MIPIM Special Series – Part Two: Smart Buildings and Smart Cities

The IT revolution started only around three quarters of a century ago, at least if we mark the appearance of the first mechanical computers in the 1940s as the defining juncture point where we stepped on the road to the age of smart technology.
Left to right: Olivier Barry – Vice President – Eurhonet; Nicolas Michelin – Architect – A/NM/A; Henrik Meyer-Hoffmann – Real Estate Expert, Architect – BASF; Thilo Cunz – Senior Manager Asia/Europe – LUWOGE Consult; Geoffrey Palmer– Director – Grontmij (Energy, Planning and Design); David Partridge – Managing Partner – Argent; Bruno Gardner, Managing Director, Low Carbon Workplace

Left to right: Olivier Barry, vice president, Eurhonet; Nicolas Michelin, architect, A/NM/A; Henrik Meyer-Hoffmann, real estate expert, architect, BASF; Thilo Cunz, senior manager Asia/Europe, LUWOGE Consult; Geoffrey Palmer, director, Grontmij (Energy, Planning and Design); David Partridge, managing partner, Argent; Bruno Gardner, managing director, Low Carbon Workplace

Associate editor Balazs Szekely presents a three-part series of reports on worldwide real estate based on presentations at the MIPIM world property market in March.

The IT revolution started only around three quarters of a century ago, at least if we mark the appearance of the first mechanical computers in the 1940s as the defining juncture point where we stepped on the road to the age of smart technology. Therefore, in less than a human lifespan, mankind has made the leap from paper and pencil all the way to the doorstep of artificial intelligence. But what exactly do we call smart? Generally speaking, we use this collective term for everything that gathers data through sensors and processes or filters that information. This is obviously not limited to phones and tablet computers: Today almost everything can be smart, from our washing machines to our cars or even our clothes. Similarly, smart technology has also worked its way into the world of real estate and an increasing number of buildings are joining the so-called ‘Internet of things,’ entirely new projects and older constructions alike. Smart buildings sit at the center of a progressively integrated built environment where individual homes, transportation and entire cities are endowed with this ‘brainpower’.

Smart technology—a journey in itself

Smart technology remains a highly diversified subject even within the confines of its possible application in buildings. The increased asset value, reduced costs and higher comfort levels are just some of the more prominent benefits of the intelligent, real-time use of data and connectivity. The MIPIM workshop dedicated to these innovative buildings was largely focused on the aspect of energy efficiency.

The reason the topic is so diversified is that we are not only talking about a new set of tools and devices that were developed to perform a given number of tasks, but about a completely new approach to building management that is conceptualized around learning and flexibility in order to get better over time and to be able to accommodate new technologies in the future. Bruno Gardner, managing director of the Low Carbon Workplace partnership, was the keynote speaker at the workshop. Gardner summarized the evolution of smart technology in buildings in four main stages:

  • Phase 1: Monitoring—The first stage involves solely data gathering, which can either mean the analysis of the building’s current performance, or the collection of external data such as room temperature, weather, etc.
  • Phase 2: Control—In the second stage a smart building (or any smart object) uses pre-programmed commands to make certain decisions based on the information collected in the previous phase.
  • Phase 3: Optimization—Here, the system takes more control and modifies its rules based on its previous performance in order to improve results. However, these actions are still subordinate to a set of preprogrammed instructions.
  • Phase 4: Autonomy—This is where the products start taking intelligent decisions on their own on how they operate and how they evolve over time—this is already in the realms of artificial intelligence.
The first Passive House-certified BuildTog project in Darmstadt, Germany (image courtesy of BuildTog).

The first Passive House-certified BuildTog project in Darmstadt, Germany (image courtesy of BuildTog).

Generally speaking, opinions about the justification of artificial intelligence (AI) in everyday life are largely divided, but the panel agreed on one thing: smart technology at its current state would have little to no use without the people making an effort to understand the data, working together and making intelligent decisions in the process of planning, constructing and improving the buildings we live, play and work.

Collaboration drives better mixed-use sustainable buildings

There is a long list of things that make a building truly sustainable and get it ready for smart technology. Low material input, high flexibility, ease of use and recyclability are just a few of the things that spring to mind, said Geoffrey Palmer, director of Grontmij’s Energy, Planning and Design Department. What really makes such buildings exemplary is that they fit into their urban environment, they balance many needs and can be used in lots of different ways. Palmer claims all these objectives are only possible to achieve through teamwork. This involves collaboration on many levels and such a network should equally rely on the developers, the future tenants and users, manufacturers, suppliers and the surrounding community in order to render a building smart–even before it’s wired up with the latest technology.

Affordable buildings in nearly-zero energy performance

Building smart doesn’t necessarily spell huge computing power and touchscreens everywhere. Sustainable construction is achievable through smart techniques that have been around for hundreds of years. The European housing companies network EURHONET joined forces with German energy consultancy LUWOGE consult, worldwide leading chemical company BASF and French architect Nicolas Michelin of A/NM/A to create the BuildTog project.DSC_9649

The European Union has set a CO2-emission target of ‘nearly-zero’ for all new residential buildings constructed from 2020 on, and the initiative’s goal is to build a generation of passive houses. The partnership hopes to build up enough experience by working together and sharing their knowledge, so that their buildings will ultimately meet the ambitious target and possibly influence builders, perhaps even create a standard for all new buildings in the future. But then, passive buildings are unique by definition and one design cannot possibly adapt to all the different climates and various urban environments. The team chose the golden mean and worked out a common design, which is flexible enough to be adapted to a wide range of conditions. The first two houses are already finished in Germany and France and six others are in planning or under construction across Europe. BuildTog is seeking the Passive House Institute’s Passive House Certification for its projects.

A small town with big data and countless possibilities

Västerås City in central Sweden is on its way to become one of the first smart cities in Europe. The small town uses the latest technologies to rebuild and improve itself based on the way people are walking its streets.

The Västerås City Corporation initiates projects to develop and improve the city, with the goal of making it the most attractive city center of the old continent for tourists and businesses alike. The problem the company had been facing from the beginning was the lack of accurate real time data regarding the way the city is being used by people, CEO Maria Fors explained. They are now addressing this issue by collaborating with Bumbee Labs. The tech company’s IOPS (Indoor-Outdoor Positioning System) product helps to optimize planning by analyzing pedestrian traffic. The system collects visitor flow data by constantly picking up Wi-Fi signals from smartphones through a dense network of wireless routers, and locating the sources on a map. According to Fors, all this data is anonymous and encrypted, and the system does not access any personal data apart from the location of the devices.

The unique insight has quickly revealed surprising facts about how residents and tourists move around in Västerås, where they spend time, and how much time they spend at a given location. This information can be displayed on heat maps or diagrams, even detailed reports can be generated. To the city management’s astonishment, the very first reports pointed out that what had been thought to be the main shopping street was in fact overshadowed by an adjacent street in terms of costumer activity. Another feature will help determine the major bike routes, and virtually everything else related to traffic can be optimized over time. And what is most important, the decision-making will be driven by data instead of intuition thanks to smart technology.

Read Part 1 here.