Take a moment to close your eyes and picture your “happy place.” Perhaps you’re floating in a lake or hiking through the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Let your imagination open your senses and become fully immersed in that setting. Now—open your eyes. Were you imagining yourself indoors or outside?
At a recent conference I attended, a panelist asked the audience this question. It was during a Smart Home lecture, and—even then—80 percent of the participants said their happy place was outside.
This highlights a major opportunity within the building industry: To make indoor spaces happier and more desirable. It’s vital for construction industry leaders to work alongside technology innovators and service providers to change the optics of how a person interacts with their surroundings.
As of now, there’s no single industry or company with the resources or motivation to create a seamlessly integrated and connected experience for people. Consider, for example, the following hypothetical living and working situation.
You sacrificed your short commute because you wanted your children to attend school in a specific district. Your office is in the heart of a city, where parking is mediocre at best. After work, you travel in the opposite direction to the grocery store because there isn’t a convenient one nearby. Think about all the failures to connect and inefficiencies inherent in this familiar scenario: The education system isn’t equal, the city’s infrastructure doesn’t meet the needs of its citizens, and developers don’t offer accommodations to enhance the tenant experience.
Sadly, individuals often suffer the consequences when the public and private sectors fail to collaborate. The pendulum is beginning to swing as the public sector is assuming more risk in joint ventures with the private sector—in particular, the building industry and developers who choose where buildings are built, what technology is deployed and how buildings impact our environment. Public sector incentives that mandate energy goals are making products with higher costs more economical and accessible to all.
Builders and developers take pride in the spaces they create, but—at the end of the day—the building occupant or visitor only cares about how they interact with the space. Expectations are evolving as technology expands in our homes and offices. One example is Power over Ethernet (PoE) lighting which uses circadian rhythm controls built into the fixture to mimic the effects of natural light. This helps optimize your internal body clock for a strong work output.
Another example is how an array of sensors can now be deployed to detect a gunshot sound and notify authorities when sensors are triggered—making tenants feel safe in their building. Nissan has incorporated its self-parking car technology into conference room chairs. After a meeting, one clap re-parks the room’s chairs in place, providing perfect order and eliminating the mundane task of resetting chairs manually. Health and wellness, safety, convenience—aren’t these all traits we’d look for in our happy place?
These flashy, high-tech features may attract talent and business, but it’s important to recognize that they’re just putting a bandage over a broken bone. Smart buildings are still like the Internet in the 90s—the technology is there, but the deployment and collaboration need to be refined.
Think of all the connected devices you have in your home: Sonos speakers, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Portal, Harmony remotes, Nest thermostats—the list goes on and on. The consumer electronics industry has developed a pathway for individual devices to connect, but consumers still need third-party hardware or software through a multi-step process to make such a connection.
The Edge building in Amsterdam and Cisco’s HQ in Toronto are leading examples of what most people would consider a “smart building.” These buildings, however, were constructed with a customized solution that’s impossible to replicate or standardize. Thankfully, a new wave of design and deployment is approaching, and it will fully integrate building systems and appliances while also breaking down the construction industry’s persistent siloes.
Drones will soon be delivering building materials to job sites within inches of where they need to be installed, making workers safer and allowing them to complete more projects. Zero energy building initiatives (like McKinstry’s work on the Catalyst Building in Spokane) are creating a new paradigm in sustainable construction. They’re sparking collaboration between engineers and builders on building system selection and deployment—allowing design components to be multi-functional.
The delivery of a smart building shouldn’t be the sole focus of a developer, field laborer, or engineer. Delivery should begin with using the infrastructure of a smart city and then shift to collaborating with neighboring industries. It’s critical to stay knowledgeable about other enterprises, their disruptors and technological trends, because what impacts the tech world will have a ripple effect on the construction industry.
When considering the best path forward, start with the end in mind and ask yourself this simple question: What would it take to make your happy place an indoor space?
Andie Doyle is a Seattle-based project manager at McKinstry.