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25 May 2018

How to future-proof our buildings? An example from Berlin

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The demand for sustainable buildings is growing. Innovative processes and methods allow smart buildings to be built economically and established buildings to be upgraded both technically and structurally for the future. Phillip Ratcliffe addressed the room at the BCO 2018 conference in Berlin, to tackle this very subject.


Why build smart? That's one of the key questions and it covers a whole sector or spectrum of people involved in offices. The question should really be not "why do smart?" but "why aren't we doing smart?"

Because that's really asking the retailer "should I really be online?" Of course you should. But it also covers a lot of other things. It is definitely the future; it has loads of benefits for everyone: property managers,  facility managers,  tenants, occupants, and the community. In terms of the whole work/life balance and how this moves them together, it's not just about sticking an office in a place. It's about creating a community. But it's also important to people who are providing the infrastructure, the engineering that's going in these buildings. They're far better at getting data and managing those buildings as well.

The other trend we hear an awful lot about at the moment is user experience. Usability, we call it, or the customer experience. And if they're at the heart of everything, in our offices, in our infrastructure, in our new communities, then that can drive a whole series of benefits for everyone. Offices take time to build, but technology and the buildings are almost outdated the day you buy it. But our new buildings create an awful lot of data about user experience.

We use data in terms of what it gives you. What's the insight to people? We've heard of profiling, but also, what does it do in terms of telling you what's going on? It's not necessarily insight; it's foresight. What does it allow you to do? What does it allow you to think about doing in terms of making everything a better experience for everybody? By using data clever, the team behind The Cube in Berlin was able to design a building with foresight.

The Cube berlin ONOFFICE BCO CONFERENCE 2The Cube Can be seen in the bottom left hand side, on the edge of Berlin's vast new Europacity

The Cube is the next generation of workspace and smart building. It’s located beside Berlin’s main train terminal. It is a fast-developing area with lots of new infrastructure and where new housing is being built. This foresight has allowed us to create a building that will enjoy a mixed experience. The Cube is a great piece of architecture, but also connected to what people want. Employees don't want to just come to an office, they want outdoor spaces, connectivity, easy transport links and flexibility. Having that ability to connect these people in such a great location is key.

The building has a smart glass technology, sustainable heating and cooling systems, and much more, but it’s the inside that is interesting. The Cube has been built to rely on beacon technology able to connect to devices and people, and track and trace, and the internet of things and much more. Beacon technology has been around for a while, and it’s allowing us to be mobile in another way. We've all got smart devices, and what that's allowing us to do is to get access to the world right in our device, so the beacon technology allows you connect with a whole series of experiences that these buildings are giving us, and they're right there, right now.

The beacon technology works as a central nervous system in the body of The Cube, but the the Cube also has a brain linking everything together. It's gathering all that data. It's driving everything that goes on, and then it's taking it to the next step, and the brain is really the difference, and that's what really makes a building go from being smart to being clever.

The brain is a self-learning tool that takes all the insights the building produces and turns them into action. This is enabling people to make smarter decisions, look back at what we're doing in terms of sustainability, environmental protections and that, but also what does it do in terms of your sense of person – your own environment. These insight are driving the manufacturing and the engineering behind buildings, because it enables better usage, design better systems, and better access.

Smart buildings are not entirely new. We've all seen it before, but the concept really starting from the edge is not necessarily having it there; it's integrating it with thought, because it's really what is the purpose of linking it together. That's what makes a clever building; it's thinking it, it's connecting with a network, with a nerve center, with a brain that starts to make this very different.

The Cube berlin ONOFFICE BCO CONFERENCE 3More than smart, The Cube will be clever

The Cube’s brain will allow it to create different profiles of people coming into the building. It will be able to give suggestions about workspace based on quality of light for each employee’s needs, wayfinding, noise reduction, and so on. It will be able to manage car-parking facilities in real time to ease congestion, it will even know what sort of coffee we like, and order food if we want it. It's all about different journeys through people, different interactions, being able to get the device. 

We are trying to create something very holistic, very together. In terms of moving it forward, we've got to think less in terms of silo structures of work and more in terms of together-working. The new disciplines like server technology, or digital integration, cybersecurity need to be there at the starting block. You need to plan it in. You can't catch-up this stuff. It needs to be embedded. It gives us a better solution for everyone.

How do we do it in the Cube? With something called design thinking. Thinking about your end solution. Thinking about your vision, what you want it to be, what the experience is, and then moving on from there, so design thinking takes you through that, through a series of workshop as you would imagine and everything like that. It's a decision-making process that influences the design of the interaction the building will create, and it ends you with what we call a decision document, that really just says "This is what I want, in this case the Cube. This is what I want my community and my environment to do, and how I want it all to connect together."

As we learn digitization, we shouldn't be thinking in terms of singular buildings. We want to be thinking of digitization in terms of digital and smart and connected cities and connected communities. That's different to how we've dealt with buildings in the past. You can't just commission these things at the end. Therefore, some people are smart, and a lot of buildings are smart, but to be clever, you need to connect it all together, and that's part of the difference.

Phillip Ratcliffe is Managing Director at Drees & Sommer UK, and this is an extract of his speech at the BCO Conference 2018 in Berlin.


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