Big Data is a general term for data sets that are so large and complex they need algorithms to analyze them.
These data sets include any and all information collected from cell phones, security cameras, internet searches, and credit card purchases – basically anything that gives off a digital exhaust, which is almost every powered product in today’s world. The amount of data a person in the 15th century was exposed to in their lifetime is the same amount of data exposed to us in one day. Previously, much of the excess data generated would end up getting lost in cyberspace because we didn’t know how to analyze it or utilize it. Companies are now starting to see the value and power of big data and are using it to their advantage.
Big data is already being used within the design industry. When Brown University was trying to decide whether they should upgrade their existing engineering building or move off-campus to an innovation center, the architect used big data to determine how they should proceed. After analyzing twitter feeds, surveys, class schedules and other data, the architect found that there was a high level of collaboration between faculty members of different departments, as well as integration of engineering students across the entire campus. With this information, they made the decision to upgrade the existing facilities, rather than spend the money to build a new facility that would have been detrimental to the culture of the university.
A similar example exists with Harvard University. During an evaluation of the campus plan, Harvard University insisted that they needed to reorient circulation towards the front door of a certain building. The architect utilized data from security cameras and an app called MyCampus to evaluate where the majority of foot traffic entered the building. They found that almost nobody used the front door, and with this information were able to convince Harvard to rework the entire campus plan.
Thanks to the combination of BIM design and GPS tools, we are not only able to construct a complete digital project in three dimensions, but also walk through an empty site and know exactly what room in the future building we are standing in. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are starting to have an impact in both design & sustainability realms, from driverless cars to supply chain management and protection of natural habitats. The power of using big data and other innovative technologies in the design process is the ability to take a project from “this is how it should function” to “this is how it will function.” Design as prediction, not preservation, and we are all futurists now.