Connected construction: Building for the smart city of the future

by sadia_badhon | June 18, 2020 1:56 pm

By Gavin Daly and Joe Morgan

All images courtesy Axis Communications[1]
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.[2]
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.

A flexible system open to expansion is important for an integrated smart city as more cameras will likely be connected to other infrastructure like sidewalks and parking lots.[3]
A flexible system open to expansion is important for an integrated smart city as more cameras will likely be connected to other infrastructure like sidewalks and parking lots.

Data gathered and analyzed from monitoring devices also help with predictive maintenance, meaning something as simple as the building elevator is working optimally for tenant use. Of course, there is the issue of safety and security of residents in the building, where they feel out of harm’s way when walking to their vehicles at night in the underground parking garage, for instance.

In addition to the appropriate connectivity, buildings require an open, interoperable IoT platform that is secure, but at the same time can be enhanced, grown, and leveraged for years to come. Smart buildings make up smart cities—they require a flexible open system for possible expansion. They should be built or retrofitted to adapt to the changing needs of occupants and advanced enough to gather both indoor and outdoor intelligence. A flexible system open to expansion is important for an integrated smart city as more cameras and sensors are being deployed and will likely be connected to other infrastructure like sidewalks, parking lots, transportation systems, utilities, wayfinding, and even commercial consumer interaction platforms. These platforms allow multiple devices to interact and leverage their individual capabilities to drive events and outcomes in concert with other devices on the system, and the actionable measures this data will drive will have new meanings and unforeseen connections in the future.

Video analytics

Architecture, engineering, and construction professionals are increasingly using building information modelling (BIM) to plan, design, construct, and manage facilities.[4]
Architecture, engineering, and construction professionals are increasingly using building information modelling (BIM) to plan, design, construct, and manage facilities.

In this new IoT world, engineering and construction firms have to vet and gauge which technologies will provide immediate value, and what is hype. Proven technologies like network security cameras provide an essential security and surveillance service that add value when applications are added. Network cameras provide secure access control, monitoring and recording video footage, and sending alerts to security staff. Beyond this functionality, the application of video analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and IoT takes surveillance systems far beyond the provision of security and into new realms in which networked internet protocol (IP) cameras become the digital eyes and ears overseeing a facility. Network cameras can provide actionable information to optimize and automate many building operations. Loaded with video analytics and processing power, these cameras act as sophisticated computers interpreting data on the edges of a security network and sending only the relevant information to a central platform. The generated data and analysis can help building managers protect the reliability of operations and the health and safety of occupants.

The common exercise space in one condominium complex in downtown Toronto quickly became a pain point for conscience residents and building management. Determining whether fitness equipment was being used was important to residents who wanted to know how many bikes would be free before committing to a trip to the space. By installing network sensors with analytics to monitor the equipment’s use, residents could check the availability of bikes. While this dilemma seems to be a first-world problem, it was an ongoing issue that could be resolved with existing devices. Even better, the data gathered by the network sensors allowed management to see the peaks and valleys in usage and helped the operations team to replace underutilized equipment with more popular machines, making residents happier.

Here are the four best reasons to construct a fully optimized, intelligent building for clients.

For buildings to adapt easily to new applications and technologies, the right information technology (IT) infrastructure must be in place. Connectivity is a given, but which software and hardware are required to leverage and take advantage of the investment? End-users increasingly ask architects and builders, “What can I accomplish with the latest smart technologies?” One of the keys to constructing a resilient, flexible smart facility is building in interdependence and interoperability between the layers of devices on an open platform. Using security cameras originally intended for a specific purpose and deploying them to address new challenges is one way buildings can remain open to new developments and applications.

Cost savings
These result from greater energy efficiencies built into the structure, more automation that reduces headcount, and savings resulting from optimizing processes like heating and cooling, lighting, and other functions that can be monitored using intelligent sensors and cameras. A good example of this is in critical infrastructure when a network security camera can be directed and zoomed in at a dial or gauge to verify a sensor is reading a pressure gauge, or to scan along a pipe to see whether it has a small rupture or a breach letting steam out. Network cameras can alleviate a shutdown if they capture an event and are programmed to send an alert. The data these cameras are gathering can be processed by the devices’ analytics to determine what is happening so as to send clean, actionable information back to the manager. This technology is improving by the day and can be a very strong value proposition when one is preventing the shutdown of a plant or sensitive infrastructure, which can cost millions of dollars per minute of downtime.

