Connected construction: Building for the smart city of the future

By Gavin Daly and Joe Morgan

All images courtesy Axis Communications
All images courtesy Axis Communications

It was not too long ago when buildings were simply regarded as a dwelling area to protect the occupants from the outdoors and nothing more. Where architects once created spaces solely for comfort and security, people are now connected to the built environment in ways past generations did not foresee. Today, vanguard architects design buildings where virtually every structural element has an operative, interactive nature. Through connected devices, occupants not only communicate with one another, but also interact with the built environment. One can receive reports or alerts, provide feedback, and change elements in homes or offices with a single swipe on a cellphone. Buildings ‘speak’ to occupants, gathering insight while providing data on all kinds of things—from occupancy levels to weather events—so that appropriate actions can be taken in real time with minimal human assistance. Building automation saves time, money, energy, and continuously optimizes operations with ongoing predictive feedback from systems and occupants. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the intelligent building market value will reach $339 billion by 2022.

Similar to smart cities, smart buildings rest on three cornerstones: connectivity, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Better connectivity allows the vast amounts of data being captured by thousands of IoT devices to be shared on platforms where the information gets processed efficiently. This cleaned and filtered data can be analyzed and used to develop new insight that can be shared with human operators. Increasingly, these platforms are making decisions about next steps without any type of human intervention.

An initial investment in network security can serve multiple purposes by reducing the lifetime cost of the investment and enabling additional use cases in the future.
An initial investment in network security can serve multiple purposes by reducing the lifetime cost of the investment and enabling additional use cases in the future.

While many take the automated processes in a built environment for granted, there is much more to come when smart buildings are integrated into the larger smart city system. Integrating all the data streams into one open platform is essential for plugging into the smart city matrix.

To withstand the next several decades of change, buildings must be constructed with the capacity to integrate whatever may come next. What kind of infrastructure will be required for the ever-increasing ‘behind-the-scenes’ data demands? What kind of actionable measures derived from the collected data can be implemented autonomously, and with what safeguards?

Increasingly, clients who are asking for smarter buildings are posing the big question: What can be accomplished with all these new technologies? The answer is, probably everything one could ever imagine, and more.

Using data and technology to design smart buildings

Smart buildings are the logical extensions of architectural and engineering progress. The rapid pace of innovation places architects, specifiers, and engineers in the difficult job of staying up to speed with all the advancements and new technologies. Deciding which technologies to use in a smart building is a specialty unto itself. Some engineering companies are developing in-house technology teams to ensure a building has the appropriate amount of connectivity and the right tools and devices in place to facilitate the desired outcome. Architecture, engineering, and construction professionals are increasingly using intelligent 3D modelling to plan, design, construct, and manage buildings through building information modelling (BIM). Data collected from buildings can be fed into the BIM and analyzed to improve operations management and to inform future projects. For example, using data to analyze how occupants are moving through buildings provides insight into when facilities should be programmed to let in outdoor light or install sensors, thereby contributing to lower energy use. Findings from a 2018 Forbes Insights/Intel survey of 211 senior leaders from around the globe shows 66 per cent of the participants acknowledged building management technologies have produced a return on investment. This number will most likely increase, as some of the financial returns in building management are just starting to manifest.

Further, residents in smart buildings are working in better lighting conditions and heating and HVAC systems, which impacts one’s overall mood and comfort. According to a World Green Building Council (WGBC) study, enhancing ventilation and indoor air quality (IAQ) can improve worker productivity by 11 per cent, and optimizing lighting conditions can increase productivity by 23 per cent.

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