London, for example, has been experiencing an unprecedented boom in commercial office space and this is now spreading to other major UK cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. There is simultaneously an evolution occurring globally in the way we design and create our buildings.
Worldwide, the trend is to create buildings with the final user-occupants top of mind from day one.
The growing user-centric construction trend is now supported by some key standards developments, which are again percolating into design and construction practises across the globe.
For example, from April this year the UK Government will require all firms involved in creating public buildings in the UK to conform with Level 2 Building Information Modelling (BIM) demands. Level 2 BIM requires much tighter, ideally 3D model-based, building specifications to ensure smoother commissioning so that they work better for occupants from the outset and are easier to maintain, underpinning upgrading schedules for buildings’ equipment and systems.
The Government Soft Landings (GSL) protocol, which demands that new government buildings are designed with user experience in mind, is also being rolled out. The ‘soft landings’ strategy is being adopted to foster a ‘bump-free’ transition from construction to occupation and optimise operational performance.
The Soft Landings Framework is a joint initiative between BSRIA (Building Services Research and Information Association) and UBT (Usable Buildings Trust).
The global organisation BSRIA is a test, instruments, research and consultancy organisation serving the construction and building services markets. It provides specialist support services for design, construction, facilities management, product testing and market intelligence.
Available on the BSRIA website GSL is an open-source framework intended to “smooth the transition into use and to address problems that post-occupancy evaluations show to be widespread.” It was updated in 2014 to align with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) 2013 work stages.
This framework includes five key stages:
Surrounding these major developments is the wider trend to use technology to get Building Management Systems (BMS) and Building Automation Systems (BAS) talking to each other and working more in the interests of the occupants of that building.
Building Internet of Things (BIoT), in which all building control systems are accessible over the internet (and can therefore be controlled via any smart and mobile device), is fast becoming a reality.
Truly ‘smart’ buildings are finally being built.
However, it is not just about the technology but how it is used to help building users. Award-winning architect and innovative design-thinker Paul Fletcher recently said that BMS’ need to change from what many are today – “making the building’s user feel dumb” by taking control away from the user – to instead handing power back to them.
By the same token, he believes that architects and developers need to move away from the current mindset, which divorces the user ‘as the layman’ from the design process. Instead they should involve them collaboratively in creating the building around future occupants’ specific needs.
So systems that control buildings should instead enable users to control them. And building firms should be more focused on supplying value added services associated with the smooth running of a building rather than just putting up a building and walking away. The idea of ‘Building as a Service’ is even coming through into public discourse.
Coincidentally, smart technology being specified in a new commercial building project makes all this possible. New buildings are built with multiple sensors everywhere from IP cameras, to fire and smoke detectors, thermostatic controllers, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) control systems, biometric readers for access control and much more besides. All these IP devices are also getting more intelligent.
IP video management systems (VMS) such as Milestone XProtect are now capable of turning images from the front of a car, as it enters a building’s underground car park, into a number plate which can then be checked against an database of authorised license plates. Once a match is established, the car park barrier can be automatically lifted.
By contrast, an image or video stream of an unauthorised vehicle can be sent automatically to a remote security manager’s mobile device and they can make a decision whether to release the barrier, or not, having established the credentials of a visitor through the video and had a short conversation.
We are also seeing visitors being logged on an access control system as visitors at reception. Once tagged, they can be tracked around a building. So an alert can be sent to the VMS if that unique visitor is picked up in a restricted area, for example.
The breach can then be sent with a snapshot image from the nearest camera verifying the context for this breach, helping the security guard to establish rapidly, again via a smart device of choice, whether this represents a genuine security threat.
Infrared network cameras are increasingly being deployed in buildings as well. These are not only useful from a security perspective to detect activity, in a restricted server room for example, but also to help manage buildings’ HVAC systems.
Thermal images from these cameras can help show areas of a building where heat is leaking away – perhaps where a window has been left open, or a window frame has been compromised and needs maintenance or replacement.
These sensors can also help isolate the parts of the building that need heating or air conditioning and the parts where occupancy-levels are low and therefore no HVAC is required. For example, as people leave a meeting room the sensors can send an alert to the central BMS which would trigger HVAC and lighting systems to automatically shut down.
As such, the vision for future smart buildings is about creating buildings that are intelligent enough to react to usage levels and environmental changes dynamically.
So if it is a hot day and the server room is running very hot, thereby compromising the hard disk drives (HDD) of servers (and therefore corporate data they hold), once a temperature threshold is reached systems could send an alert and trigger the air-conditioning to increase output in that area.
Video management systems such as XProtect, can act as an intelligence centre or visualisation hub where alerts are verified alongside any visual evidence that the buildings’ sensors can provide. Is the increase in heat in that server room actually because a server is running abnormally hot (which is often a precursor to HDD failure) for example?
Or worse, is there a small fire underway which needs immediate attention? This intelligence can be gleaned by marrying a temperature threshold alert with a real-time video image. Based on a verified level of threat, the right person can be sent to deal with the problem.
Extending the thinking a little further into services within a building: it would be great if a large company could provide a desktop PC webcam view of the central cafeteria to staff so they can time their lunch-break when queues have died down.
Equally, why not turn video recordings of that cafeteria’s occupancy through entire lunch periods over several weeks into hard data about numbers of people using the facilities there? This data could be turned into intelligence about peak usage of the facilities, establishing whether changes to the service need to be made to better meet the needs of employees and visitors.
So it is possible to see video management systems sitting right at the centre, integrated with BMS’ and taking in and making sense of data from multiple smart sensors, creating intelligence out of data from multiple integrated IP devices.
In this vision, XProtect can be used to not only enable more comprehensive building security, but also more intelligent and responsive building management, as well as building services optimisation.
Now that is a vision worth pursuing as it offers much greater control for buildings’ users. It is also food for thought for architects, designers, construction firms, BMS providers, building services providers and facilities managers alike.
It is therefore no surprise at all that we are starting to see mergers and acquisitions bringing security product manufacturers together with building control systems players.
Just recently the Tyco security products provider merger with building management systems provider Johnson Controls shows that the power of bringing smart building systems together with security management is not lost on some of the bigger players in both of these converging markets.