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A Tale of Twin Cities: How Digital Twins Dial Up Property Innovation

2D plans and 3D modelings remain the industry standard deliverable for placemaking - but how will metaversal digital twins transform the design of our future cities and urban destinations?

Though still in its nascent stages, the metaverse seemingly possesses vast potential for the property sector — not least in enhancing the benefits of digital twins, which are exactly what they sound like.

Digital twins, through complex 3D modelling, have been used for many years by property developers, urban planners and architects to much success — bringing 2D blueprints to life and offering a better understanding of physical impacts on infrastructure. In real estate contexts the twin could represent an entire town, a residential complex, an office building, a stadium or a lab. 

However, 3D modelling provides no insight into how people would intuitively interact with and use the space in real life. This is where the metaverse can come in.

Metaversal technology offers an advanced ability to better access and accommodate the ‘civilian’s’ behaviour, response and flow within the space. Before the foundations are laid, planners & developers can see exactly how individuals would navigate the space and have a customer-centric approach through use of Virtual Reality. 

Unlike a digital model or a simulation, a digital twin isn’t static. Just as the final, completed office building changes with use, so does the digital twin. It can also be connected to other systems to collect operational performance data.

The benefits of this mirroring range from real-time remote monitoring and efficient risk assessment to predictive modelling, proactive adjustments and better team collaboration, all of which leads to optimal financial decision-making & design. 

As a result, digital twins created in the metaverse could transform the nature of how we approach placemaking - putting the individuals that live, work and play at the heart of testing to impact key decision-making. 

We explore how property developers & real estate firms can use metaverse-based digital twins to develop optimised destinations that really appeal — covering four key pillars: space, privacy, health & safety, and community. 

Pillars for Pioneering Placemaking

1) Space

For placemakers, when working on significant destination design or new buildings, they really only have one chance to get it right.

As mentioned, 3D modeling doesn't offer the ability to understand how a user would practically use the spaces and infrastructure designed. It simply shows the physical impact at scale. 

This is where digital twins in the metaverse can make a real difference. Through the customer-centric lens, digital twins can create a better understanding of how the space will be used to create thriving hubs of humanity. 

With new cities being reconceptualised in the likeness of Star Wars or virtual worlds, we are rethinking what our environment could look like to drive efficiency, productivity and social dynamics –  a tall order for placemakers globally to better fit the 21st century and our hybrid lifestyles. 

Building first in the metaverse allows designers, architects and urban planners to visualise how areas will function and make necessary adjustments before ever breaking ground. The ability to test practicality and intuitive human behaviour through the use of Web3 will have a profound impact on the success and effectiveness of destination design. 

Designers can experience crowd flow and better understand how people utilise the ‘space’, along with sign posting needs and what key touchpoints are part of their discovery — we’ve always been champions of great UX design…

There are also huge transactional benefits, as 3D tours of metaversal properties can support purchasing, selling or renting activities in reality. 

For buyers and investors, the exciting process of seeing the designs ‘come to life’ as the property is built adds huge value — a new entity forming before their very eyes. 

A digital twin can continue to live, grow and provide new insights for better ROI, energy savings, maintenance and performance. As a result, the ‘real life’ space and building can be managed and improved more efficiently over time.

2) Privacy

Metaverse privacy is perhaps one of the largest concerns obstructing the progress of digital realities. Less so an issue for property developers who are exclusively using digital twins to inform IRL projects, but when the time comes that real estate diffuses into the ‘unreal’, the promise of privacy will be a key point of difference. 

For property developers dealing with ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) — often particularly concerned with their own privacy and subsequent safety — 3D modeling may give an insight into overlooking buildings, but it doesn't allow for an immersive, human-centric view for the potential owner.

Metaversal digital twins enable the clients to experience the building and area around them before a property is even built in real life, hopefully instilling reassurance and confidence in the purchase r.e important concerns like privacy.

The digital twin can also be used to ensure full transparency from owner to owner through Blockchain Technology — with complicated transactions simplified, third parties removed and no ‘missing’ important documents. 

Every owner can understand the ‘journey’ from day one to the present iteration of their property, knowing exactly who is privy to their data while removing the painful bureaucratic haze associated with the current purchasing experience. 

On the other hand, as Web3 gains traction, issues of privacy are placing themselves at the forefront of metaverse development. Compared to current social media platforms, the metaverse will likely be able to track individuals in a much more intimate way, collecting vast amounts of personal data on those who participate.

At the same time, we know consumers don’t mind sharing their data with the right kind of protections. 70% of Americans are happy to share their data when they believe the exchange will benefit them,brands or developers who can convince consumers their ‘digital twin’ offering is life-enhancing will be ahead of most. 

Data Infrastructure Digital Twins

Data-Driven Cities: Live Predictive Models

“We have one chance at the start of this era to establish specific, core security principles that foster trust and peace of mind for metaverse experiences.” – Charlie Bell, Executive VP of Security, Compliance, Identity and Management, Microsoft.

It’s an ongoing challenge, one that will likely persist indefinitely and, in the decentralised era, the onus of security could easily be placed on creators for any specifics.

3) Health & Safety

Providing evidence to support decision-making has been one of digital twinning’s key pros since their inception.

For developers, the full construction process can be planned meticulously before work starts. In particular, sites can be managed and optimised more effectively with technologies predicting delays and safety issues.

 59,000 non-fatal injuries are reported each year in construction, indicating the importance of digital twinning to eliminate hazards and reduce risk.

Developers in the UK have to abide by strict health and safety protocal (Health & Safety at Work Act 1974). By understanding how workers and stakeholders move around the building, they can recognise trigger points for where problems could arise.

