Research project will spur better development approval process

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By Richard Lyall
RESCON

The construction industry has traditionally been a laggard when it comes to adopting new technologies and digital tools and practices. However, in future, that will change. No doubt about it.

Time, after all, does not stand still. And just like the steam engine gave way to gas-power, the typewriter was replaced by the computer, and the phone booth all but disappeared from the urban landscape thanks to invention of a little gadget called the cell phone. Old technologies are destined to be replaced with the new.

As the old saying goes, “You can’t stop progress.”

A good starting point is the development approvals process, which is far outdated across much of the province.

One-window digital platform

At RESCON, we were particularly excited a few weeks back when Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. stepped up with $2.35 million for a pilot in Simcoe County that could set the stage for an Ontario-wide digital development approvals. AECO Innovation Lab will use the funds to set up a one-window digital platform to modernize the residential development approvals process in the region.

Recently, we were also pleased to learn that AECO is teaming up with four prominent Canadian universities across the country on a ground-breaking new project to explore how innovation and digital tools and technology can be used to transform and enhance the development approval processes.

A team of researchers will build on earlier work done on Building Information Modeling (BIM) at a lab at the University of Toronto, as part of a research project sponsored by RESCON.

This new a five year, $1.32-million project is being funded by AECO and the Mitacs Accelerate Grants Program.

Solutions to pressing issues

AECO is an industry consortium dedicated to developing solutions to pressing issues facing the architecture, engineering and construction sectors while Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. It’s a perfect match for research that will move the needle on the approvals process.

The latest project is called AI-enabled Digital Twins for Automation of Regulatory Systems in the Built Environment. It’s being done in partnership with researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), Ecole de technologie superieure (ETS) Montreal, and the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The team will probe how BIM and digital twins can be used in Canadian regulatory agencies to promote more informed decision making. The results will likely spur innovation and digital transformation in the architecture, engineering and construction sectors as well as associated government sectors.

Consistent and compliant assets

Digital assets must be consistent and compliant with the changing requirements set out by regulatory authorities.

As AECO CEO Arash Shahi has correctly pointed out, it is impossible for Canada to achieve its net-zero targets in the building sector without BIM. However, no Canadian municipalities can currently accept BIM today. We must develop and apply standards to digitize project delivery and asset management.

BIM is key to achieving faster development approvals, but we are behind the curve on this. Other international jurisdictions, particularly in East Asia and Scandinavia, have been heading in that direction for more than a decade, and are significantly more advanced than Canada on this.

The research will provide a mechanism for Canada to catch up with these advanced jurisdictions. Instead of developers flattening their BIMs onto 2D drawings in PDFs or on paper, there is an opportunity to automate arduous tasks and use the data sets directly in the development approval process.

Formidable task

Experts involved in the project include Stephen Fai from Carleton University Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, Erik Poirier from Ecole de technologie superieure Montreal, Sheryl Staub-French from UBC, and David Amborski from TMU.

It is a formidable task. No such standards exist in Canada, so there is significant work that must be done to achieve the goal.

However, with leading academic partners in place, and industry partner AECO leading the effort with support from RESCON, Canada is well on its way to catch-up and surpass the others.

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at media@rescon.com.