From Complexity to Clarity at AtkinsRéalis: How Connected and Evolving Design Ecosystems are Continuously Transforming How We Build

Our world has never been so complex. The more we understand about human behaviours as individuals, groups and communities, the more that complexity grows. For designers, that presents a host of new challenges. But at the same time, data and digital technology offer a unique set of opportunities to transform our built environment. In our Building Design Research and Innovation (R&I) unit at AtkinsRéalis, we’re generating impactful, emergent insight from data connectivity, dynamic technology ecosystems and continuous knowledge capture - and using it to enhance our design processes.


Data manipulation and digital innovation are driving rapid change in our modern world. Both are vital enablers that are unlocking huge paradigm shifts for end-users. Digital technologies can cut through complexity, enrich our understanding of how systems interact, and empower human intelligence. Yet all too often, digital tools and technology lack a clear purpose. Having a clear focus, embedded in the right framework and strengthened by the right expertise, is as important as the technology itself.

That’s why the AtkinsRéalis Building Design Research & Innovation unit (R&I) is more than just a digital team. We recognise that bringing people together is the vital first step towards better digital outcomes. Our team of data scientists and digital development experts is integrated with design researchers and environmental analysts to do things differently, from the earliest stages of projects all the way through to delivery and operation. By working across our design business, we’re able to drive and coordinate digital development, connecting our specialist skill sets to our clients and projects – or put simply, connecting people, data and technology.

Technology empowers designers to decode complex challenges, reshape outcomes, and continuously evolve. However, guiding broad concepts to specific realities is a difficult journey. To utilise technology effectively in solving real-world problems, we need a clear direction in the digital realm. Often, the necessary tools for this direction are neither currently available nor concrete. But this is how we enhance the value of design processes - by forging connections between people, technology, and data. These new relationships drive diverse perspectives that allow us to address complexity and transform conventional thinking.

Weaving a Web of Connectivity

Siloed platforms, technologies, and information repositories; our current digital environment is a vast web of information. Within each silo lies a huge amount of useful data, but unless we can link it together across networks, teams and sectors, insight is constrained. Only through the power of a connected, accessible, and transparent ecosystem can we open novel pathways to more streamlined solutions and ultimately, to better value.

Our Digital Daisy Chain approach provides the foundation for connected design insight and outcomes. It is an ecosystem of in-house holistic design tools and industry leading solutions that allows different types of software, analysis, and digital technologies to communicate from one platform to another.

The ecosystem consists of 3 components; the data lake, which collates structured data - user-centric user interfaces that allow designers to design - and connectors between the different solutions. Combined, this augments the designer’s experience so that it is tailored to what they need and the outcomes they are striving for. The value of having structured data cannot be underestimated in today’s world. It is the foundation of being able to leverage the opportunities of Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

Take its application in understanding urban microclimates. Urban environmental analysis is built of diverse, interrelated parameters. Our approach consists of transparently and dynamically connecting data sources, analysis platforms and visualisation techniques, allowing designers to explore the microclimate and its relationship to a range of interrelated parameters, providing them with a deep understanding that supports design decision-making This leads to the designers spending more time understanding the microclimate at neighbourhood or city scale, and with minimal interference from digital technology.

Interoperability and flexibility are vital to making this ecosystem function. To access genuinely novel insight, we need to tap into the interplay between datasets and technologies, metrics and their trade-offs, seamlessly surfacing and sharing information that can inform and improve collaboration, stakeholder engagement and the decision-making process.

One of the elements in the Digital Daisy Chain ecosystem is Bamboo, our interactive and dynamic space adjacency tool that exemplifies this approach. Bamboo visually presents connected spaces to map out the flow of a building alongside designers and stakeholders, optimising space adjacency through machine learning and changing the way we interact with and collaborate using project data. Every decision is captured for reuse in future projects, leading to a shallower learning curve, improved decision making and most importantly, speedier outcomes.

