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COVID-19 and AEC – Time to Convert Premises?

We are pleased to host this guest article by Mark Senior of Pointfuse.

Pointfuse's software is used in AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction), to quickly and easily create 3D Models for Virtual Design, Digital Construction and Space Management.

Here at Nalpeiron, we're seeing many Software Vendors using licensing to meet the needs of a physically shifted workforce. COVID-19 has resulted in a clear shift of people needing to work from home. Our cloud-based licensing has provided the flexibility required to meet the software consumption needs of employees, on new devices, in new locations. The same shift in people has also been the driving factor behind repurposing of physical business premises. With this adaptation clearly in motion across the globe, it is explored and revealed in this article.

COVID-19 and AEC – Time to Convert Premises?

As a second wave is taking foothold in many countries, I know that everyone is tired of seeing yet another blog post about COVID-19. But bear with me, because I see an opportunity in the current crisis that AEC companies could do well to consider, and that is helping clients with the conversion of their existing office and retail spaces. In this blog, I’ll explain the size and scope of that opportunity, and how AEC companies can leverage solutions including space management software to deliver stellar projects for clients.

The size of the opportunity

The various lockdowns that have been implemented by governments all over the world to try to control COVID-19 have had a profound impact on space – in particular, office and retail space.

  • In the UK, it’s been reported that around 14,000 retail shops have closed due to the pandemic – and at least 10% of those will be converted to non-retail purposes.
  • In Japan, vacancies in its business district rose by the largest amount in a decade in May.
  • In the US, the country’s largest mall owner has been in talks with Amazon to convert former anchor department store spaces into distribution sites.
  • More than 1 million square feet of office space was offered for sublet in June in London (though this trend doesn’t seem to be reflected in other cities in the UK).
  • Fujutsu Ltd has declared its intent to halve its domestic office space, with 80,000 employees working mostly from home.
  • A survey by Altus Group found that 38% of UK-based property development bosses are already switching their retail properties to other uses; 57% are considering doing so.

Though these circumstances are no doubt painful and tragic for many, there’s no denying that repurposing spaces is big business right now, all over the world. Offices, retail stores, even parking garages – the owners of all these are considering how they can use their space in new ways, now the explosive growth of working from home and the continued explosion of eCommerce have totally changed the spaces people visit and work in. And of course, successful repurposing of spaces is an essential element of keeping the economy going during these troubled times, turning vacant spaces into productive ones.

The challenges of repurposing

The thing is, it’s no simple feat to convert a space from one use to another. There are a number of factors to consider when repurposing:

  • The structure. How will the physical structure of a building need to change to accommodate the new space? What will need adding and taking away?
  • Facilities. Will the space need new M&E, heating, cabling, or plumbing? For instance, if converting a retail space to flats, there will be a need for plumbing to provide each flat with amenities. How can these extra facilities be added smoothly and simply?
  • Design. In the age of COVID, any new space needs to be compatible with social distancing. How will this change design elements like the size of corridors, the space between desks, or the use of communal spaces? There may also be safety regulations to consider, as well as considering the environmental impact of a design.
  • Commercials. If the plan is to sublet the converted space, it’s essential to know how much revenue the space can generate. Understanding exactly what space is available for conversion, therefore, is crucial.

These challenges present opportunity for AEC firms. Most organisations will need professional help to understand and then convert their space. For some, that support might be quite specific – they may already know what they want to do with the space but need help executing their plans – but others may want advice and guidance on the different ways they could repurpose their space, too.

What does this mean for AEC firms?

To capitalise on this opportunity, AEC firms need to get intelligent with how they help their clients understand and use their space. Successfully converting any space into another relies on a few things:

  • Knowing exactly how much space there is to work with
  • Knowing exactly where all the important components of a building are (wires, windows, plugs, drains, structural members, and so on)
  • Being able to visualise exactly how the new design fits with the current space

The key word there is “exactly.” Any mistakes or unexpected deviations from the plan could cause project delays or cost increases; at worst, they could put the whole project under threat. Given that many organisations still record their space using handmade 2D drawings on graph paper, the risk of a mismatch between those plans and as-built conditions is considerable. Even those that have digitised plans often only have the plans from when the building was first erected, rather than the as-built conditions.

How to help clients understand their space

The key to helping clients get a totally accurate picture of their space as part of their conversion plans is something I’ve talked about before on the PointFuse website. Digital tools such as LiDAR scanning, 2D or 3D floor plan software, and others – collectively known as reality capture – can quickly give you a completely accurate picture of as-built conditions that you can present to clients as part of the planning process. Best-in-class floor plan software can automatically calculate the floor space and dimensions from your scans, eliminating even more manual work. Some even let you go beyond standard 2D floor plans and enable you to convert a point cloud into 3D model of the as-built space which can be used as the basis for your new designs, so you can present the client with a plan for converting their space that will definitely work.

Software tools drive efficiency

Beyond the improvements in accuracy and insight that space management software can bring to conversion projects, it’s important to remember that the right software can also make your business more efficient. Reducing the need for manual measuring of spaces with 3D floor plan software, or reducing the level of rework on a project by perfectly meshing the design with as-built conditions, all help keep costs under control. This will be especially important now, given the pressure that most businesses will be under.

With this in mind, using the right tools will not only help you be more efficient, it will help your clients be more efficient too, enabling them to convert their spaces and adapt to the changing landscape that COVID is bringing about.

...about the author...

Mark Senior is a business director of PointFuse which specializes in the point cloud to mesh and as built software. He has been involved with PointFuse since its conception, shaping its development from bleeding-edge technology to the successful commercial solution it is today.



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