Not too long ago smart buildings were only an ambitious idea for the future.
After all, the idea of a structure that watches its inhabitants and caters to their needs—without the need for any human intervention—is like something ripped from the pages of science-fiction. But with advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) technology that connects and coordinates physical devices with active wireless networks, these innovative buildings have not only entered reality; they’re becoming a benchmark of commercial construction.
But with the rise of smart buildings come some important questions. Questions such as What are the primary benefits provided for owners and occupants, and are these more intelligent buildings a worthwhile effort in the first place?
Before we get to answering those common questions, and showcasing some of the most impressive examples out in the world today, let’s start by looking at what even constitutes a smart building.
Smart buildings use a combination of IoT devices and automated processes to fully monitor and control the systems within it. This can include everything from automatically reducing a room’s temperature on a hot day, to adjusting the lighting of an area when someone enters, or even managing critical security alerts of an entire building.
Sensors record and collect live data to influence the building’s functions, while also supplying detailed analytics that informs managerial decisions.
As the growth and integration of IoT technologies continue, more and more buildings are updating to join their intelligent counterparts. It’s no surprise either, as smart buildings present many attractive and cost-efficient benefits that both owners and occupants will enjoy.
Owners of smart buildings will be able to empower and streamline their building’s operations with effective state-of-the-art IoT systems. Typical pros of owning an intelligent building include increasing revenue gains, attracting more tenants, and reducing overall operating costs.
An intelligent building will monitor itself and conserve resources automatically, and much more efficiently than by any manual method. Just consider, the average building in the United States has 30% energy waste, which quickly translates to significant annual losses. A smart building will minimize such forms of unnecessary waste, saving power and decreasing utility costs across the board.
On that note, green buildings are becoming increasingly desirable, and smart building systems are incredibly effective at supporting conservation efforts. Automated power rationing, energy recycling, and resource-saving processes create higher sustainability in building systems and lend to a higher energy efficiency score.
Because of all this, it’s no wonder that so many recipients of green building awards are also environmentally-conscious smart buildings.
Whether they’re incoming residents or searching for a place of business, it’s no secret that comfortable, smart buildings are more attractive to prospective tenants and building employees. The unique features and enhanced amenities that smart buildings offer are great for drawing people in and keeping them satisfied enough to stick around once they’ve settled in.
As modern industries shift into this new era of customer personalization, the value of big data is rising. The same is true when it comes to building management, where IoT sensors are used to record data that inform critical decisions.
By studying captured data and trends of a building’s technical processes, operational improvements can be more easily discovered and enforced. At the same time, recorded analytics on occupant behavior is invaluable for learning how to enhance daily in-building experiences.
When something goes wrong inside of a structure, the exact location of the problem is not always clear. But with the constant self-monitoring that a smart building can provide, any malfunctioning systems will be reported right away. Furthermore, advances in predictive maintenance can detect at-risk systems and send upkeep notifications to keep them from breaking down at all.
To cut down response times when an incident does occur, maintenance teams and external repair services can also be automatically notified to further minimize repair times.
Tenants of smart buildings will have access to dynamic, cutting-edge, amenities. Common features include custom lighting and thermal settings matched to personal preferences, air quality, and sanitation control, and personal security settings that makes daily living that much easier, safer, and more enjoyable.
But conveniences aside, there are other key incentives to living or being employed, in a smart building environment.
Healthier living space and workplace is one of the most common advantages of smart buildings. With an atmosphere that learns and adapts to your comfort levels, mental health quality and general productivity are organically improved. As this helpful infographic demonstrates, something as simple as automated thermostat control means a massive positive impact for building inhabitants.
Occupant Utility Costs:
The costs of living for smart building residents are also reduced since utility and power consumption is optimized to their usage. This greatly reduces occupant waste and utility costs while naturally supporting more green-conscious behavior.
Lastly, security for smart building inhabitants is greatly improved. Cameras and sensors stream surveillance footage constantly and, when powered with artificial intelligence, can automatically report suspicious and unwanted behavior. In cases of fire or other dangerous hazards, intelligent building systems will alert occupants to evacuate while contacting the proper authorities at the same time.
Now that we’ve covered the reasons why smart buildings are so appealing let’s look at some of the most impressive ones from around the world.
