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Thu 9 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Building with a brain

Green buildings are supposed to transform the way buildings and communities are designed.

Building with a brain
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Building with a brain
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Building with a brain
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Building with a brain
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Building with a brain
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Building with a brain
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Smart buildings are transforming the way facilities are designed, built and operated.

According to the US Green Building Council, green buildings are supposed to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated. If done properly, green buildings can facilitate a socially responsible, healthy environment that improves the quality of life of its users.

If that's the case, the answer to improving building quality and performance as well as user satisfaction in the Middle East is simple: identify clear, contextually-relevant reasons for building more green buildings. Cool, we've done that....

Rising energy costs. Power shortages. Corporate social responsibility. Green buildings decrees. Increased carbon footprint. Global citizenry. Political correctness.

All are bona fide reasons for designing and building more intelligently but perhaps they're all a bit too feel-good to really motivate developers to build with a collective conscience. No worries, maybe it's better to focus on the legislative structures....

Estidama. EmiratesLEED. Mandatory progression. Green Building Councils. Abu Dhabi 2030. Dubai 2015.

All are either too new, too ambiguous or too lackadaisical to warrant interrupting that corporate drive toward cheap materials and quick returns. With several globally-recognised exhibitions all devoting large chunks of their shows to the convergence of IT and building systems, building smart and building green is starting to go hand in hand.

But, in order to fast-track project delivery in the Middle East's highly competitive market, many developers opt for the old-fashioned route: Equipping modern structures with traditional systems that use proprietary networks for building management systems and separate networks for telephony, data and television.

With buildings being the largest consumers of energy, producers of waste and emitters of greenhouse gases, it's essential for developers to build smart and build green. And, it's up to FMs, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) to figure out ways to use those smart technologies to realise the largest returns in the shortest amount of time. The figures

Smart buildings-those that feature cutting-edge, fibre-optic networking designed to improve operating efficiencies and reduce operational expenses-boast lower energy consumption, which translates to lower energy bills for users and ideally, happier tenants. According to Ashley Katz, a spokeswoman for the USGBC, "A green building saves 30-50% of energy, 35% of CO2 emissions, 40% of water and 70% of solid waste." But smart buildings are about more than just happy tenants.

According to Tom Shircliff, co-founder and director of R&D for US-based Intelligent Buildings Group, "Building systems, LEED-related monitor and control systems and occupant IT are increasingly interrelated, if not interoperable."A well-planned IT infrastructure in a smart building eliminates unnecessary cabling, conduits and pathways, which ultimately reduces construction costs. Building smart also trims the amount of infrastructure needing maintenance, which then reduces the number of subcontractors on site and further reduces operating costs.

According to industry experts, integrating a high-tech lighting and energy management system into a building's overall operating network, can result in energy savings of 30-45% versus stand-alone lighting and traditional energy management systems.

Consider this hypothetical: A developer spends US $600,000 to equip a new 150,000ft2 building with smart technology that integrates lighting, heating, cooling and other functions on a single network platform. That system prompts a 10% drop in operating costs, as well as a 4% hike in occupancy and rental rates, due to its identity as a modern, environmentally-responsible property. As a result, net cash flow increases by US $420,000.

IT experts argue that one reason smart buildings have yet to make it to the mainstream, is because commercial developers typically emphasize a building's short-term profitability rather than its long-term operating expenses.

The Middle East-where ownership rights are limited and real estate laws are fluid-is no exception. All too often developers aren't concerned about long-term operating costs because-depending on which country they're building in-they may not own the building in ten, five or even three years. And, if a developer doesn't make the initial investment in smart technology, retrofitting the necessary equipment becomes significantly more difficult.

As long as the industry continues to cater to a "get-in, get-rich, get-out" building strategy, even the slightest investment in smart technology-experts suggest it costs between US $1-4 per ft2 to fit-out a new project-FMs, CIOs and CTOs will push for it and developers will pass on it.

Focusing on the ROI

In order to convince thrifty developers that building smart adds something more to their project than a plaque on a wall and a warm fuzzy feeling, it's crucial to focus on ways to ensure a healthy ROI.

By understanding the environmental and economic benefits of building smart, FMs can play a critical role in guiding their often frugal clients. And, while developers may not always see it from the outset, there is tremendous value in being a trailblazer in the development industry.

"It is important to remember that the ‘L' in LEED stands for Leadership," says Lauren Minch, director of ROI strategy, Intelligent Buildings Group. "The ability to understand and lead the way in proving a building's ROI is crucial to the success of any developer working to create earth-friendly and energy-efficient buildings."

To that end, Minch outlines five strategies that developers, FMs, CIOs and CTOs can employ to ensure they're leading the region's drive toward smart buildings.

Cost management & realised savings

According to Minch, cost management includes understanding the costs involved in the project's development and recognising appropriate cost displacement versus cost savings. While ‘displacement' means shifting costs from one bucket to another and not actually eliminating it, ‘savings' means eliminating the cost altogether.A carefully planned smart technology strategy offers both types of realised savings in upfront capital during construction and ongoing operation throughout the development.

