I hinted at one the projects I’ve been working on in a recent post and followed it up with a presentation at Ecobuild. The full write up is on the new BSD blog and images available at Slideshare, but I should offer an excerpt and some further notes here.

Vision-lozells.org represents my first attempt to get closer to the ideas in Dan Hill’s ‘Personal Well Tempered Environment’ concept and the subsequent notes in my own post, ‘Up On The Roof’. I’ve been collaborating with the guys at Slider Studio to develop the next stage in our investigations into online consultation work; but this time, by developing the platform they created for the self-build market, we’ve moved into the third dimension.

You know what I’m into. I want to start plugging it in to stuff. Getting data from the real world in and out of it. The notes below and the Ecobuild presentation I gave start to describe how we might do that using solutions most of you will know well.

I’ll be spending this weekend at our last public open day for ecoterrace.co.uk, followed by an event with the residents of blurtonvision.co.uk to start our version of the Open Street Map / public data mashup. Unfortunately this means I won’t be able to attend the Homecamp event on Saturday and get more connected with the folks developing exactly the ideas I’m pitching here. However I will be able to come along to the next Be2camp and do my bit to draw connections between the social bits, the media bits and the home bits. Come along and criticize/help.

BIM and Social Media

Axis Design and Slider Studio have created a new tool for Birmingham City Council called YouCanPlan Lozells. Slider’s ESP software has been resigned to suit the challenges of the diverse people and places of community consultation work. The software will be distributed via both CD and online to over 2500 households. It can be used both online and offline to ensure it can be used in any venue, but we hope that the benefits of the online mode means that people using it from home can make the most of both the live updates to proposals in the coming months, as well as using survey and chat tools to tell Birmingham City Council what they think about the designs being proposed by the city’s urban design team.


At its first public test during an event in the local park it was well received. In particular by the local teenagers who instantly took to the interface and chat tools. Making contact and building enthusiasm with the younger generations is often one of the biggest challenges with consultation work so in this case we hope that we’ve created something that will help us hear the voices of the future generations and perhaps bring some parents with them, curious to see what their children are using. Whilst the ability to consult with people from the comfort of their own home is huge step towards a more representative mandate from a neighbourhood, we’ve always described this as a tool to supplement the vital face to face debates that need to go on. With that in mind the software can be used in offline environments and the investment in 3D modelling can be used to produce rapid prototyped physical models that match the software .

What of the future and the implications for BIM? How can this tool help us manage data about a building or street? In its current format the model and software is a framework that can take inputs and changes in a top down fashion from stakeholders whose roles are well understood. It will receive new models and designs of steadily improving detail and can display images and links to other sources of info provided by local authorities and RSLs, but what of the community? How do we build a system that allows data rising from the streets – in a bottom up fashion – to manifest itself in the model and record live information about the neighbourhood. Our experience with web 2.0 tools and consultation work tells us that there are tools available to help us and they come under the title ‘social media’. Let’s look at a few examples and then imagine how YouCanPlan could use them to bring BIM, post-occupancy monitoring and community consultation together.

Pachube, developed by architect Usman Haque, is a service that aims to broker data for you. It takes information from physical objects that can record things, tidies it up, then spits out the results in a number of useful formats that you can plug into (or point at) another location. The simplest example is electricity meters. I have a meter at my office recording the number of kW used. It sends the info to Pachube allowing me to access it from anywhere and do anything with it. A number of visualisation methods have already been created by others, allowing me to either simply display the info online or feed it into other tools such as the AMEE carbon emissions calculator, letting me know how many tonnes (gulp!) of carbon I’m churning out.

Another social media tool that takes simple inputs and creates powerful outputs is Twitter. Unless you’ve been living under a particularly analogue rock lately, you’ll have probably heard of this web site. Twitter simply wants you to tell it what you’re doing. No, really, that’s it. Just tell it what you’re doing and do it within 140 characters. I’ve been using it for a couple of years for keeping in touch with like-minded architects and bloggers and more recently using it as a tool for dispatching the lyrics of one of my favourite bands one line at a time. Others, like Andy Stanford-Clark from IBM, have found ways to use it for recording more than just bon mots and satirical one liners. By plugging it into all the activities around the house Andy has found a way to make his home twitter. A live feed of building information as devices switch on, doors open and phones ring.

Mapping is an important part of information modelling; the data is most useful when tied accurately to location. However, mapping can be a prohibitive field as commercial restrictions can often make extensive availaibility and re-use of map information costly. Open Street Map allows us to avoid this problem by providing up to date maps that are completely free to use and adapt. The wikipedia of mapping, Open Street Map is by the people and for the people, created by volunteers with GPS devices all over the world. Its open source nature allows us to look at ways of combining the info with other tools such as phonecam sites like moblog.co.uk or flickr.com. Marking the position of a photo – an option increasingly done automatically by some phone models – allows us to track the latest events and activities in a neighbourhood visually. This has been succesfully developed, alongside other services such as planning alerts and transport links, by Tom Chance and Thomas Wood and their interactive map of Sutton.

Tools like these will turn platforms like YouCanPlan into a virtual environment augmented by reality. By allowing the model to plug into other information modelling systems the buildings will convey live information about the current state of a house or street or neighbourhood. The data shown in the model will help local authorties record and assess public information, and the residents will be able to keep in touch with the activities of friends and family and show landlords and local authorities what the most pressing issues are right now. The recording and public display of energy information for a household introduces the possibility of encouraged energy saving through competition. Who has saved the most money in the street this week? Who has created the most carbon?

YouCanPlan augmented

The successful reduction of carbon emissions in the built environment to meet the targets of 2050 is entirely dependent on an improvement in performance informed by regular post-occupancy monitoring. BIM can continue to play a vital role in this process beyond the completion of the construction and there are powerful social media tools available to help make it happen. A creative approach to the field and an open mind to the power of open data formats will help the profession to share knowledge and avoid the usual debates about interoperability. We need to improve the communication between the designers and users throughout the life of the building, not just as we hand over the keys.

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