Smart World

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Driven by the politics and culture of time, our built environment evolves continually to support what we, as humans need, Emma Macleod, Associate Director at leading multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy, Hurley Palmer Flatt, tells us in the first instalment of a new residency.

A quick glance at major cities’ skylines is often enough to gain an insight into its years of structural growth through the dominant architectural styles. However, the next biggest game-changer in our cities will not come from the physicality of structures but how the users interact with the buildings.
As we move to an era of ‘Smart Buildings’, the true impact of technology will help to provide greater efficiencies for occupants – and is already having an impact on the way we use them.

Newly built offices, schools, hospitals and apartment blocks are full of sensors that gather information that can be used to tailor the environments, making those buildings more comfortable, efficient, sustainable and affordable.

But it is not just data garnered from the building envelope itself that can help improve productivity and increase efficiency. By harnessing that, delivered through the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable technology, IT and OT systems and cloud computing, our smart buildings are able to digest information from its users. The collection and analysis of data in a workplace environment has the potential to make not only the building work more efficiently but also its workforce. Through specific control of environment, the real estate team can provide the optimum working conditions for an individual – and by doing so could help support inclusivity in the workplace and using such smart technology could have an active hand in attracting the next generation of workers to that firm.

By 2050 it is estimated that 60% of today’s buildings will still exist, accounting for as much as 45% of total floor space. With those figures in mind, it is easy to understand just how important it is for managers to actively look into future proofing their assets. But where, in the past, managers might have focused on longevity, the onus is now on fitness for purpose, rapid developments in technology and selecting those materials used to allow for a reduced lifespan.

Commercial office blocks in the centre of most major cities face refurbishment and fit-out every few years – be it at the end of a tenancy or at the behest of the board. These offer the perfect opportunity to introduce the latest smart systems and materials with a note of caution. In a Tesla world, no one wants to be stuck with a clapped out diesel! But the level of that change will depend on just how ‘smart’ an asset is and, with technology moving at such tremendous pace, what is smart today could look quite dumb tomorrow.

It can all sound a little daunting. Data collection is a hot topic right now, with the concerns of Facebook/Cambridge Analytica selling data to third parties, as well as the new rules and regulations around GDPR that have come into play. It is perhaps a cruel irony that, at the very moment we can harness data collection as a progressive force for good, it is also most feared. Which is why it is more important than ever for our cities to develop smart strategies. Challenges such as security, data protection, ownership, compatibility and future proofing, need to be addressed so that we can maximise the many benefits at our digital fingertips.

It is more important than ever that we understand how a smart lifestyle can help individuals, the organisations of which we are part and ultimately create efficient, effective and sustainable cities.

In developed countries, we have been eased into this world of smart thinking with relative ease, through social media platforms and phone apps for so many elements of our lives. We live in a connected world and the increased use of similar technology in the places where we work will allow the seamless integration of aspects of our lives. Not so that we work more but so we are empowered to work to the best of our ability, in the correct environment at the right time.

Our smart homes, buildings and cities must offer solutions specific to the needs of their users and our digital footprint will be as unique as our fingerprint. If we consider our ‘Smart Day’ with our data collection starting at home, as we travel to work, in the office, in the café at lunchtime and in the gym or pub after work, it is easy to see how we can build up a picture of our lifestyles and what we need and when – and the power of smart means that we can achieve this. As we shift to a ‘one click nation’, managing everything from our finance to retail and commuting habits, in theory everything becomes easier.

Our population is increasing and our cities are becoming more densely occupied, which brings with it an inevitable strain on various aspects of our cities and how we operate. A smart strategy offers a solution to energy supply and infrastructure, water management, carbon emissions, densification and transport. We can’t make our cities bigger, so we must make them smarter.

Emma Macleod is an Associate Director at leading multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy Hurley Palmer Flatt
www.hurleypalmerflatt.com