“The smart building sector is not in the business of technology. We are in the business of occupant wellness.”
This statement by smart building consultancy Memoori is a key takeaway of its report, The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the Internet of Things Era.
Conducting in-depth surveys of commercial real estate end users, Memoori set out its research on the premise that the workplace of the future isn’t driven by technology at all.
Rather, people are leading technology into the future they desire: “For example, smart environmental controls are starting to give power to the individual, allowing them to create their ideal environment for maximum productivity at any given time.”
This humanistic approach to technology is at once obvious, as well as a timely reminder for architects—a profession that is no stranger to critiques of designing too much of buildings, and too little for people.
As Guzmán de Yarza Blache, co-founder of J1Arquitectos said in 2017, “The biggest error designers make is not putting the user in the center.”
“You have to consider the people that are using the space as the client, not the person who has contracted your services,” he added.
When it comes to smart buildings—defined at the Sustainability Awards as buildings that use automated processes to control their operations and improve sustainability and performance—the same advice holds true. For smart building designers, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ can easily overpower the ‘why’, which could lead to ineffective strategies and systems being implemented.
Instead, Memoori says, the best solutions are not necessarily expensive, but those that “require a clear vision of what the optimum workplace should be”.
Designing a sustainable smart building therefore shifts the focus from the technology to building occupants and their health, wellbeing and comfort, as well as to the larger society.
For example, an automated lighting system might create efficiencies in energy use, but it also creates ideal conditions for occupants. Building management controls may help cut electricity costs for owners and tenants, but it also has a greater impact on reducing carbon emissions.
“That is the key to the technological advancements of today, designing and operating buildings for their occupants and for wider society,” Memoori says.
“If the building is a school it should help teachers teach and students learn, if it is a hospital it should helps doctors and patients heal, if it is an office it should help employees be more productive and help managers manage.”
“Instead of concentrating too much on what technology advancements can achieve, we must focus on what technology can do for us.
This subtle difference will not only ensure that technology works for us but it will encourage adoption and use, which should ultimately be the only marker of technology’s success.”