photo of buildings during nighttime
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

Commercial and industrial office buildings consume nearly 30% of the world’s energy. What then is the next rational step? Smart building innovation! It is essential in the fight against climate change. Across regions, cities are experimenting with ways to improve air quality, reduce congestion and provide clean, reliable and sustainable energy to their growing populations. Here we explore some ways in which they’re doing it:

1. Electromobility for smart cities

Germany is preparing for this new technology and has committed to put 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2022. In Berlin,  electric cars are already everywhere you look with various convenient charging stations across the city. Electric bikes and e-scooters are commonplace and even e-buses are currently being tested.
Electric vehicles offer drivers cheaper, greener transport, especially when cars are charged using renewable energy. Smart cities like Berlin are also encouraging the electrification of public transport, taxis and commercial fleets. Cities will deploy charging stations to cater for future mobility patterns with a focus on autonomous vehicles and shared mobility to decrease congestion. These stations will need to be integrated with the electricity grid to facilitate smart charging at the best times.

2. Eco-friendly smart buildings

Green walls and rooftop gardens are old news. In some cities, eco-friendly construction has reached a whole new level. From buildings that purify the city air to housing developments that generate more energy than they consume, smart buildings will be springing up all over the cities of the future. 

Comprising sustainably sourced, recyclable building materials, smart buildings are powered by renewable energy sources and have intelligent energy systems at their core to manage the temperature, air quality and security. According to Andreas Koster from Garamantis, an interactive digital installation company, buildings of the future will have different sensors integrated in each room. This gives building owners the ability to centrally manage and adjust settings to maximise energy usage.
Smart buildings are springing up all over the world. In a report on “Agile Cities” the World Economic Forum references several case studies including the 800,000 square-foot Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, USA, that has a central chimney to transfers heat from rooftop solar panels throughout the building. In Turin, Italy, the Agnelli Foundation uses hundreds of Wi-Fi enabled sensors, that collect data relating to occupancy, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration and the status of meeting rooms, to personalise cooling, heating and lighting to individual preferences.

3. Virtual Reality site visits

Virtual Reality is slowly shaping the architecture of the future. The age-old use of pencil and paper to design buildings and spaces is still dominant. However, change is slowly happening with the help of new technologies.

“We can now view the entire construction site in Virtual Reality so that you have the opportunity to walk through the buildings or through the area and can look around and can turn your head to really experience the whole building site.”

4. Pop-up 3D-printed houses

3D printing is a cheaper, quicker and a more innovative way of building in the construction industry, says Berlin-based innovation and design thinking expert, Norbet Hollinger.
“I do believe that we will see the first 3D-printed houses going mainstream in a couple of years.”
WEF’s Shaping the Future of Construction report  estimates that “construction time for some buildings could shrink from weeks to hours, and customised components could be provided at much lower cost”.
Although large-scale 3D printing is still in its infancy, some companies are making strides. In 2018, construction technologies company Icon printed the first legal 3D-printed home built in the United States. This year, the company will create the world’s first 3D-printed community. In France, the first family to live in a 3D-printed house has taken occupancy in their 1022-foot square home in the city of Nantes. The best part of 3D-printing technology is that it allows for temporary and flexible accommodation.

5. Big data in building maintenance

Within the next decade, new buildings will be maintained by an intuitive, integrated digital backbone that controls and measures all facets of the building. The creation of an intelligent building often starts at the construction phase.

“Think of an intelligent brick that has some kind of sensor built in and when you build a house that is completely made of intelligent bricks, all of a sudden you have a data-collecting house,” says Hollinger.

“The effect is immense, you can basically predict when you need a new roof or when you need to rebuild certain parts of the house. So, basically the whole maintenance of the building is being automated.”

This technology is even being extended to cities that are using data to revolutionise  their spaces. Santander in Spain, for example, is a real life smart city – thanks to thousands of sensors. The sensors draw data to control everything from paid parking using mobile phones to intelligent streetlights and even smart bins that send reports when they are full. The city also has an automatic irrigation system as well as apps that make it easier to find services such as transport and restaurants.

6. Co-living and co-working

The on-demand, sharing economy is also revolutionising the property market that is having to find innovative ways like the development of co-living and co-working spaces to service tenants and buyers seeking flexible and affordable occupancy.

“If you know what your client’s needs are, you can create value out of that – offering flexibility for booking rooms and flexibility of apartments. I think this is where you make create value with services.”

Thierry Beaudemoulin, Covivio, property fund.

Leading the way in the co-living space are real estate start-ups – known as Proptech companies like Berlin-based Medici Living Group. The Group develops affordable, tech-enabled and space-efficient co-living spaces for students and young professionals who want to be part of a community. The entire  process of booking and generating rental contracts is all done online, which means tenants can instantly book and move into a flat-share. All utilities and Wi-Fi are included in the cost.
Offering a hotel/apartment hybrid, Medici gives residents a private en-suite bedroom and communal kitchens, living areas, workspaces, laundries and gyms. Its buildings feature weekly networking events and an app that residents can use to book comprehensive services and utilise
smart-living technologies. The co-living movement comes hot on the heels of the co-working trend that has taken root in cities around the world.

Co-working poster child WeWork, the biggest office tenant in Manhattan, offers super sleek workspaces with all-inclusive amenities from reception to coffee and IT services. Built around the community model, the company gives you access to a global network of entrepreneurs and innovators.
Thierry Beaudemoulin, CEO of Berlin-based property investment firm Covivo says success in the shared living and working market is all about flexibility and services provided. Covivo’s Symbiosis 125,000 m², smart working project in Milan is also tapping into the need for a communal working environment and the sustainability trend.

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