The virtual Elbtower

Building faster with digital tools

Der Sockel des Elbtowers im Entwurf

On the computers of the architects and planners, the Elbtower has long been finished. This is due to the digital twin of the building.

Digitalization has long since taken hold of the construction industry. It helps to plan and build more easily. A digital twin can even show today how a building will function tomorrow. The Elbtower in Hamburg demonstrates how extensively digitalization is helping to construct and operate this iconic building sustainably and efficiently.

Joachim Kuhn im Gespräch

“Digitalization is immensely helpful; we’ve been planning everything digitally and in three dimensions for about 25 years,” says Joachim Kuhn, managing partner of TechDesign, which planned the air conditioning and refrigeration technology at the Elbtower. “SIGNA, as well as many other building owners, now demand more digitalization, even if the industry is often not yet that far along with it,” says Kuhn.

The clear advantage is that the software has already been used for many years for costing, planning and accounting. Material can be ordered digitally. Photo documentation, time recording, payroll accounting and controlling are carried out with special programs. But these individual applications are not usually connected via a common interface.

Building Information Modeling at the Elbtower

However, many things are different with the Elbtower because the architect and construction planner use Building Information Modeling (BIM) – a cooperative working methodology with a digital model. All data from the different disciplines are linked on a common platform. A so-called digital twin is created on the planners’ computers, which is the virtual image of a physical building. If the architect then works on the model and changes the structural design, this is recognized by all the others – and further implemented and taken into account accordingly.

»SIGNA, as well as many other building owners, now demand more digitalization, even if the industry is often not yet that far along with it.«

Joachim KuhnTechDesign

David Chipperfield Architects changed their own planning method for this project. They used BIM software, which is coordinated between all the specialist planners, and built a brilliant planning team. It’s the right people working at the right time,” says Kuhn. “That impressed me – for a project of this size, using new software for the first time and in the time frame, it was a top performance.” The result is a fully modeled building that improves information sharing and retrieval, making design and implementation much more efficient. It has also enabled the client to set up a construction simulation of the Elbtower – a component-based digital construction rendition based on deadlines.

Ein junges Paar umarmt sich vor dem Elbtower

A digital twin can reduce operating costs

Because the digital twin also contains up-to-date building technology with all its systems, devices, sensors, and motors, it shows how individual components function when they are networked with each other. “That was unique for me in (a project) this size so far,” says Kuhn. The digital twin can also continue and remains the property of the operator. This way, the building can subsequently be optimally adjusted when future users control their individual workspaces via the Elbtower app. “Today, many operators of large buildings often don’t know what a system does and how it should be operated,” says Kuhn. “Improper operation can increase operating costs by up to 30%. With a digital twin, that can be avoided.”

Although the Elbtower has been planned in recent years and is still being built, it should also be state of the art in the future. That’s why individual components have deliberately not yet been specified in concrete terms, so that the latest technical developments can also be used. “We don’t know today how digital the rooms in the Elbtower will become. We also haven’t yet defined the technical properties of many sensors. But we assume that the technology will be ready when we need it,” says Kuhn. “We always say: Developer, dare to do it!” And SIGNA dares, as the Elbtower itself shows.

Blick auf den Elbtower Anfang Juli 2023 von Süden
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