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A smarter building is one that monitors and orchestrates a multitude of technological resources necessary to operate the structure in an optimized manner and engages the tenants to have direct personal impact on the environment through interactions between the technology and themselves.

The definition varies around the globe depending upon the needs of the building within its location.  Buildings in Dubai need to cool tenants.  Buildings in Moscow need to warm tenants.  Buildings in Mexico City need to protect and secure tenants.  While buildings in Tokyo need to mitigate impacts from earthquakes and protect tenants in a different way.  A few definitions are provided at the end of the article for further consideration.

In every case, a smarter building needs to make the best use of resources and manage waste.  Aspects include:

  • Heating and Cooling
  • Air Handling and Air Quality
  • Interior Lighting and External Light Management
  • Electricity Conservation
  • Fire and Gas Detection
  • Systems Control for Elevators and Escalators
  • Renewable Energy – Solar, Wind, Steam, and Biomass
  • Water and Waste Water Management
  • Recycling, Garbage and Rubbish Management
  • Green Walls and Rooftops
  • Physical Security
  • IT infrastructure for data, voice, and video
  • Smart Parking

It is also important for a smarter building to provide effective services for technology as well as for the people who live and work within the building.  Many businesses that would occupy a smarter building will use technology as a part of their business operations, so this equipment needs to be housed in a facility that duly accommodates the powering, heating, cooling, and air handling needs for servers and storage systems.  While cloud computing is popular today eliminating the need for full scale data centres, hybrid cloud is also popular therefore smaller scale telecom closets and simple data rooms are still desired.


The next generation building needs to be interconnected.  They need to connect systems that support the structure and permit these systems to interact with each other.  As well, these systems need to interact with the people in the building and with the community that aggregate to become a smarter city where the building is located.

These interactions need to occur in real-time and will be monitored locally and remotely for observation of trends and patterns, situational awareness of problems and failures, and for control or restoration of services when something does go wrong.  Preventive maintenance is a major aspect of every smarter building therefore analytics and other telemetry systems need to work constantly to watch the building and ensure its performance.

By using metrics for performance management, building owners can lower operating costs, prolong equipment lifecycles, produce less greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately better serve the needs and wants of the tenants.

By linking to external operators like the electrical and water utilities, the building can become an integrate part of the city’s ecosystem and respond as necessary to requests for demand side management to shed load off the power grid or curtail water usage during drought.

Next generation buildings possess green rooftops that provide energy efficiency and a pleasant environment for tenants to relax.  Even older buildings can be retrofit with green walls and green rooftops.

Rooftop Garden

David Garcelon, executive chef, in the rooftop garden at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. 

Green rooftops are a powerful use of space to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Many buildings now have green rooftops creating relaxation spaces with trees, grass, and gardens to be enjoyed by the tenants.  Some have create productive gardens on the rooftops to grow fruit and vegetables.  David Garcelon, a chef, says he enjoys checking on the little alpine strawberries, Malabar spinach, mojito mint and several varieties of wine grapes in his small garden.  But he is not out in his backyard; he’s on the 14th-floor roof of the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, where the view is of the steel, glass and concrete of nearby skyscrapers.  “You can just grab a handful of ripe tomatoes and they’re ready to add to a dish for a small lunch for a board meeting,” said Mr. Garcelon, executive chef of the hotel. “It is a much more interesting way to eat. It is almost inevitably fresher and better.”

Rooftop solar farms are becoming increasingly popular whereby the building can generate electricity to put back on the grid in order to offset electricity buying costs, or if no subsidy program exists, then the building can consume its own electricity instead of buying power from the utilities.

Solar Panels

San Francisco may be known for its fog, but the city wants to turn the sunny days it does get into power for its buildings.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (April 19, 2016)  unanimously passed legislation that would require new construction that is shorter than 10 floors to install solar panels or solar water heaters on top of both new residential and commercial buildings.

According to California law, all new buildings with 10 floors or less must have at least 15% of their rooftops designated as solar ready — meaning not in the shade.  San Francisco now requires those buildings to actually use it for solar panels.

The building and its systems makes use of smart sensors, passive sensors, microcontrollers, microcomputers, and actuators tied to the Internet of Things (IoT) model to bring telemetry forward, share data, set operating parameters, facilitate system interactions, and connect remotely in real-time.  So, common, security protocols are needed to permit safe data interchange and protect against hackers.

These smarter buildings offer automated, safe, well-lit parking structures for cars, motorcycles, and bicycles, with charging ports for electric vehicles.  These parking lots are linked to smartphone apps to advise tenants and guests of the number of remaining parking stalls and provide directions to these spots.

The sole purpose of a modern building is to provide for the functionality and comfort of the tenants.  A smarter building seamlessly and transparently provisions the resources for the tenants to execute their mission, whether it be for commerce or residency.  These smarter buildings need to exist in their environment without consuming excessive resources and without harming the environment or society.

To conclude, here are a few definitions of smarter buildings from several credible and recognized sources on the topic.

IBM says “Smarter buildings are well managed, integrated physical and digital infrastructures that provide optimal occupancy services in a reliable, cost effective, and sustainable manner.  Smarter buildings help their owners, operators and facility managers improve asset reliability and performance that in turn reduces energy use, optimizes how space is used and minimizes the environmental impact of their buildings.”

Siemens says that, “only solutions which create the greatest synergies between energy efficiency, comfort and safety and security will be sustainable over the long term … solutions that turn buildings into living organisms: networked, intelligent, sensitive and adaptable.”

The US Government Services Administration (GSA), describing itself as “America’s largest real-estate agency,” says of its mandate is to cut the energy levels of all government buildings by 30 per cent by 2015 and make properties smarter: “Technology alone won’t do it.  The GSA realizes that the smartest part of smart buildings is people and wants to engage them. Providing feedback and information through a dashboard is a good start.  With smart technology, we can learn anything we want about a building and optimize its performance.  But real performance means happier, more productive tenants. And that requires insights into the hearts and minds of the people inside.  What a dashboard can really do is enable better decisions, inspire participation, spread knowledge and best practices, communicate at a human scale and propagate new norms in how we use our buildings.”

Smarter buildings are essential to smarter cities.  Making these resources smarter is underpinning improvements to our communities and to our environment.

Q: How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb?
A: I’ll have an estimate for a comprehensive proposal for you in a week from Monday.


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About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.



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