’Fast buildings’ are set to transform the way our workspaces operate
It might initially seem strange to talk about the “speed” of a building, after all, they certainly aren’t moving anywhere. But increasingly, as our industry rightly thinks more about how we can integrate technology into the built environment, we’re exploring the concepts of “fast” and “slow” buildings.
A “slow” building is one where the environment is considered thermally heavyweight – the internal fabric of an office, for example, will influence the temperature of the space over time while a “fast” building is more reactive, via the use of technology adapting to the requests made by its occupants on a more immediate basis.
To realise the potential of “fast buildings”, we are seeing a heightened demand for our workplaces to make the most of technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. The result is a new generation of offices that are more responsive to their external and internal environments or, as described in the BCO’s new research “Fast and Slow buildings”, a generation of “fast buildings” that can respond to on-demand requests from their occupiers.
The result is a new generation of offices that are more responsive to their external and internal environments
This is a broad description of how new technology is set to revolutionise the modern workplace, but there are three key areas where fast buildings will have a significant impact:
Achieving greater environmental efficiency
In the near future, smarter sensors in offices will allow levels of occupancy to be ascertained with greater granularity. As such, environmental control, lighting and other building systems could automatically be shut down when not required, thereby reducing energy consumption within the office.
In the longer term, a fast-building system with the ability to predict how it will be occupied could precondition the work environment to minimise significant temperature changes. This would reduce energy usage further, improve a building’s environmental credentials and, ultimately, save tenants’ money.
Giving employees greater control of their environment
Providing employees with an aspect of control over their environment is understood to have a big impact on perceived comfort leading to increased productivity and lower operational costs.
Fast-response buildings will be able to help achieve this – delivering feedback from users through, for example, a smart phone app, to internal hardware systems. Instantaneous adjustments to temperature, humidity and lighting can then be made according to inhabitant’s requests.
Longer term, machine learning can use stored employee preferences to anticipate desired temperature changes, and deliver personalised settings – meaning offices will eventually be able to use data to intuitively adapt around its occupants.
Making data protection a key consideration in office management
The consequence of offices becoming more in tune with our needs is that apps and control systems are collating a growing amount of data on the people working inside the buildings. With the implementation of GDPR, those who build and run offices have more responsibility than ever to consider the privacy of tenants.
On the face of it, these requirements are likely to place limitations on the systems that can be used but there are work-arounds. A camera that records occupancy can do so without tracing the identities of employees.
With the implementation of GDPR, those who build and run offices have more responsibility than ever to consider the privacy of tenants
Those watching the footage will see Doctor Who-like silver figures, rather than identifiable employees so facilities managers can deliver practical updates to the working environment while protecting staff.
As we consider how to best apply new technologies to our offices for the benefit of tenants and employees alike, uses of artificial intelligence will continue to evolve at pace. Regardless of how AI is used, the key is to ensure that decisions about building infrastructure allow for flexibility.
It’s up to us as an industry to provide businesses with new, centrally-integrated workplaces and ensure that our offices can evolve alongside new technologies for years to come.
Elaine Rossall is chair of the BCO Research Committee and head of UK offices research and insight at Cushman & Wakefield