Three minutes with Thomson Lai, AECOM’s Asia Digital leader

How can data change architectural design in the metaverse era? AECOM's Thomson Lai reveals his thoughts in this interview.

Illustration with Thomson Lai headshot

March 24, 2022

min read

With offices stretching across four continents, design and engineering firm AECOM has been behind projects ranging from One World Trade Center to the Guangdong Olympic Stadium and maintains a commitment to social and environmental responsibility throughout its work.

Here, AECOM Asia Digital Leader Thomson Lai discusses how digital transformation will change design for the better.

What role does digital transformation play within your corporate strategy?We’ve always had a strong team of people working with digital technologies, and in 2021, we took that a step further, announcing our new global digital team: Digital AECOM. By focusing on our digital strategy, we can work more efficiently with clients. We can also help assist them in their own digital transformation journeys, which will accelerate the growth of the entire industry.

What are your thoughts on the importance of data within building information modeling (BIM)? How has data availability helped increase AECOM’s win rate?Data is of utmost importance, particularly when applying BIM processes to design and construction. For example, say we were designing an upcoming office building. Before, designers might have to painstakingly hand-draw three or four options for that building, and we’d have to decide on one to propose.

Now that we have the data and the BIM model, we can use generative design to develop a lot more options of that same building to choose from. We can also provide more details about the building, down to the size and material of every last brick, and update that in real-time.

Do you think a new talent model is taking shape at AECOM?Absolutely. We recently had a recruitment webinar for several universities in Hong Kong. Our target audience stretched IT departments, engineers, architects, and others with technology backgrounds. Not everyone will have experience designing a building or bridge, but they'll bring a fresh perspective that our industry needs.

What digital trends do you see shaping your business in the next five years?First is automation, which we’ll likely see a lot of around computational design or even generative design. We’re not trying to replace the job of the engineer or architect, but rather give them the tools they need to make the best decisions.

Digital cities will be another big change, and we’re already starting to see the doors they'll open for our industry. Cities like Hong Kong and Singapore have begun building up digital infrastructure, and soon, we’ll be able to do all of our planning and engineering design, including scenario planning, in these digital worlds.

When linked to IoT sensors, these digital cities can even become digital twins of their real-world counterparts. That makes for more resilient and sustainable architecture and huge cost savings along the way as we can test designs digitally before a building is constructed.

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