We’re all familiar with the term ‘building’ which the dictionary describes as: a structure with a roof and walls, used for a wide variety of activities, as living, entertaining, or working. But nowadays we hear more and more about ‘smart buildings’ and not everyone has a clear idea of what they are.
We can say that a building is smart when it delivers useful services at low cost and environmental impact, when it’s connected, responsive and it interacts with building operators and occupants; but the easiest way to understand what’s meant by a ‘smart building’ is to observe an example.
David Self, Head of Project Management Office at UBM, says: ‘To me, a smart building is where the technology makes life genuinely easier or delivers tangible benefit, the building and the facilities are supporting you, rather than being passive.’
UBM is a B2B event company whose headquarters offices are currently located on the top 9 floors of a skyscraper in the district of Bankside, London, now recognized as one of the most sustainable in the country: the 240 Blackfriars.
The skyscraper is located between Waterloo, London Bridge, Blackfriars and Southwark stations, in a vibrant and creative business cluster. It has 19 floors of about 12,000 square feet each, the capability of 1 person per 8 square meters, and it has achieved a platinum rating by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), with a score of 86 points on a maximum of 110.
When UBM decided to look for a new office space, they decided to come up with a questionnaire for its employees, to figure out ways to be more productive. The first thing that occurred was the need for less desk space and more meeting rooms, which led to an agile working solution. Mobility is essential in the new offices, employees don’t have individual workspaces and hot-desking is on the order of business, everyone can decide every day where to work. In fact, most of the floors are designed to accommodate 140 people, but they only have 100 desks.
This mobility solution was just the first step for 240 Blackfriars to become a real smart building. They have now plenty of digital, smart and technological solutions.
First of all, to be more environmentally friendly and save paper, the IT team provided a cloud based scanning system so that piles of paper could be stored electronically, and a strong Wi-Fi network runs all over the building.
Now everything is connected and digitally integrated: phones, lightning, screens, heating system, and so on. For example, the temperature in rooms raises when they are in use, and if a room is booked, it starts adjusting to the desired temperature 15 minutes before the meeting starts.
The same system to reduce energy consumption is working for the power. The desk-booking system integrates with the power system, so the power turns on only if a desk is booked, and automatically turns off during the nights, weekends and bank holidays.
Stephen Vause, Head of Facilities Management at UBM, claims that one of his favourite features of the building are the solar-controlled blinds, which operate automatically depending on the position of the sun.
One other initiative is a single-user card, known as the ‘240 passport’, that allows access to many of the services around the building: employees can use their hot lockers, cashless vending, printing and desk booking system. This system allows facilities teams to see how much people use the services and to figure out if they really need them.
240 Blackfriars should still be considered a work in progress. The full benefits for the staff who work in the building and those that manage it, won’t become clear for some time. However, as a template for how a variety of smart building technologies can be implemented, it’s certainly paving the way for others in London and beyond.