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Lauria, M.; Azzalin, M. Digital Twin Approach in Buildings. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 24 June 2024).
Lauria M, Azzalin M. Digital Twin Approach in Buildings. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2024.
Lauria, Massimo, Maria Azzalin. "Digital Twin Approach in Buildings" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 24, 2024).
Lauria, M., & Azzalin, M. (2024, February 07). Digital Twin Approach in Buildings. In Encyclopedia.
Lauria, Massimo and Maria Azzalin. "Digital Twin Approach in Buildings." Encyclopedia. Web. 07 February, 2024.
Digital Twin Approach in Buildings

In 2011, the term Digital Twin was originally introduced by Michael Grieves to define the synchronization between two realities: physical objects placed in a real space and virtual objects within in virtual space, linked through the mutual exchange of data throughout the entire lifecycle, both in real-time and asynchronously. Digital Twin is among the principal and emerging technological innovations of both Industry 4.0 and the emerging Industry 5.0, enabling an interaction between physical and virtual objects, Big Data, Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence. The construction sector, too, is now exploring the potentialities offered by the Digital Twin approach in enhancing innovative, responsible, and sustainable governance of buildings’ lifecycles. 

digital twin BIM maintenance intelligent/smart building decarbonization/carbon emission

1. Introduction

The digital transition launched at the European level has identified key enabling technologies (KETs) as one of the principal innovative and implementing factors. Their mainly digital matrix expresses the dual purpose of supporting innovation and operativity, promoting improved digital solutions for processes, products, and services. KETs combine and establish a strong integration between research and industry. Furthermore, they focus on the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary aspects connected to Big Data and the management of related information processes, combining the following three different levels of bidirectional exchange of information: man to man; man to machine; and machine to machine. By moving away from the simple digitization phase, they are driving the digital transformation processes of the different production sectors [1].
Today, some 15 years after the promulgation of the European document, which ratified the introduction of KETs, European digital policies reaffirm and strengthen the same principles contained therein [2][3][4][5].
The strategies of Industry 4.0 first, and later, of Industry 5.0, explain the visions, methods, and operational tools dealing with both the ecological and digital transition.
Industry 4.0 has introduced the interconnection between the physical and digital world in the management of industrial processes. It has assumed the integration of cyber-physical systems, interoperability, virtualization, decentralization, and real-time monitoring strategies as founding principles [6][7].
Industry 5.0 later outlines renewed human–machine–environment interactions, which find concrete implementation in the use of cloud platforms that are able to control production services, optimizing the cost and quality of the final product. It supports the implementation of processes aimed at saving resources, reducing waste, and recycling, focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and, therefore, on bots, intelligent software, and cobots programmed to interact with humans in production processes and shared workspaces [8].
In this very complex scenario, digitalization is a key element, playing the role of a macro-strategy enabling these transformations to function sustainably. This is a role stated in many principles contained in some European communications specifically addressing the various industrial sectors [9][10]. New economic and production models have arisen and become established. The Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, 3D printing, robotics, cloud, and virtual and augmented reality (VR, AR) are just some of KETs now directly associated with today’s new technological potential. Digital Twin (DT) approaches appear alongside these. Their experimentation and widespread application constitute the most advanced frontier of innovation, referring to the general Lifecycle Management (LCM) of systems, products, and components in the whole industrial sector [11][12][13].
In the construction sector, the sustainable Lifecycle Management of buildings and related digital processes has become a crucial topic over the past decades, to face which some action has been taken. Nowadays, the following are still ongoing: the definition of new standards and new methodologies, the development of specific tools and methods, and the construction of effective databases [14][15].
The European Commission with the Renovation Wave Strategy has set these priorities, emphasizing the goals concerning existing heritage recovery, reducing greenhouse gas emissions for climate neutrality, and starting digitalization in the building sector [16]. However, there is still a lack of integrated approaches that can address all of the issues connected with the whole lifecycle of buildings. The Digital Twin approach is a research area that identifies many of the current and potential future challenges [17][18].
DT is a key enabler in implementing both Industry 4.0 and Industry 5.0 principles, as well as in the Building Construction Sector, where its application represents, nowadays, a potentially relevant approach within the digital and ecological transition, specifically supporting the development of smart buildings, smart cities, and smart grids.
Evident critical issues remain today in the concrete and diffused application of DT to the AECO sector. However, after the findings were discussed, some open and future challenges have been highlighted within specific development scenarios, as follows:
  • DT for Renovation Wave Strategy, which was already stated at the European level.
  • Dt as tool for information management in the lifecycle of buildings, which is commonly recognized both at the scientific and production level.
  • DT for a sustainable approach in the O&M phase, which is generally deemed important and recognized by authors as a nodal issue.