Apple Park – Cupertino
Originally conceptualized by Steve Jobs, the Apple Park campus (also referred to as ‘The Spaceship’) is Apple’s massively impressive and nearly complete California headquarters. In fact, despite lingering construction, this smart building is already largely operational—with employees and visitors occupying parts of the site since April 2017.
The sprawling doughnut-shaped facility is powered completely by renewable energy and was purposefully designed to resemble a green nature refuge rather than just another office structure. To realize this effect, the majority of the building’s site is made up of green space with over 7,000 trees planted around the campus area. Eco-friendly solar paneling along the roof generates enough energy to power the majority of the campus’ functions, with the rest of the energy supply coming from biofuels harnessed onsite.
Apple Park also integrates IoT sensors for energy efficient temperature control using ventilation flaps that automatically open and shut in response to the incoming direction of exterior wind-flow.
The Edge – Amsterdam
In 2015 Bloomberg deemed it “the smartest building in the world”. In 2016 it was awarded the highest BREEAM sustainability score ever given at 98.36 percent. Years later, Amsterdam’s The Edge still easily maintains its famed reputation as one of the best.
Primarily an office structure created for the Deloitte global financial firm, this smart building directs employees to the most convenient available parking spaces and assigns workspaces to them depending on their tasks of the day.
The Edge reacts to accommodate the people working inside, changing its temperature and lighting settings to match the present employees’ environmental preferences. Not to mention, employees also enjoy a fitness gym that recycles the energy produced by its used machines back into the building itself.
Glumac – Shanghai
Embedded in a massively-polluted metropolitan environment, Shanghai’s Glumac office building aims to provide and promote air purity with high sustainability.
Using five different air purification systems and a planted wall of greenery to act as a symbolic defense against the polluted air, the Glumac building was the first structure in China to pursue the demanding Living Building Challenge Certification.
This smart building also measures and reports the toxicity levels of its indoor air status to inhabitants. A mobile app is used to view the air quality from room-to-room, supplying information on oxygen levels, humidity, and the density of particulate matter in the air.
Capital Tower – Singapore
Completed in the year 2000, Singapore’s Capital Tower is one of the earliest examples of a smart building’s construction. That’s why it’s all the more impressive that after 18 years, this intelligent tower is still turning heads today.
Holding environmental concerns in mind, along with the comfort of its visitors, the tower was designed to uphold sustainability with improved interior air quality, lower water consumption, and higher energy efficiency.
Capital Tower was also one of the first buildings to integrate an intelligent building management system to keep internal operations at optimized levels. Included among its many conveniences are daily car parking guidance for entering employees, and live media and stock market updates.
22 Bishopsgate – London
Soon-to-be London’s tallest tower, 22 Bishopsgate Tower, is planned to stand 278 meters high, has already earned a BREEAM sustainability rating of excellent, and will feature some inspiring applications of smart building technology.
Once complete 22 Bishopsgate will house over 12,000 employees, making functional foot-traffic in and out of the building a primary concern. In response the building will use automated IoT-based traffic directing and speedy hi-tech elevators which travel at 30km/h, making them the fastest in Europe. Optional smart lobby check-ins with facial recognition software are also being implemented to better analyze activity as people operate throughout the structure.
To provide a more user-friendly workspace, employees will be able to enjoy full environmental control from their iPhones. From adjusting the temperature within their office, to opening and closing the blinds of their windows, everything will be adjustable from a convenient mobile device.
Cisco Systems HQ – Toronto
This smart building earns its place on the list for taking occupant personalization and bringing it to the next level.
Cisco Systems HQ is also Toronto’s first LEED Core and Shell Platinum certified office building, making it another environmental champion. When you enter the lobby, you are given a route that gets you to your destination as quickly as possible, while minimizing energy costs. It even takes into account which elevator would be most convenient and energy-efficient to use.
Once inside the work environment, this accommodating building not only adjusts the lighting and temperature to employee preferences but even adjusts the height of their work desk for them. Cisco Systems HQ also features rising walls that separate and connect rooms to create an even more seamless work experience.
Duke Energy Center – Charlotte
The Duke Energy Center peers over Charlotte as one of its tallest reaching structures. It is also the first tower ever to receive the LEED Core and Shell highest available rating. Interestingly, despite the primary tenant being Duke Energy, the building is officially owned by Wells Fargo.
