Time for Tech

TECH+ Expo returns to New York to talk the business of building

MIT's Dr. Andrea Chegut headlined AN's TECH+ conference in NYC on June 13. (Ankit Rauniyar)

According to Dr. Andrea Chegut, there is a constant tension between securing capital investment and being inventive in the built environment. It’s something that architects have to grapple with as they make design decisions that will please the client and investors, but also adhere to their creative vision. “This tension is happening in your desktops every day,” she told attendees of AN’s third annual TECH+ conference in New York on June 13.

Chegut is the cofounder and director of the Real Estate Innovation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As the keynote speaker for the tech-focused forum, held in partnership between AN and Microsol Resources, she reminded the architects present that they are inventors and that it’s imperative to stand up for their work because smart design helps make money. Chegut’s role as a financial econometrician is to research technologies that can improve the relationship between investors and designers, advance communication, and turn design features into metrics that investors can feel good about.

“Global research and development expenditures are at an all-time high,” she said, “and real estate is shifting towards R&D and scalable business models, too.”

Chegut pointed out that last year, global venture investment in technology for the built environment exceeded $20 billion. That’s a major look into the future of the industry, she said. Not only that, but climate change is making the business of building and maintaining buildings even more costly. From 2000 to 2017, the United States spent $2.5 trillion on resiliency planning and recovery efforts, and $117 billion to manage chronic floods.

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Industry professionals gathered for a day full of talks dedicated to the latest architecture and real estate tech. (Ankit Rauniyar)

To get ahead of these issues, Chegut believes technology can help architects and real estate stakeholders make smarter decisions about their projects. Think automation, which could transform valuations processes, accounting, and more, or robotics, such as the Mediated Matter group’s FIBERBOTS, a digital fabrication tool that can create sophisticated material architectures. Even as augmented reality advances through the integration of added sensory modalities, it can immerse and nearly alter one’s perception of the built environment. These could make working in the field substantially smoother.

It’s not just tech tools still in the research stages that could change the future; there are products that exist now on the commercial market like transparent wood, view glass, as well as digital software such as Humanyze, the WillowTwin, and Skyline AI that are transforming the way architects work. Companies like Envelope City and Katerra are already leading the way in zoning analysis and material manufacturing optimization.

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Held in partnership with Microsol Resources, the conference showcased different perspectives on how tech can transform cities and the work of designers. (Ankit Rauniyar)

Chegut noted that her team, in particular, has been working on a property technology that could benchmark value drivers of design for investors to get behind. Through an experiment they call Wide Data, the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab created a database with information on all buildings in New York City that was used to determine common themes across award-winning structures, specifically commercial office buildings. They found that access to daylight can lead to a direct 6.6 to 7 percent increase on the cost per square foot of a building in Manhattan if it meets the green standards set up by LEED.

In essence, Chegut backed up through economic data that the value of daylight adds to the monetary value of not only a building but a company, too. “Give humans daylight and we’ll make money,” she said.

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On the expo floor, attendees learned from leading brands about the tools they can use to advance their projects. (Ankit Rauniyar)

It’s dedicated research to tools like this that make technology so important for the work of an architect. Everything from advances in BIM, Revit, AR, and VR to prefabrication and efficient construction techniques means that the business of building is getting better because of technology.

The rest of the day’s events at TECH+ zeroed in on these innovations and how certain companies and architecture firms such as Kaiser Permanente, SOM, GeoSlam, SHoP, and Payette, among others, are doing big things with new tech. Other conversations included the unique integration of gaming technology to help tell stories through design, and the use of specific tools that helped create New York’s newest architectural landmarks: The Shed and Vessel at Hudson Yards.

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