Smart buildings are not simply designed to attract the first set of tenants or maintain the energy performance they achieved on their first day of operation. The technology and the demands of occupants evolve, meaning the true role of the smart building is to evolve with them.
As this decade draws to a close and the smart building / proptech industry enters its adolescence, the concept of future-proofing has become critical.
“In a smart building context, future-proofing will involve the delivery of technical solutions that are flexible and adaptable to accommodate changing tenant demands over time; meeting the future needs and expectations of clients, end-users, and/or occupants in terms of health, safety, and comfort.” our 2019 Future Proofing Smart Commercial Buildings report explains.
A new building’s lifecycle starts long before the first tenant or occupant arrives. In fact, it starts long before ground is even broken on the building’s construction. The first stage of a building’s lifecycle is the design phase and this is being increasingly recognized as the most important phase for successful technology implementation. Typically lasting one or two years, the design phase includes developing a strategic definition, investigating the feasibility of the project, and identifying high-level budgets/costs, deliverables and timelines.
“With control over budgets and design specifications, the internal and external stakeholders involved in the design phase of the building project typically have the most impact on key strategic and investment decisions that will determine the overall look, feel and functionality of a building,” the report continues. “Although some clients with a particular interest or expertise in technology may mandate the inclusion of smart building systems advocates and specialists in the core design team, but this is still not typically the case.”
Tenants, occupants, and even those involved with the manufacture, design or delivery of smart building systems rarely get the opportunity to influence or contribute to the design at this vital stage. This lack of representation in the design of the building adversely impacts the final delivery of a cohesive, integrated set of building systems that serves the people who will use and operate the structure for decades to come.
In fact, later modifications, repairs, and adaptations to a building can add significant complexity and cost due to poor representation during design phases. This can potentially shorten the lifespan of the building as mounting modification costs are outweighed by the option to demolish and rebuild.
In contrast, understanding component lifecycles and attempting to future-proof for their anticipated refurbishment not only helps designers and building owners to plan more effectively but also optimizes ongoing performance and reduces the cost and complexity of refurbishment programs.
“This variance in component lifecycles has several potential implications in terms of overall systems effectiveness. Cutting-edge technology selected during the design and planning phase of a new building could already be on its 3rd or 4th generation by the time the building approaches practical completion, and budget cycles for the deployment of smart building technologies also rarely align with the major procurement activities associated with wider systems refurbishments,” our in-depth report explains.
After design comes construction, where the main contractor leads a variety of sub-contractors work on-site to deliver the physical structure and related systems and services that bring the building to life. The construction phase, from breaking ground to practical completion, can last up to three years, which is a long time in the evolution of technology. The future-proofing dilemma is accentuated during construction by a lack of effective data, information and responsibility transfer from design to construction and from construction to operation.
“While some contractors involved in the designing and building phases may remain involved for one or two years in a “handholding” phase, at this stage the management of documentation and processes is handed over to a client team that will be responsible for the ongoing operational maintenance and facilities management,” highlights the recent report. “Practical completion is the last chance the construction team has to audit the construction and systems work and remedy any defects before transferring responsibility to an almost totally different set of stakeholders that will be responsible for the ongoing building’s operation.”
The design and construction phases may last up to 5 years, but the “operate and maintain” phase of a building will likely last decades, if not centuries. Data from the US Department of Energy indicates that the median lifetime of an office building in the US is about 65 years, meaning facilities management, tenants and occupants, are the key stakeholders for vast majority of the time. More often than not, these stakeholders inherit a building with outdated technology that they had no part in planning.
As we approach the end of the year and look towards an exciting new decade, the industry would be wise to reconsider the complex present situation in smart buildings, in order to strive for better outcomes.