3D Mapping, 3D modelling, Design technology, Heritage architecture, Dubai architects

Nicholas Sykes says 3D mapping helps control design risks

Marcus Taylor, managing director of construction recruitment agency, Taylor Sterling, talks to Nicholas Sykes, co-founder and managing director of Urban Surveys, about 3D mapping and how it can help preserve the Middle East's heritage architecture

When was Urban Surveys established?

Urban Surveys was created out of a desire to do things better, as we observed the as-built drawings we received from our clients were often both inaccurate and incomplete.

Six years ago, our investors decided to adopt Revit 3D modelling software from Autodesk, and switch over completely from AutoCad. In the process, they realised that any inaccuracies received in 2D drawings would get exponentially bigger when designing in 3D, so they needed a solution to control their risks, leading them to invest in 3D laser scanning equipment and training.

At the beginning of a project, we help designers control their design risks in 3D and ensure that contractors don’t have a reason to raise variations or claims for more time or money during construction. In the building phase, we help consultants in valuing the work completed against payment applications on behalf of clients. Finally, at the end of projects, we can verify the extent of work completed to resolve any disputes that may have arisen, and to ensure the facilities management team has accurate plans from which to operate the built asset.

Which stakeholders do you most closely work with?

We provide 3D models and drawing packages to design, construct, operate, and promote built environment assets more efficiently and effectively, preventing delays, and ensuring more predictable commercial outcomes.

We deploy a combination of high-definition surveys through drones and 3D laser scanning, the latter of which digitally captures an environment in 3D. The lasers emit light and measure the positive wavelengths that return.

Our main clients are architects, designers, engineers, project management firms, and contractors, but increasingly, we are working with property developers and facility management teams as well.

We are also involved in government heritage projects throughout the GCC. These heritage revitalisation projects require more accuracy, and so they take more time, because the desired outcome is to rebuild or preserve the building in the exact same state.

What are the challenges faced by professionals in your industry?

It’s certainly a challenging industry to work in. Laser scanning was developed for the oil and gas industry, so many of the companies established here in the Gulf are not experienced in servicing architects and property companies.

The cost of the equipment is also prohibitively expensive. Two years ago, our investors made a big commitment to us, and not many companies, other than large construction conglomerates, can afford to do this.

Not only is a large investment required for the job, but it also takes time in training, because you really need to know how to use both the equipment and the software involved. People come and go even in small companies, which means if employees that have been trained leave the firm, you have equipment that no one knows how to use.

How do you plan to develop Urban Surveys over the next few years amid these challenges?

We’re working with a number of partners to combine laser-scan and aerial drone photography to accurately model buildings in 3D. We’re also hoping to open an office in London next year. Long-term, I hope we will have a number of offices like the one we have in Dubai, particularly in three or four different parts of the world. We have found that it is possible to service quite a broad region from one office. For example, from the Dubai office, we can easily take on projects in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and travel to Jordan for work as well.

From a regional hub, we can send a team to capture all sorts of projects in the region and bring the data back to Dubai to process.

Despite the cost-cutting exercises that our industry is going though, I would argue that the construction market can benefit from 3D mapping. One of the reasons I started this business is that every project I’ve known has been delayed or affected in some way by a lack of accurate as-built drawings. This causes delays, unpredictable costs, and contract variations. All these scenarios end with a dispute between the contractor and the client, with the final account not being paid. Technology can help to solve problems and give projects greater certainty.

This piece was originally published on Construction Week