Flow: Mobilising Data for Sustainable Outcomes

The 2021 SEOUL DESIGN INTERNATIONAL FORUM has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Dale Sinclair (AECOM, Director of Innovation)

Cities have undergone transformations in the last centuries based on two paradigms. The first paradigm was the rapid development of infrastructure in the 20th century, and the second paradigm was transportation — the introduction and expansion of vehicles. The next paradigm will be the advent of the fourth industrial revolution leading data-based technological development for smart cities. Then, how can we define practical technologies in the future?

The map shows the current construction technologies, such as beams applied in designs as a typical method today. However, the visible technologies are just the tip of the iceberg, since numerous methods can be used by combining various nodes. Our most significant assignment is selecting appropriate technologies to apply and drawing data accordingly from related technologies. What data resource should we apply to establish smart cities with better environments? Before going into the details, we should first consider applying net-zero, or carbon neutrality technologies, to drive future urban development. At this point, let’s discuss three topics on sustainable cities and data.


The first topic is our adaptation to future city environments. What data would be required for successful adaptation to future cities? In 2018, AECOM published a book about future offices. Back then, we predicted that housing prices and other factors would drive cities’ transformation, resulting in citizens moving to other regions in search of a better quality of life. The pandemic accelerated changes in our society, reestablishing our workplaces and working methods. Accordingly, we are analyzing the significance of workplaces in the community and their changed locations. Cities need to understand and analyze their transformations driven by collaborations with its users and the utilization status of facilities and spaces. AECOM expects the utilization of space in future cities to be entirely different from the present state.

This includes not only workplaces but also medical and healthcare facilities. For example, the generalization of remote medical treatment motivates consultants and doctors handling medical and healthcare projects at home. The elaboration of robot technologies raised surgical levels, which increased expectations of extreme transitions in the way we use medical facilities. For example, sophisticated, micro sensors will improve and speed up the medical treatment process and create various medical solutions, reducing the number of hospitalized patients. We are collaborating with the Oxford University Hospital to focus on establishing new master plans and raising the level of campus flexibility. Considerations regarded new wards transforming into other facilities in the future, along with raising the flexibility of the lab and medical treatment space according to such changes. Above all, we intend to take a person-centered approach instead of a vehicle-centered design on campus. Thus, the university hospital will emerge as a safer, healthier area with platforms for new transportation methods. Moreover, we plan to promote a two-way interaction between medical institutions and patients so that medical services visit patients as well. Presently, elderly patients visit hospitals, but future hospitals might visit patients.

In this context, AECOM started to think deeply about how healthcare and medical services could visit and diagnose patients. This would reduce the physical space of medical facilities so that medical service customers could receive treatment in their own homes. Obtaining permission from the City Hall, London is also proceeding with new master plans for major ophthalmology treatment facilities with designs aimed at the world’s first adaptive hospital based on the principles of a circular economy. In the long run, the hospital facility may provide a space for outpatients or research. If officials decide to transfer the hospital, the previous building could transform into a residential area or a hotel. As such, medical facilities in the future will be multipurpose buildings with longer life spans.

Presently, many attempts are being made to change the phenomenon where cities prioritize vehicles over pedestrians. Now, vehicle routes have moved to periphery or outskirt areas. Some regions show a general tendency of securing the most routes for public transportation accompanying autonomous vehicles. It is also significant that safe facilities are underway for new transportation methods, such as bicycles or e-scooters. More data is required for cities to reflect such changes in transportation means. Amsterdam is a global bicycle-oriented city that sees a rapid increase of motor electric bicycle riders. Although it doesn’t look much different from ordinary bicycles, it dramatically changes the means of transportation in the city. Anyone can easily take long rides on their bicycles and fuel them at charging stations in buildings or public facilities, which changes space utilization methods. 

Another global issue has to do with electric scooter-related problems. Once the e-scooters are used, they are left abandoned anywhere throughout the city. Thus, the Department of Transport in the UK surveyed users on why they ride E-scooters and what transportation means they will use apart from electric scooters if they plan to do so. The survey aimed at collecting information to design road infrastructure. As establishing virtual parking lots for bicycles and e-scooters will prevent the scooters from being thrown away throughout the city, the study on the possibilities of such measures is being carried out including the overall transportation system.

