Smart tech: another layer of flexibility

An adaptable overlay of smart modes could help buildings to remain useful for longer

June 2021

Colorado Innovation Centre
At its Colorado innovation centre, WSP has developed a VR model that can be used to visualize the data from its workplace multisensors

Upmarket cars can adjust their suspension and engine tuning to provide different driving modes at the touch of a button, so by selecting “sports”, “comfort” or “economy” mode, the driver effectively gets three cars in one. According to Lucy Casacia, vice president of smart solutions at WSP in Canada, this is exactly the kind of flexibility that could enable buildings to remain useful for longer. 

“Imagine ‘pandemic mode’ as an example. You could clean the air of a high proportion of bugs by equipping the HVAC system with HEPA filters and UV lighting"

Lucy Casacia, WSP

“Imagine ‘pandemic mode’ as an example,” she says. “You could clean the air of a high proportion of bugs by equipping the HVAC system with HEPA filters and UV lighting. But the mode would be controlled by the building management system so you only use it when the need arises.” Or a building could respond to a threat by entering “secure mode”: “So the door you normally just walk through requires a pass to open it, or even biometric recognition, depending on the level of concern. Again, you only use it when you need it.”

These technologies have reduced significantly in price in recent years, she adds. “If they keep your building useable and relevant, or help your workforce stay healthy and productive, then smart additions like this should prove more than cost-effective.”

The ultimate flexible building

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Inflexible buildings, Casacia points out, are good only for service providers who have to come in to alter them on an ongoing basis. “They thrive on modifications. But as an asset owner it’s challenging because you have ongoing cap-ex. Occupiers need flexibility now more than ever, so it makes sense to integrate smart design into a building from the beginning.”

Smart buildings are not only valuable in extreme situations: “Essentially, a workforce has to feel comfortable and secure to be productive. By enabling a building to be used flexibly, there is now much more we can do to help that happen.” In particular, employees can now use app-based technology to get what they need from their place of work, something clients are increasingly calling about. For the Toronto offices of a prominent developer, WSP supported the design of a master control dashboard for all the building management subsystems, some of which can be controlled by building users via their own devices. “They can choose to work in a cooler or more naturally ventilated part of the building. If the solar shading makes them gloomy, they can identify brighter areas or feed back that the shading is too much. In other words, the building has the flexibility to adjust in real time to the needs of its users.”

The system is underwritten by sensors that inform people not only of environmental conditions, but occupancy levels, adds Casacia. “So as well as allowing people to choose an area of the building that is right for them and what they want to do, it allows space to be used efficiently. More people get to use a building comfortably, so as an owner you get more from your property.

“Developers are not always aware of what technology can do for them, so we are showing them the art of the possible.”

This article appears in The Possible issue 07, as part of a longer feature on flexible buildings

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