Intelligent Buildings 1
Part 1 of 2: An introduction and why this is the future
Today’s technology advancements allow what were once separate systems in our buildings to be brought onto a common network. Couple that with more sophisticated software that can monitor, react and feedback in realtime, plus integration with the occupants themselves and you have an Intelligent Building (aka Smart Building).
I’ve learned much of this from recent conversations with Hoare Lea, JLL and T&T.
Of course there are many, many variants of Intelligent Building each utilising systems and software to different degrees. The technology is evolving rapidly, whether this is what we put in the buildings, the device that a Building Manager or an occupant might use to control a setting, or the software in the background. The design of these systems, networking within the building and ongoing management are all cost factors, but we are seeing a new breed of Intelligent Buildings in development now, and it is impressive to see their capability.
But just taking a step back, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to the benefits of an Intelligent Building. Breaking these down into three groups, I have given examples of each.
User Experience - use your smartphone/device to gain entry into a building or space which will already know what room your meeting is in. If you’re a regular into the building, there’s every chance the lighting in the meeting room is being adjusted as you arrive to suit your own preference or preset. If you’re a visitor, perhaps you were sent a visitor pass to your device to avoid having to wait at reception and are helped with way-finding instructions within the building from your device or digital signage.
Optimised Operation - you are the Building Manager, but here you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the film Minority Report. With all the building systems (security, access control, HVAC, water, utilities etc.) shown on a glass screen you can watch the operation of the building on an intuitive interface. Behind the scenes, software is monitoring and doing a lot of the ‘management’ for you, fine-tuning air rates, temperatures and air quality levels for example. And this isn’t just in alignment with some prescribed presets, this is a live reaction to many data inputs, such as how many occupants are in the building right now and where they are within the space.
Business Performance - aside from the ‘in the moment’ building operation, imagine the wealth of data being collected over a longer time period. Understanding how the environment affects occupants and vice versa results in ever more efficient operation. It also helps avoid wastage, whether this is energy or spotting trends that some space is under utilised. Optimisation of the building is one thing, but if this affects worker productivity then this insight is extremely valuable.
More on the tech and the benefits in Part 2.
Considering the pressures and demands we are placing on new buildings, I see a future where Intelligent Buildings are fundamental. Dealing with hybrid meetings (which I think are here to stay), occupant health and wellbeing, reducing consumption, continuous optimisation, or the new generations of ever more digitally savvy workers - these all point to Intelligent Buildings. As the technology improves and these installations gain wider adoption, the price will fall. There will be a point where it is not cost effective to ‘manage a building’ in the old way, with systems all working independently, inefficiently and with little insight into errors or maintenance needs. As we strive to find further sustainable improvements during operation, I believe we will look to Intelligent Buildings for help.
Such features could also help address some challenges we face where many of our buildings are not efficiently used through the 24hr day, or 7day week. How can a building adapt to another use overnight, or at the weekend. When asking these questions, I default to security concerns or that the space won’t convert easily or quickly between two uses - these are two things that a smart building might (might) be able to help with.
These days the M&E package of a project makes up a significant portion of the project cost, perhaps 40%. With an Intelligent Building, it’s easy to consider a project in two parts, first is the fabric (steel, concrete, timber, ducts, pipes etc.) and second looks more and more like a tech project with all the networking, sensors and interfaces. Make sure you have the right team to design, procure and deliver.
To finish, it’s important to recognise that sometimes the best action to take is to ‘enable’ rather than just deploy or install everything now. Technology changes rapidly as do our needs. From the conversations I have had, it is clear that selecting the right base systems, software and protocols is essential, as these then give you the foundation to build on. More systems and devices can be integrated in the future - just make sure your new development is enabled in some form, as Intelligent Buildings are the future.