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People at the centre

Buildings of the Future

People at the centre

It’s about people, not buildings or technology

Buildings of the Future will know how many of the workforce are in the building at any one time, and adjust services accordingly. Advancements in monitoring and security, building management system apps, information screens, WiFi, automated elevators, lighting and air conditioning will mean that services are adjusted before the worker even steps out of the Building of the Future elevator. Buildings will ‘self-tune’ on a continual basis.

Yet with the digital age upon us, it’s important to remember that technology is not only about hardware or software, but about people. Among the bits and bytes, let’s not forget the flesh and bones.

Not technology for technology’s sake

Critically, it is not technology that is driving change: it is how people are using Buildings of the Future, supported by technology, robotics, automation, new materials and new approaches to energy creation, use and storage.

Technology must have a purpose and remaining focused on the needs and expectations of your tenants and their workforce is key.

“Intelligent Buildings were already being talked about 30 years ago. There was a nirvana of Intelligent Buildings that knew where you sat, which floor you wanted to go to and where lights should come on automatically. It was all possible, but labour intensive and hard to maintain. These days it would be easier, but ironically the workplace design has overtaken it: these days many workers don’t have a defined desk or level to go to.”


“The workforce today is mobile. Tasks have changed and the way we work now is different from the past, and will change again in the future.”

Responding to a mobile workforce

Buildings of the Future would also do well to recognise that tomorrow’s employee (particularly millennials) will be mobile. Increasingly, employees will value mobility, flexibility and remote connectivity to work. To support this, we’ll see the continuing rise of collaborative technologies (including virtual and augmented reality), a shift to ‘the cloud’ and changing behaviours shaped by social media and mobile smart devices.

In addition, we will also have to consider changes in transportation such as the advent of the autonomous vehicle or even car drones and how building design will accommodate these technologies.

Buildings of the Future, in particular offices, will be characterised by:

  • The sheer variety of spaces they offer – including facilities for agile working, sitting and standing meeting rooms, creative spaces, coffee shops, couches, training areas, gathering areas as well as standard carrels.
  • Social context will also come into play and Buildings of the Future will need to cater for connectivity to occupant surroundings, and the needs of the occupants such as crèches.
  • Enhanced understanding of staff utilisation of space – tracking staff to better understand the use of space and high traffic office areas will allow for a more agile work environment, drastically reducing inefficiencies in space, energy and workplace design. Buildings will be designed on factual data and decisions based on the mining of valuable data as opposed to ‘experience’.
  • On-demand services – knowing where your building occupants are located gives rise to exciting possibilities, including on-demand ventilation, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting control, room bookings, emergency evacuation management, rental of space based on time used and greater sharing of spaces. Possible methods of measuring this include WiFi tracking of connected devices, workstation login, card readers, occupancy sensors and beam counters.

“Now days, we are looking to control systems reacting to the presence of a person just being in the building, rather than supporting one permanent location.”

The challenge for those in the building industry will be to respond to the changing requirements of tenants faster than ever before and to ensure our design of Buildings of the Future keep pace.

Learning to share

Increasing mobility leads to the question: do tenants really need a large amount of space all of the time? The rapid rise of the shared economy through companies like Airbnb and Uber are set to become mainstream in the property industry too.

It’s already common for small businesses to share office spaces, seating arrangements, leases, building layout and buildings maintenance, but there is potential to further expand the concept. In future, we might see smaller tenancies, but larger facilities; or end-to-end solutions where services and staff could be shared between environments and companies.

Buildings of the Future will support shared infrastructure and services, and result in better utilisation between companies, tenants and individual users.

This approach could work for educational facilities too. For example, new chemistry labs and biology labs could be set up to allow shared workspaces for biologists and chemists.

“If there are ten tasks then there should be flexibility in the space, rather than ten different spaces.”

I know what I want (and I want it, now!)

“We must accept that in public buildings we are run by economic factors. People, however, have become more aware of their rights, safety, health and comfort requirements. We are therefore forced to take people as the primary consideration in our planning and design: if we don’t, we will lose financially and economically.”


“We are seeing a change in tenant demand towards buildings that support good environmental practices and amenities.”

If end-user behaviour has changed, so has end-user expectation. A future in which a facilities manager is required to provide live feeds about the performance of a tenant’s building isn’t far off.

Coupled to this, their environmental expectations have also increased. Today’s tenant is environmentally savvy.

Tenants are increasingly interested in the details of shadow plans and their effect on solar energy capture, buildings that can exist off the grid, the provision of energy battery storage technology, developing self-sustaining ecosystems within their Building of the Future and opportunities to share power between buildings.

“Buildings don’t exist in isolation of their precinct or their community. Intelligent Buildings of the Future will be integrated and more effectively connect work spaces with living spaces (whether that be physically or virtually).”

Importantly, our environmental focus shouldn’t be limited to our single buildings. No building operates in isolation and Buildings of the Future will need to integrate with the broader community. Smart buildings within a smart precinct will be the focus.

In future, innovative city management will form an alliance with major developers to drive smart precincts, and will require the right data, people movement monitoring and legislative frameworks.

Where are we heading?

Aurecon sees this as a key opportunity for the built environment to develop shared services in facilities management. The first movers will be those who create building maintenance hubs. These hubs will be designed to provide facilities for all local buildings to centrally monitor electricity, water, energy storage common areas and integrate other aspects of maintenance and management of operational efficiencies.

Taken a step further, facilities managers could use lessons learnt from these hubs to more effectively manage groups of buildings and enhance used experience.

The use of robotics for security checks and providing controls such as air-conditioning according to a user voting matrix will ensure a greater return on investment for an enhanced focus on people.

What should we be asking?

  • As robotics and automation advances, how will this shape the design of Buildings of the Future? Will we still need as many ‘offices’?
  • What will the energy source for Buildings of the Future be? How will we store it? How will this energy be interconnected?
  • Where and how will “Rosie or Raul the robot” be realised?

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