A massive benefit to digital twinning is the ability to plan not just infrastructure, but green spaces in equal measure, encouraging active lifestyles and ultimately, improving the health and wellbeing of individuals, reducing pressures on public services and increasing quality of life. 

The ability to test and revise in light of studying users enables a dynamic design process that can be refined to be more effective. When users explore the digital twins, what draws them to certain communal spaces and areas or influences their behaviour?

American Planning Association

“Planners can help jurisdictions anticipate, design, and implement spaces where people live, work, and play in a manner that reduces air pollution, encourages physical activity, provides access to essential services, and preserves green space, all of which are important to health.”

Neom has gone back to the drawing board to rethink travel and how people use public transport with their development of The Line. With an ambition of eliminating carbon-intensive infrastructure, it will operate on renewable energy and focus on integrating nature and open spaces throughout to serve an important role in purifying air quality.

Our zero-car environment is part of a 100% sustainable transport system – with zero pollution and zero wait time. Reduced commutes will create more time for leisure. Not paying for expenses like car insurance, fuel and parking will mean higher disposable incomes for citizens.” A prime example of meaningful innovation.

Neom City

The Line - 170 km long zero-gravity vertical metropolis in Saudi Arabia

Over the past decade, there has been a notable movement towards integrating agriculture into our cities to better local food production and simplify supply chains in aid of more sustainable living environments. How can buildings be eco-systems in their own right — growing, harvesting and composting food waste into soil that can go back into the cycle?  Digital twins enable forecasting to manage urban farming through predictive data.

On inception, digital twins offer a means to test important ‘what-if’ scenarios, such as extreme weather or geo-political matters. By capturing the data to simulate, predict & inform decisions, urban planners unlock great insight that can prove to be extremely powerful with utility supplies of water or electricity. 

Emergency response plans can be simulated for safety benefits, especially in what would be crowded city areas or internal spaces that receive a lot of footfall. Forecasting data can predict traffic flow and impact, allowing urban planners to consider road safety and necessary re-direction through live signage & GPS routes for citizens. 

Maintaining these virtual assets as a city evolves and grows to accurately reflect their real world counterparts can also empower onsite teams with remote support, data insights and augmented solutions that act preventatively rather than reactively. 

4) Community

With no history to fall back on for new destinations, buyers and investors want to see innovative thinking, digital solutions and design that encourages human connection and efficient living spaces. 

At the core of many placemaking strategies is the need for ‘community’. In times when many do not know their own neighbours, significant portions of the population see the metaverse as further disconnecting human-to-human interaction and poisoning our sense of locality and citizenship. 

This tension is a tough one to balance, with many valid arguments on both sides. A strong question for the against argument: isn’t using digital to improve a sense of ‘community’ counter-intuitive?

That depends. When used effectively, metaversal technology could empower architects, developers & urban planners to design new town centres that are home to prosperous, diverse communities who better reflect our day-to-day needs in 2022 and beyond. 

Our traditional waning ‘high street’ could be repurposed to thrive as cultural beating hearts with amenities for all. Or we could test new blueprints for shared outdoor spaces that motivates physical exercise together; building a sense of community,promoting healthy lifestyles and offsetting time spent solo on digital channels.

Through this digital access, investors & buyers can have a say in the development, voting on ‘community matters’ and shaping the plans as they go. For developers, this is a powerful tool to encourage individuals to feel part of something bigger than them, and as a result be more invested in the space. 

As heroed by WHO in their ‘Healthy Cities Vision’, inclusivity is a vital pillar for placemakers. Listening to the collective voice and ensuring civilians have the opportunity to take part in policy making and social protection is an important way to create happier, fairer cities for all. Digital twins enable all voices to be heard, transparent voting and democratises access to data. 

Incorporating community into these places also adds an element of exclusivity to a fairly unknown social landscape. Already, members-only real estate developments are popping up in these worlds, whether virtual, physical or mixed, in which owners will be able to develop their landmarks, incorporating expression and personality-signalling into the property purchasing process. 

Future Cities Concept

Vincent Callebaut's Paris Smart City 2050, re-designing the iconic city to be more people-centric and ecologically viable.

Commercially, digital twins can provide a vision of how an individual's experience would play out in ‘real life’ if buying developments which are not yet built, from discovering the local area, restaurants and bars to exploring the local schools their children could attend. Before even moving in, someone can have a real idea of the opportunities available to them as part of this community — hopefully providing reassurance and generating excitement.

Building Tomorrow, Today

Digital twins have fantastic functionality that helps us to design better, to be more efficient and act preventatively. But what’s perhaps most exciting is how digital twins are helping us to push the boundaries of design and contemporary urban planning.

Increasingly, we are seeing design inspiration being drawn from science fiction books and films, with many striving to realise the innovation and out-of-this-world inventions once dreamed up by authors, filmmakers and visionaries.

The metaverse enables designers and architects to dream up the most fantastical iterations of urban planning, forgetting practicalities, defying gravity and consumer-centric experimentation. This will no doubt advance the destinations and placemaking in the ‘real world’, helping to reimagine the future of tomorrow and shaping the world we live in for the better.

Architecting what’s next is a colossal challenge, let us do some of that heavy lifting and chat to one of our consultants via hello@matterofform.com to discuss how we can infuse some future-first strategy and experience design into your brand.

Innovation
MOF Team

Published by MOF Team

We are a 60-person Luxury Brand and Digital Agency with soul. We help timeless brands design what’s next. STRATEGY + DESIGN + TECH