Savings come by reducing redundancy in technology and personnel and making better material and staffing decisions. The operational savings are recognised by lowering the project management costs and keeping up on annual maintenance, which increases the overall life of the building.

Total building convergence

Most buildings, whether they're complete or still in design, contain disparate control systems that are proprietary and disconnected from other systems within the building. A truly smart building converges the building's systems into one interface that collects data and turns it into valid, usable information.

"Network convergence has become the mantra for modern building communication and power systems," explains Mike Atkinson, managing director of Dubai-based Telematics. "Functions and applications operating on individual, isolated infrastructures are rapidly becoming obsolete...."

As an example, Ballantyne Village, a new 650,000ft2 mixed-use development in North Carolina (USA), uses a single fibre-optic network to support telephone, data, Internet, security and music services.

Moreover, FMs can monitor heating, cooling, lighting, and digital signage through the same network, which links all retail tenants, outdoor spaces and property management offices.

"A wired and wireless technology infrastructure monitors and controls these and other building and occupant functions such as energy statistics, security cameras, communication systems and more. These examples, as well as basic building systems and traditional IT, are all designed separately," explains Shircliff.

Moreover, venues with high levels of indoor/outdoor traffic or where internal and external climates differ significantly, data generated from building temperature and humidity monitoring devices can provide useful information to better control the HVAC system.

The ability to gather and analyse data collected from the countless controls, devices and systems in a smart building requires an understanding of building controls and systems that are not just connected, but working together.

To monitor and manage the myriad systems effectively, FMs are faced with the double-sided challenge of either finding and recruiting skilled workers or training existing ones to use state-of-the-art technology.

Building efficiency benchmarks

While a smart building creates numerous efficiencies in the building's construction and operation phases, it is difficult to know which efficiencies are appropriate for which projects. In some markets, benchmark projects can make a big difference in maximising returns on investment and thus, can be used as models for future projects.Benchmark projects can provide the capability to focus only on the specific issues that pertain to a specific smart building effort-contextual, environmental, regulatory, cultural, etc.-but in the Middle East, the industry is simply not there yet.

Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain's Business Bay and James Law's Cybertecture projects are cases where total building convergence has been planned into projects, though none will be fully operational until at least 2010.

Revenue streams

In addition to capital and operational cost savings, additional revenue streams are another method of achieving desired ROI results. Though the formula seems simple-additional revenue equals higher ROI-mechanisms for achieving higher revenue are actually built into smart buildings.

Smart buildings can be equipped with extra-low voltage (ELV) systems which use a common web interface for monitoring, displaying, archiving, reporting and controlling value-added services like on-line billing, building performance displays and maintenance requests.

ELV systems may include fire detection/alarm, voice evacuation, voice/data communication, public address capabilities, access controls, intrusion detection, CCTV, audio-visual support and cellular/wireless distribution networks.

By providing technologies and infrastructure that contribute to safety and security (i.e. improved quality of life) smart buildings allow owners to charge tenants for use of those facilities. Obviously, these types of revenue streams can be fixed or variable depending on the needs of the owners and the language of tenant leases.

Strong internal governance

Once a smart building is developed and operational, FMs need to implement policies and procedures that ensure a consistent and effective flow of information. Strong internal governance drives consistent processes, templates and procedures that promote proper alignment, operation, awareness and policy direction.

"Even properly configured buildings get out of sync when FMs and users manually change settings to satisfy comfort needs or other concerns," explains Shircliff. With proper policy in place and effective internal governance, employees won't be able to manually change building settings.

Moreover, in the case of a truly smart building, the employee won't need to. "A smart building with a pervasive network infrastructure will quickly relay that information and, with the appropriate software or systems in place, may even adjust itself," adds Shircliff.

To be sure, effective internal governance doesn't have to be punitive, but it does need to be consistent, realistic and enforceable. Smart buildings don't just happen; they are the result of a coordinated vision between developers, engineers, CIOs, CTOs and FMs and that vision needs to be communicated and applied consistently.

But, it's easy to point the finger of blame in the direction of big developers and throw up our hands in frustration at their collective apathy toward responsible building. However, tenants aren't off the hook. At the end of the day, even the biggest, most influential developers need to listen and respond to the cries of the market. But, when it comes to smart buildings, regardless of global region, the market is terribly misinformed and under-educated.

"If the tenants were barking for intelligent technology, the developers would do it," says Bob Bruner, developer of Ballantyne Village. "The tenants don't understand it, so they don't give it much credence."

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Hal-Luke Savas 11 years ago

I have found this quality article a "hammer hitting the nail on the head' clarity.. The future of Facilities Management is PPV coupled to Pervasive Computing.. I must congratulate the author on bringing this subject to forefront of our profession.. Hal-Luke Savas MBA FCIM MBIFM ICIOB Affiliated CIBSE londonhs@aol.com