment, has developed a scalable solution to gathering real occupancy data for both designers and operators to leverage.

However, Reddy adds, the building industry still must be taught more about AI technologies. “There’s a lot of noise in tech in our industry,” he says. Understanding what technologies exist and their use cases is important, he adds. That knowledge often comes from using the tools, learning what works, and who’s not just talking, but also doing. Ultimately, industry players must discern what actually makes their work or life better.

2. Mass customization

Mass customization enables the creation of buildings tailored to the specific needs of the occupants. While some people worry AI will crank out the same design again and again, Reddy views the intersection of AI and industrialized construction as supporting true design customization at scale. These variations subsequently involve modular construction, robotics, and 3D printing.

While some people worry AI will crank out the same design again and again, Reddy views the intersection of AI and industrialized construction as supporting true design customization at scale.

“For example, AI can be used to design a building that takes into account occupant lifestyle and preferences,” Reddy says. If you gather data from a developer’s market analysis or from past projects that finds a particular view or building orientation is more desirable, AI can analyze that data, incorporate occupant preferences into the generative design process, and quickly iterate on the best design for the occupant. This approach also leads to higher returns for the developer.

3. New roles for humans

AI is not a threat to jobs in the built environment, Reddy says, but rather an opportunity to create new jobs and improve productivity. “AI is going to augment what humans do, not replace them,” he says. “For example, AI can be used to automate tasks like drafting and scheduling, freeing up humans to do more creative and strategic work.” After all, the highest and best use of an MEP engineer is not counting toilet fixtures! Anywhere design professionals can deploy their creativity and expertise will help to provide better client services.

Decision time

The built environment industry is at a crossroads. It will either continue at the status quo or it will embrace new technologies and revolutionize how it builds. The future of the built environment depends on the choices that the building industry makes today. Partnering with a founder or investing in developing new in-house tools is important. Learning the latest tools and incorporating empirical data, rather than relying on old rules of thumb, will generate more precise outcomes. Focusing solely on efficiency and deliverables is dangerous and will further commoditize the industry. Instead, using AI and new technology to deliver a better client experience and better client outcome is the key. 

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