Here’s How Tech Is Reshaping Construction in New York


New Yorkers are used to seeing technology change the way we interact socially, shop for products or go to the doctor—but few people realize that tech is having the same impact on the city’s construction boom.

In fact, that new lobby you walked through recently may never have been so well designed without access to the technological advances that are reshaping our industry.

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The heavily built-up environment of New York lends itself to a significant amount of refurbishment work. Rather than knocking down buildings and constructing new ones, we revitalize many of them.

In the past, construction managers on redevelopment projects struggled with a fundamental problem: How do you understand the layout and conditions of the existing building? Blueprints for older New York City buildings are often unavailable or too basic to provide the details needed to anticipate and address problems and therefore eliminate a lot of risk.

For decades, the only answer was to work with the resources you had and deal with the unknowns as they arose throughout the construction process. This led to huge cost inefficiencies, delays and potential design problems. It was incredibly difficult to truly accomplish the client’s goals within the original program and cost, and to achieve the architect’s vision.

That all changed when lasers revolutionized construction. Just as new X-ray and MRI technology has made it easier to detect and treat diseases, laser scanners allow us to diagnose and map out every millimeter of a building before beginning a project. It allows us to understand the building conditions before we start to build, which leads to more accurate pricing and allows us to translate conditions to precise design. That laser-generated blueprint—far more accurate than the traditional variety—reduces change orders, cuts down on time and eliminates unknowns which drive increased contingencies, providing a smoother process and a more efficient result.

This technology has played a huge role in Gilbane’s work on the landmark residential conversion at One Wall Street, an iconic 85-year old tower in Lower Manhattan. Comprehensive laser scanning allowed us to present detailed 3-D models of all facets of the building, making it easier for the client to visualize the design and eliminating unwanted surprises. These scans are viewed weekly and are even being used to coordinate trades. With nearly a million square feet of space, we can’t afford to leave an inch out of place—and we don’t.

But it isn’t just lasers that are changing the industry. Virtual reality technology called the Oculus Rift, which is better known for its role in bringing video games to life, is reshaping construction in New York. By taking an immersive approach to the design process, this tool allows clients to begin “walking through” a visual representation of their completed building before we even build it. The tool is so advanced that it uses stereoscopic technology to break the vision into left and right modes to fully trick the brain into thinking it is truly immersed in the environment.

Our virtual design team has put the Oculus Rift to work on projects like White Plains Hospital, where our client needed to build financial support for a new surgical room. The immersive environment created by this technology was key to the hospital’s fundraising initiatives: It’s hard to say no to a new surgical waiting room when you can just put on the headset and see exactly how it will really benefit patients, staff and visitors.

These are just a couple of the ways tech has transformed the construction process, and these tools continue to evolve. It’s no longer a question of whether these changes will take hold—it’s a question of whether companies will adapt fast enough to meet the challenge.

Bill Gilbane III is a fifth-generation member of the Gilbane family and runs Gilbane Building Company’s operations across New York State.