Skip to content

Professor Tim Broyd: digital could lead the way to whole-life thinking in the built environment

08 January 2024

The ICE past president joined Professor Chimay Anumba from the University of Florida for an Emerald podcast series episode.

Professor Tim Broyd: digital could lead the way to whole-life thinking in the built environment
Professor Tim Broyd was ICE president in 2016/2017.

Digital modelling technologies could help lead the way in getting the industry to think ‘properly’ about the lifetime of buildings, Professor Tim Broyd has said during an episode of the Emerald podcast series.

Professor Broyd was joined by podcast host Rebecca Torr and Professor Chimay Anumba to discuss how digital technologies can make the built environment more sustainable and resilient.

Professor Broyd is the director of the Institute for Digital Innovation in the Built Environment and professor of the Built Environment Foresight Faculty at the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, University College London.

He was president of the ICE in 2016/2017.

He informed the discussion through his current focus on a whole-life, systems view of infrastructure.

Professor Anumba is professor and dean of the College of Design, Construction and Planning at the University of Florida, USA.

He drew on his research on the integration of digital technologies to make infrastructure more resilient and sustainable.

Listen to the podcast

Sustainable innovations

Professors Broyd and Anumba highlighted the potential of digital technologies in sustainability.

"The pace of technological change is so fast and vast,” said Professor Anumba.

“There are tremendous opportunities to leverage current and emerging technologies in order to support the need to be more sustainable, but also a lot more resilient.”

Speaking about building information modelling (BIM), Professor Broyd explained that carbon can be added as a dimension in BIM so that it's modelled similarly to cost.

As well as modelling capital expenditure (Capex) and operational expenditure (Opex) (the cost of creating/building something and operating it, respectively), built environment professionals could model for capital carbon (CapCarb) and operational carbon (OpCarb).

Professor Broyd spoke of the need to share this information with colleagues, so these modalities are used more widely.

Smart cities

‘Smart’ is where the physical and cyber world meet, said Professor Broyd.

Increasingly, sensors on buildings are gathering data on where energy is used, how it’s used, and more broadly, how people behave in buildings and infrastructure.

By inputting this data into the cyber world, a model of the performance of the real facility can be created.

With this model, built environment professionals can then think about improving the building. For instance, by making it more energy efficient.

Whole-life thinking

“We need to get people in the industry to think properly about lifetimes in buildings... You can’t just develop something, hand it over and wash your hands of it,” said Professor Broyd.

BIM and digital twins can help create a companion to the building itself and model its lifetime.

Any changes made to the real building should be reflected in the model.


The benefit of digital twins is the capacity to model the real environment and then be able to run what-if simulations of things that may or may not happen, explained Professor Anumba.

This works at a systems level.

The interdependencies of infrastructure systems aren’t always evident, said Professor Anumba.

But if you can capture all the systems in a digital model, you can more closely observe how they’re connected.

"That becomes very important in emergency situations where you have natural disasters because... you have the capacity to prevent a cascade of failures across the whole city.”

It would also help to model how people behave in these scenarios and ensure that they are kept as safe as possible.


One of the challenges of implementing a digital transformation is getting built environment professionals to trust this technology.

One of the factors to consider is security.

Professor Anumba highlighted: “When we start to work more and more on these complex and highly vulnerable infrastructure systems, we need to be more cognisant of the fact that there are bad actors that would like to break into these systems, and create havoc...”

“We really need to pay a lot more attention to [security].”

Another challenge Professor Anumba noted is integrating different types of data in a model and being able to make sense of it.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can play a role in sifting through this data and coming up with suggestions.

For more details and examples of how to integrate digital technology in the built environment, listen to the full podcast episode.

  • Ana Bottle, digital content editor at ICE