Sometimes, we forget that cities’ resilience and adaptation are not only ground-controlled but also underground-controlled. We do not usually pay much attention to how water and electricity reach the final users and waste and gas flow into buildings. Since our ancestors built such grand and complex urban infrastructure worldwide from a century ago, we take such infrastructures for granted.

Now, we must reassess infrastructure to accomplish carbon neutrality. The research was initiated to significantly reduce the amount of energy used in buildings worldwide, and users started to grasp the actual amount of energy used in buildings through the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor technologies.

Numerous projects expect IoT to reduce building operation costs by 30%. IoT will not only decrease the amount of energy usage but also lower the energy costs borne by users considerably. Thus, we must now come up with a better plan than the facility itself for energy use.



This is why master plans aim to provide various solutions to new buildings including the waste system’s heat balance, renewable energy, and biomass. More and more buildings are starting to use various new energy sources, and thus, we must collect data and understand how each building operation works.

Going back to the subject of the hospital we designed in London, a large variety of data sources, from the circular economy to carbon neutrality, are applied in the construction of a building. Empirical data can be secured for cities by forming a data lake storing large-scale, unprocessed data in each building and connecting such data. We must understand how the buildings’ design and operation work collectively.

Many cities digitalize their assets, collecting more and more accessible and practical geometric information for making decisions for the city reformation. More attempts are being made in using IoT, big data, and AI to open up various opportunities for design improvements.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) focuses on making operations more effective by connecting diverse infrastructure projects, called “system by system.” This attempt will apply as an ultra-large-scale data initiative to reduce the UK’s energy use and make buildings more effective for the future environment.


Future cities must be resilient. The pandemic showed that people greatly valued health and well-being. The ongoing development of new technologies must also focus on well-being and health, such as whether the city is equipped with infrastructure that meets users’ needs and green areas in our everyday life. It might take 40 years for trees and plants in the green area to grow fully, which raises the need to build a sturdy base to create adequate space for the green area. Moreover, we must muse over how to achieve balance between urban adaptation and resilience. In other words, we must focus on balancing residential areas and workplaces according to our new lifestyles, understanding the impact that space utilization has on our health and well-being, and figuring out how to raise urban flexibility for a better future.

The pandemic highlighted the significance of urban resilience and took people away from the crowded urban area to safe, uncrowded green areas for a peaceful meal. Thus, the vital part about urban adaptation and resilience is not simply about building a permanent green area but deals with presenting new urban solutions in places reached mainly by lineal infrastructure.


The last keyword is “material,” which overwhelms the future concept of urban adaptation and resilience. Numerous cities mainly used traditional construction materials such as rocks. However, the world is already replacing such materials. Productivity in the construction sector has always been stagnant, and data tells us that manufacturing is replacing construction. The manufacturing-centered transition signifies more than quick completion driven by less work at the site. It also connects with higher productivity; above all, it implies the gradual integration of construction and manufacturing.

Although we intend to establish more factories in cities, considerations must be given to various environmental and physical impacts. For practical construction, various manufacturing technologies can be used at the site. For example, simpler container-based methods can be applied to build factories with robots assembling traditional materials. Robots replacing our labor force reinvents materials and raises work efficiency. We have to consider deeply and select eco-friendly materials and facility establishment for the future, including how to use locally procured materials effectively.

The most quickly procured insulation material emits the highest amount of carbon, but it is not easy to replace existing materials. We have no choice but to find a simple way of gradually establishing and expanding new materials and replacing the currently used carbon-emitting materials.

In short, our future cities must be equipped with various infrastructures to enhance adaptation and resilience for long-term transformation. The discovery of construction materials can lead us to produce and use the currently procured materials locally or establish a local factory in a considerably simple way. I am sure that abundant data and various new technologies will support the remarkable construction of our future cities.

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