2. DT for Renovation Wave Strategy

The European Commission, with the Renovation Wave Strategy for Europe, has set its objective of doubling redevelopment interventions on existing assets within ten years. [16]. Some general goals have already been affirmed, despite rarely being placed so explicitly close to each other, such as the following: the recovery of the existing heritage and, at the same time, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, achieving climate neutrality for Europe and the improved quality of life of the people living in and using the buildings.
In line with these objectives, operational principles and indicators have been established that are capable of measuring the smart readiness of existing buildings, i.e., their ability to be included in the digital reconversion process of existing buildings. The Smart Readiness Indicator (SRI) evaluates the ability of buildings to answer the needs of users, modifying and adapting their functioning, and ultimately improving their energy efficiency and performance during the in-use phase. For effective application, the SRI makes explicit reference to the potential gains connected to the use of the digital model and DT of buildings. It considers the goals of greater energy saving, comparative analysis, and flexibility, as well as the functionality and ability to improve performance, thanks to the widespread use of interconnected and intelligent devices. It includes the assessment of the intelligence readiness of a building or unit based on key functionalities, the impact criteria, and pre-defined technical areas, also including additional information on building inclusiveness and connectivity, interoperability, cybersecurity, and data protection [19][20].

3. DT as a Tool for Information Management in Lifecycle of Buildings

DT is an intelligent knowledge management system seeking its own counterpoint in the application of information technologies (ICT), welcoming innovative approaches leading to new ways of using sharing data between operators, as well as between operators and end users. These are issues that, although appropriately studied and theorized, have so far been almost never actually implemented in operational practices. Likewise, from the perspective of overall quality assurance in the lifecycle, when associating the terms “costs”, “efficiency,” and “sustainability” with the design, the need to overcome the lack of sharing and updating of information emerges, as well as the difficulty in control, the lack of communication, and interoperability.
In such a context, the cognitive and informational dimension acquires more and more centrality by bringing all of the management actions of the built environment into a unitary and interconnected process, achieving positive effects in terms of planning management activities, timing the implementation of interventions, and the control of the performance of components and equipment.
These are all aspects that are equally shared and explained in the founding characteristics of Digital Twin approaches, whose basic principle is information, which becomes information capital when it can be acquired and exchanged between buildings, digital models, operators, and users. This fuels the possibility of the effective transformations of the processes, enhancing the ability to govern the information for the current ecological and digital transition.
The widespread application of DT highlights a general goal to enhance the processing capacity of advanced technologies that are already available (BIM and IoT) but not yet widely implemented together.
The use of both BIM and IoT is increasingly diffused in the construction industry, but not in combination with each other. Their combined use has not yet been sufficiently explored, although it could contribute to achieving sustainability. In particular, the potential of their combined use could be expected to be exploited for simulations, monitoring processes, and the application of virtual and augmented reality.
There is a growing awareness that the future for Building Construction will enhance smart aspects connected to the whole functionality of buildings, combining both information systems and sensors. DT, devices, and sensors installed for monitoring and Building Automation Control Systems (BACS) create smart buildings and make the potential upgrade to cognitive buildings achievable. Physical/digital (phygital) constructions, smart grid nodes, and smart cities are capable of communicating with other buildings, mobility systems, and users [21][22].