Integral Integration

Interoperability is key to unlocking solutions to complex problems. But we need more than just data. We need to gather and analyse the right information, from nearly limitless streams of data. Integration is therefore a critical process, synergising targeted data transfer between component parts. If we can combine a broad range of specialist data, such as geospatial, building information modelling and sensor data, we can achieve optimisation.

This understanding is beginning to diffuse more widely throughout our industry. Yet only recently have we seen consistent efforts to correlate disparate data sets, such as mapping energy against lighting use. In contrast, we’ve been deploying integrated analysis for years. Our Concept Analysis Tool (CAT) leverages domain knowledge, the BIM environment and raw cloud computational power to give every project access to enhanced analysis and data-driven decision making. A single use of CAT generates around 100,000 data points that allows a user to explore, refine and decide between 540 different iterations. That’s the power of integrated insight, and it’s only possible by integrating multiple building analysis methodologies into a familiar design process, and then placing it at the heart of decision making. CAT specifically was developed to enable our Human Centred Design (HCD) approach during the design stages. Other parts of the HCD approach, are the Briefing and Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) Tools, digital engagement platforms designed to enable clients and building users to prioritise aspects of the built environment that are important to their health and wellbeing. It captures these priorities through an online survey, enabling a much wider and deeper view of the actual end users of the built environment. Capturing this data in a central database, means we can continuously learn and improve in to creating direct connections between the Briefing and POE tools and CAT.

The Complexity Challenge

Continuous advancements in data and digital, research, experimentation, and value testing lead to more questions we find ourselves needing to answer. Take the discussion-dominating excitement surrounding artificial intelligence (AI). Whilst recent developments in AI do offer huge potential benefits, AI should not exist simply for the sake of AI.

We know that AI is set to impact everything from skill sets to commercial models to kind of structures we design. But often, we are only accessing the surface-level benefits of the technology, such as aesthetic image creation or speeding up processes, and missing the opportunity for in-depth insight into truly complex systems. To deliver real transformation, we need to get to grips with that complexity challenge.

At AtkinsRéalis we recognise that AI has the potential to transform our industry. It is set to impact everything, from skill sets we need to the commercial models we use, and even the kind of structures we design. Enabling this transformation cannot be done alone. Companies need to develop an ecosystem of partners, clients, and suppliers with whom they can collaborate to harness the value of AI. Academia has an important role to play in this ecosystem. There is a need for continuous reskilling and supporting the transition of skills and knowledge from academia to business; key to leveraging the benefits of AI and using it to address society’s most pressing issues.

This is a golden opportunity for our industry. Data and technology are an enabler to evolve our current capacity and create new digital and creative capabilities that add tangible value. We see partnerships and collaborations as a key part in being able to accelerate in data and technology.

But if we are to achieve these ambitious goals, we must maintain, or perhaps even accelerate, our ongoing development, pioneering interoperability, integration, and multidisciplinary collaboration in building design ecosystems. The construction industry has yet to fully embrace this and enable that awareness, and that paradigm needs to shift. It is  at the intersection of purpose-driven digital innovation and sustainable, interconnected human-centric solutions that we will lay the strong foundations for tomorrow’s buildings.

About the Authors

Dr. Avgousta Stanitsa is a qualified architect, working as an Associate Design Researcher and a Co-Lead of the UK Building Design Research & Innovation team in AtkinsRéalis. Avgousta’s role and interests involve working with clients and design teams to develop and deliver applied research in the built environment and foster innovation in design development, with a focus to better understand how the built environment shapes people’s experiences. She holds an MSc in Sustainable Environmental Design from AA School of Architecture in London and a Ph.D. in Big data, Risk, and Environmental Analytical Methods from Cranfield University.

Sukhmit Singh is the Digital Solutions Lead and Co-Lead of the UK Building Design Research & Innovation Team in AtkinsRéalis. Bringing together experiences from design delivery and digital development, Sukhmit looks to explore and transform the overall design process. The focus of this transformation is to enable design creativity that can help solve the evolving challenges we are facing.




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