Sense of sensing: From data to informed decisions for the built environment

Steven D. Glaser, Anne Tolman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


There is currently an explosion of research on microsensor and wireless network technology, and methods of discerning structural state from such data. Besides the inherent interest in such fascinating technology, the question remains as to why an owner, operator, or user of the built environment should care. The construction industry is now adopting new types of contracting practice. Previously the contractor simply implemented a given design, but the current trend is for clients to commission certain performance requirements to be met with performance-based design. The emphasis of the industry is becoming the delivery of certain structural behavior states rather than simply building to a client’s set plans. The contracting process becomes the determination of the performance criteria, and delivery becomes a long-term fulfillment of these criteria. This can only take place if the performance states can be measured, and the measurement utilized in a decision-making process. The tools needed for both the evaluation of the delivery after construction and during operation are changing accordingly. The process is increasingly dependent on densely spaced sensor data, valid models to turn the data into physical behavior, and decision-making tools to determine whether the performance requirements are being met. This process must take place in order to satisfy all stakeholders. This paper describes the approaches in monitoring the performance, the obtaining of data and refining into information for decision making. Example cases concern the continuous performance and condition monitoring within buildings and civil structures, and indicators of the economical impacts of informed decisions including structural safety, hygrothermal, and energy aspects. A case study of structural health monitoring of the Golden Gate Bridge is also presented. The enabling sensor technology is described, and the exploitation of the data for life cycle needs is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-14
JournalJournal of Infrastructure Systems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Information management
  • Infrastructure
  • Life cycles
  • Performance characteristics
  • Project management
  • Sensors
  • Structural behavior


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