4. DT for a Sustainable Approach in the O&M Phase of Buildings

DT, for the in-use and O&M phases, still appears critical, nevertheless, it represents the operational area in which the most relevant conditions exist for DT’s punctual future implementation.
Various studies quantify the consequences of the global emissions of climate-altering gases, energy consumption, land consumption, and waste production directly attributable to the building stock in operation.
There is an awareness that, when related to the conservation and transformation of the built environment, can be traced back with ever greater evidence to the O&M phase and the need for responsible and sustainable predictive maintenance actions. A phase to which, today, with equally growing awareness, extra costs are attributed, which are no longer and not only of an economic nature, but also of an environmental and social nature. The latter derives from the quantity of energy necessary to heat, cool, power, and manage buildings. As is known, a large amount of energy consumption relates to the lifecycle of buildings. Therefore, sustainable energy management and control represent urgent priorities and criticalities; however, they are not yet sufficient for achieving sustainable construction.
The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) researchers had already expressed concern about these data. In a 2012 study, they argued that buildings normally consume double what was estimated at the design stage. This is a statement that, although not recent, continues to be in line with the energy consumption data of the building stock [23].
Therefore, with reference to the macro-objective of the decarbonization of the construction sector, the emergence of a priority critical area constituted by the O&M phase is clearly stated, as highlighted by the findings explored in the present research.
The report of the World Green Building Council (WGBC) affirms that the construction sector is responsible for 39% of global emissions of climate-changing gases, of which approximately one third (equal to 11% overall) is attributable to the construction phase. The remaining two thirds (equal to 28% overall) concern the operation phase [24].
Similarly, in 2016, the European Commission report attributed as much as 40% of European energy consumption to the existing building stock [25].
These data have undergone exponential growth over the last decade, with a rate of increase second only to that of the transport sector.
Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 2% increase in the energy needs of buildings, with a total increase in 2019 of approximately 8 Exajoules, equal to +7% compared to 2010 [26]. Equally significant is the data offered by the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP), which provide a snapshot of the state of buildings on a global scale. The Global Status Report found that total energy consumption and CO2 emissions increased in 2021, even when compared to the pre-pandemic levels. This notwithstanding, there has been a substantial growth in investments and a consequential global reduction in buildings’ energy consumption. The same report documents how the energy demand of buildings has increased by around 4% since 2020, reaching 135 Exajoules, which is the highest value in the last 10 years. Moreover, CO2 emissions from building have reached an all-time high of around 10 GtCO2, an increase of 5% compared to 2020, and 2% compared to the previous peak in 2019 [27][28].
It seems clear that applying the Digital Twin approach to the O&M phase, as well as to the decarbonization processes of the sector, is a challenging area.
DT configures as a potential holistic tool for introducing innovative methods and opportunities supporting maintenance actions and, principally, the widespread use of predictive maintenance strategies.
According to these potentialities, it is necessary to adequately accompany the ongoing shift from hard (techniques) to soft (in-training, organization) techniques of study focus and operational aspects relating to a renewed maintenance approach. As a result, heterogeneous fields of interest are involved that presuppose multidisciplinary approaches and require an ever-increasing ability to manage structured data relating both to performance and operating values and behavioral and experiential aspects concerning the well-being of end users.


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  2. COM/2010/245; A Digital Agenda for Europe. EU-COM: Maastricht, The Netherlands, 2010.
  3. EU. A Europe Fit for the Digital Age; EU-COM: Maastricht, The Netherlands, 2020.
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  5. COM/2021/118; Digital Compass: The European Way for the Digital Decade. EU-COM: Maastricht, The Netherlands, 2021.
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Subjects: Engineering, Civil
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