Architects and builders want to enable structures to quickly adapt to new technologies. While today’s sensors can identify how much energy is being used on a given day, tomorrow’s will be able to evaluate and forecast future energy needs, risks, and priorities for buildings across a city, and can allocate resources to optimize energy use across an entire grid. The capture and aggregation of data is important, but the actions taken as a result can positively enhance the occupant experience, optimize building and business processes, and improve the facility’s performance (along with feeding into the smart city model planners are now thinking of). It is important to ensure the building is constructed on a multi-purpose network footing, so everything is in place to accommodate additional data streams and new applications. For instance, in a multi-purpose network, temperature data can also serve as an input to a productivity application, or a network camera monitoring a room can adjust the HVAC setting as more people populate a room. Ultimately, the devices making up the Internet of Things (IoT) are all being positioned for the day when artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can make autonomous decisions and take the human element out of it entirely.

Whether the client has established sustainability as a core value in their own organization or not, the fact is that buildings will only increase in value if they have been built on sustainability principles backed by surveillance, IoT, and AI. The resilience of the built environment will be a major selling point in the future. In the author’s experiences, major builders are taking this into account and assume clients will want their building to withstand climate change and all it brings with it.


Building automation saves time, money, and energy. It also optimizes operations with ongoing feedback from various systems and occupants.[5]
Building automation saves time, money, and energy. It also optimizes operations with ongoing feedback from various systems and occupants.

With the right IoT devices in place, more data can be leveraged to make better operational decisions in the building themselves and outside in the surrounding areas, especially in the context of creating a smart and safe city. The City of Calgary discovered this when it recently upgraded its security system. The city continues to find multiple uses for the network cameras both inside of buildings and out; some do double-duty monitoring water levels in rivers to evaluate flood risk, thereby increasing the efficiency of what had been a time-consuming process. Other cameras have been deployed to monitor traffic entering city parkades, and a new project is overlaying camera placements on city maps to potentially react to incidents much more quickly. Once the software integrates with the city’s fleet vehicles to show where mobile security guards are on the map, the team hopes to see significant efficiencies in response times.

Protecting privacy

Whenever a municipality can leverage an existing camera to solve another business issue by adding a simple analytic, the result can be significant cost savings. A smart initial investment in network security can serve multiple purposes, reducing the lifetime cost of the investment and enabling additional use cases of that equipment to emerge in the future.

Network cameras provide secure access control.[6]
Network cameras provide secure access control.

All this smart technology is appealing, particularly when it results in cost savings, improved quality of life, and reduced impact on the environment. On the flip side, there is pushback when it comes to privacy in the smart city. C With anonymization, people in a video are automatically masked and can only be unmasked by authorized personnel. Permanent masking anonymizes everyone in a video and permanently burns the masking into the footage, so there is no way to undo it. Redaction is undertaken once an image has been caught to protect the privacy of non-relevant individuals, commonly used when an organization must share raw footage with law enforcement as part of an investigation. Today, another concept is emerging, which could be called ‘privacy at the source’. This is when identities are masked while the video is being captured, so even if someone intercepts the camera stream, the identifying picture would already be gone.

The question of how to protect privacy of people in the smart cities of tomorrow is still being worked out, but the usefulness of the data collected by IoT devices is indisputable. Who knows what smart buildings and cities will look like in 50 years or more, but one can ensure the buildings erected today are built on foundations allowing them to continue evolving and adapting for future years.

[7]Gavin Daly is the manager of the professional services group at Axis Communications. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering, is Cisco CCNA certified and has an Axis Communications’ Certified Professional (ACP) designation. He can be reached at[8].

[9]Joe Morgan is the business development manager for critical infrastructure at Axis Communications. In this capacity, he is responsible for developing strategies and building channel relationships to expand Axis’ presence in markets specific to critical infrastructure in North America. He can be reached at[10].

  1. [Image]:
  2. [Image]:
  3. [Image]:
  4. [Image]:
  5. [Image]:
  6. [Image]:
  7. [Image]:
  9. [Image]:

Source URL: