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How technology is accelerating construction at Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia

Tue 29 Mar 2016

Sagrada Familia

A recent trip to Barcelona afforded a visit to Antoni Gaudí’s stunning architectural venture the Sagrada Familia. Construction began in 1882, with work on the impressive Catholic church due to continue until at least 2026. Today the site, which was listed as a world heritage destination in 2005, welcomes over 3.5 million international visitors every year and is among the top ten most visited monuments in the world.

Behind this enormous construction and tourism operation lies an impressive portfolio of complex IT projects tailored to the church’s unique requirements. The Stack had the opportunity to speak with Fernando Villa, CIO at the Sagrada Familia who has headed up its tech department since 2013, and has helped transform it from a low value, infrastructure-orientated team to a strategic business unit.

On the importance of standardising growth, while reducing costs across his projects, with a particular focus on technological advances, networking, operations, and training, Villa outlined a number of innovative proposals which the team is looking into adopting and exploring over the coming years.

Testing innovative technologies

One of these schemes, in collaboration with the University of Barcelona, includes a drone project which would see UAVs gather facial scans of visitors for security purposes, as well as collecting information to be used for conservation and maintenance of the church spires.

Villa is also introducing a virtual reality (VR) pilot programme as an architectural design aid. “The new tool allows our team of architects to make decisions very quickly,” said Villa. “Virtual reality enables us to see the designs scaled to their actual size, with the textures and materials required whilst allowing us to make changes with minimal impact on cost and time. This saves us time and money without constructing mock-ups.”

Villa explained that his department was currently industrialising the process with site architects using 3D tools inside the VR platform – “Once the modelling process is complete it only takes minutes to process and upload the model to virtual reality.”

All this data will be processed to obtain information that will allow us to make decisions for the new constructions and enable maintenance of the existing structures.

Incorporating several glasses simultaneously is also an interesting possibility for Villa, who suggested working with a variety of VR technologies in the future.

Augmented reality (AR) is also being considered as a further support tool in the maintenance and conservation of the church. Villa explained that a current AR pilot project is looking at conducting a detailed scan of the ‘Nativity’ façade to attach geolocation tags. With this information, Villa expects to work with tablets and VR glasses to support maintenance work, and obtain the required area information in real-time while digitally tracking it.

stained-glass-sagrada“This system will allow us to identify and understand the origin of a stone, its placement year, composition and physical characteristics. It will also enable an analysis of the evolution of an area through images. We can identify electrical installations and networks that exist in a specific area without opening the wall,” he said.

While not outlined in current plans, the CIO noted that after this first phase, augmented reality could also be used in the future to place designs in the real world.

Villa further pointed to Big Data as a potential area for development in 2016. “We are currently installing sensors throughout the church to support maintenance. These include environmental sensors, structural sensors and geotechnical sensors. All this data will be processed to obtain information that will allow us to make decisions for the new constructions and enable maintenance of the existing structures.”

He continued that this complex network of systems will generate such large volumes of information that work needs to be done to increase processing capabilities and storage efficiency.

Finding a consistent, reliable support solution

This challenge, Villa explained, has been alleviated over recent years with the installation of an on-site micro data centre.

“High-density racks have secured our requirements for the next 4-5 years. Scalability was one of our original specifications for the micro data centre – it had to provide space, power and cooling capacity to support the growing use of IT. Cloud options were considered but dismissed because of potential latency problems.”

The solution is supported by a spring-loaded base to isolate it from vibrations created by the construction machinery and the nearby traffic.

For Villa, a micro data centre was the answer, providing the project with a containerised, portable solution. Relocation was also a key consideration because of the centre’s location on a working construction site.

“Schneider Electric became our strategic partner and helped to advise and deliver a solution that would tackle some specific areas for us; infrastructure, communications and security. They combined two 25 foot prefabricated modules to create a single data centre, which would provide the optimum space to support our immediate requirement while allowing us to expand or scale up,” Villa explained.

CIMG2858Today, the micro data centre houses 10 IT racks with power distribution units (PDUs). It is scalable to 90kW capacity, includes cooling infrastructure and is backed up by a Symmetra PX uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and a 500kVA generator. Villa suggested that this reliability provides extra peace of mind, with a minimum of 99.999% availability.

Specific to the Sagrada Familia, the data centre also required essential customisation. “Firstly, the solution is ruggedised, supported by a spring-loaded base to isolate it from vibrations or potential shocks created by the construction machinery and the traffic passing just a few feet away.

“Secondly there is a dust trap between the door to the container and the internal entrance to the infrastructure, which helps to protect the IT equipment.”

The new facility has underpinned the growth potential and allowed Villa’s advanced IT projects to scale. He now looks forward to adding future services, boosting business outcomes and supporting the completion of Gaudí’s dream.


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