This smart building demonstrates incredible sustainability practices with rainwater harvesting and condensation reclamation, individually metered electricity supplies, automated air quality control, and a carefully planned building design that naturally alleviates outside heat.
The most visually striking feature of the Duke Energy Center, aside from its epic scale, is the fully customizable electric light-show that runs along the entire face of the tower.
Bullitt Center – Seattle
While typical buildings are designed to last a minimum of 40-years, this smart building was ambitiously developed to last over 250. Aiming to be fully self-sustainable, the Bullitt Center achieves net zero energy, net zero carbon, and net zero water. As a statement, it was built using exclusively off-the-shelf products—and houses a 6-story composting toilet system that runs throughout the entire building.
The structure’s energy supply comes from 575 solar panels that aesthetically accent the exterior, and it tactically uses high-performance windows to harness 80 percent day lighting for the building. All of this together highlights the Bullitt Center’s endeavor to promote ecological values by example for all future building projects.
Gates Home – Medina
The only residential structure on this list, the Gates Home in Medina, Washington, is a modern marvel of IoT integration and home living.
Named Xanadu 2.0, Bill Gates’ residence completely changes its rooms depending on the person inside. The home tracks inhabitants by a pin they wear on their person and adjusts the preferred lighting and temperature settings of inhabitants from room-to-room as many other smart buildings do.
But Xanadu 2.0 takes things one step further by remembering musical and visual art preferences as well. Then, when entering a room, the images on the walls change to suit the visitor’s tastes while hidden speakers play their music of choice. There’s also an underwater music system inside the home’s swimming pool.
The Gates Home’s design is also something to marvel at, with an earth-sheltered exterior layout that naturally keeps temperatures comfortable.
Watson IoT HQ – Munich
It only makes sense that many of the latest IoT technologies come from one of the most impressive smart buildings around. Watson IoT HQ is a hub for IoT connected devices, both in the technology it produces, and how the building operates.
Dynamic lighting guides visitors to their destination, while conference rooms are largely customizable to match the desired tone of its presenter. Rooms will alert its inhabitants when too many people are present, and the air quality becomes reduced, and a voice-activated interface controls almost everything in the area. Cafeterias are even observed under infrared sensors that show which eating areas are uncomfortably full and should be avoided.
The owners, IBM Watson, are confident that they are doing new things in IoT that hasn’t been attempted before, and judging from the functions of their building alone, they’re probably right.
The Leadenhall Building – London
Engineered to allow the most efficient use of energy and resources possible, the Leadenhall Building opened in 2015 and is one of the most recent smart building marvels decorating London’s skyline. It is most notable for its painstaking efforts to keep waste as low as possible, both during and after construction.
One of the largest contributing factors to this structure’s sustainability comes from its triple layer glass walls. Understanding that temperature costs are one of the biggest reasons for power consumption, this triple-layering was developed to include blinds that correlate to the movements of the sun. This, in turn, keeps office spaces cool and comfortable during work hours, without the need for air conditioning.
The energy-saving effect of these windows is further supported by exterior vents placed on every seventh story to stimulate additional airflow. Energy monitoring sensors are also installed throughout the building, as well as low-flow water fixtures. Furthermore, and very impressively, the building’s components were carefully manufactured offsite to reduce the carbon footprint of construction.
The Crystal – London
While smaller in size than the other smart buildings on this list, The Crystal is a testament to future IoT integration and ecofriendly architecture. Of course, being a representative of green initiatives, it’s no surprise The Crystal is fully electric, generates all its power, and earned both BREEAM and LEED awards for sustainability. On top of these, the building also received multiple accolades for innovative architectural design.
The largest portion of the structure’s interior is devoted to an exhibition on environmentally-friendly habits, which also showcases sustainable smart city models currently on the horizon.
Smart buildings may have been something of fantasy just a few decades ago, but it’s apparent that they are becoming a new standard. The evolution of intelligent structures, however, is only beginning.
With the increase in smart buildings, smart cities are the next inevitable step. These cities are anticipated to connect technologies between structures to share information and improve the quality of services and citizen welfare.
From helping drivers find parking spaces and directing traffic flows during rush hours, to city-wide energy conservation initiatives, IoT powered smart cities have a lot of potentials to offer. Environmental planning is also a large concern, with air and water monitoring, and improved waste collection systems all in the works.
As more building owners embrace smart technology, these cities of the future get closer to us every day.
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