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What is a smart building?

Buildings of the future – what is a smart building?

Buildings of the future are designed to make human lives easier with the help of complex, smart technology.

Often described as smart buildings or intelligent buildings, buildings of the future are any structures that use integrated processes, smart engineering or creative design to self-regulate the building’s environment and operations

A human-centred approach to design is at the core of buildings of the future. From the moment people step inside until the moment they leave, a building of the future will have the capability to determine the percentage of the workforce inside the building at any given time and automatically adjust the settings of its facilities according to their feedback and needs – from WiFi connections, lighting, electricity, heat, ventilation and air conditioning, buildings of the future place people at the centre.

Although they are often described as intelligent or smart, buildings of the future are not simply about the use of integrated technology to create reactive environments – they are about people, and how people will use these structures now and in the future. 

Smart characteristics of a building of the future

Intelligent Building Concierge, Aurecon Tshwane South Africa

  1. People-centric – Buildings of the future are designed to function for the people who will use them. As the needs and expectations of people continuously change, the way we design and construct buildings must follow.

    We need to ask:
    • What will people use these buildings for?
    • How will these buildings make them comfortable, happy and productive?
    • If today’s workforce values mobility, flexibility and connectivity around the work place, how should the design of these buildings address these needs?

  2. Flexible – Disruption is moving at an exponential rate, continuously affecting and changing business needs, models, landscapes, and the use of buildings. To address disruption, buildings of the future should be designed with flexibility in mind. We don’t want to build white elephants. Gone will be the days that buildings are designed as rigid structures that are built for one purpose and can’t be changed.

    In the future, these structures and spaces will be adaptable without significant building modification: with walls that can be moved easily and essential engineering services that can be effortlessly altered and re-connected in new ways.

  3. Invisible Technologies should be embedded to a building seamlessly. It should just work, no explanations needed. The goal for smart buildings is to self-manage, learn, anticipate, and adapt on its own, without the need for the intervention or recognition of its users. Room temperatures, lighting, shading, energy and water utilisation can all be easily and automatically adjusted based on sensors and monitors.

  4. Sustainable – The impact of climate change and rapid population growth to our natural resources is endangering the future of human kind, making sustainability one of the key priorities when designing buildings of the future. Thanks to advanced technologies, smart buildings can exist off the grid and develop self-sustaining ecosystems, enabling it to produce energy and collect and treat water on site.

  5. Learning – Buildings of the future will not only be designed for us, they will get to know us. Every sensor, automation and monitor installed in these buildings will be integrated into a main building management system which can capture every movement within the building and enable the building to automatically modify its settings and continuously self-tune. 

Businesses must invest in buildings of the future

The resistance against digital transformation usually stems down from one thing: cost. Technology can be expensive, and in today’s highly competitive global market, businesses want a guarantee that their investments will pay off, financially. However, the return on investment (ROI) for buildings of the future are not always financial. It is far more three dimensional in its approach and understanding the bottom line benefits will be the key.

  1. Value starts at the design phase
    Building designs should reflect the business’ needs, today and tomorrow. The first step in proving the value of innovations brought by buildings of the future is understanding the company’s vision, needs and future requirements. Design will be defined by the building’s function and role in the business, not aesthetics.

  2. A new investment equation
    A smart building’s ROI is not only measured by financial gains, it’s far more complex. It requires a more robust, holistic and full-bodied evaluation of ROI, which will include energy savings, tax incentives, and non-financial benefits such as improved employee productivity and wellbeing. While these non-monetary benefits may not be quantified by numbers and financial gains, they carry an invaluable and real return on the business’ investment.

  3. Invest for the long-term payoffs
    Investing in buildings of the future means designing for the future. Buildings that are designed for an organisation’s short-term plans may end up being outdated and inefficient. Taking a long-term view, on the other hand, leads to designing with the future and flexibility in mind.

    Given that in future buildings will be assembled, not constructed, buildings of the future will be designed to be easily modified. This will allow for quicker reintegration of engineering systems, increasing not only the user experience of the structure, but the value of the building ongoing. 


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