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Why Buildings Should Run Like Countries

August 19th, 2019 00:00

Imagine if countries like Canada, China, Australia, the UK or the US had no provinces or states. Imagine if they were run solely by a federal government.

The management of large federal resources such as energy, water, transportation and communication networks would likely be more efficient. However, the needs of local population groups would be poorly met. In many cases, the specific needs of individuals would not be met at all.

From a human perspective, running a country with only a federal government would make no sense.

And yet, that is precisely how we operate buildings (which also exist to serve people).

Within buildings, the federal system is managed by the BMS (Building Management System). It does a very good job at managing federal resources such as energy, water, transportation and communication networks. It does a miserable job at responding to the needs of tenants and a non-existent job at responding to the needs of individual occupants. This is especially true when it comes to air quality.

Four years ago, with healthy buildings on the rise, we predicted the emergence of the ‘State’ system in buildings in the form of a rapid-response, local system managed by a ‘mini-BMS’. We also predicted a shift in power from ‘Federal to State’, i.e. from central BMS to mini-BMS. Finally, we predicted that this shift would be driven by the need to better manage indoor air quality.

In truth, these were all easy predictions, akin to driving a car towards a wall and predicting impact. Air quality is the main pillar of building health and an area of low refinement when it comes to central mechanical systems. From a health, safety and wellness point of view, air quality data trends in buildings were clear on all counts: the Federal was struggling and the embryonic States were thriving.

Most importantly, the data showed a clear path forward: the most effective solutions would be achieved by a very close collaboration between Federal and State, between central BMS and local mini-BMS.

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The challenge lay in optimizing collaboration between Federal and State.

This challenge led to the creation of the RESET Core & Shell Standard, first piloted by Tishman Speyer in 2015. The Standard was designed to track and communicate the quality of air being delivered by building owners to their tenants via sensors. The RESET Core & Shell Standard laid the foundations for assigning responsibility: codifying who (Owner or Tenant) was best positioned to manage specific resources and at what level. Combined with the RESET Interior Standard, it also codified what was a realistic, ongoing deliverable for each party.

The result was a critical step forward in terms of de-conflicting issues around tenuous topics such as under-performing air quality. By clearly defining responsibilities and outcomes, it aligned stakeholders on how to best achieve a common goal. It also opened a path for new technology to emerge.

Emergence of State: A brief overview.

  • The State system was originally introduced to solve problems at which the central Federal system was failing: pollution surges.
  • Very rapidly, the State system was shown to deliver better results, faster - all while using less energy.
  • With more data in hand, the State system proved to be even more effective at solvinganother critical problem with Federal systems: keeping occupants healthy after hours (evenings and week-ends).
  • The State system was further adapted to address hyper-local issues, like rapid pollutant accumulation in conference rooms.

With these observations in hand, backed by data and dozens of case studies, it became apparent that a level of responsibility could be shifted away from Federal systems to great benefit. For example, in a building with combined Federal and State filtration systems, filtration requirements at the Federal level (central / core & shell) could actually be reduced. Rather than specify filters to handle worst case outdoor pollution levels, filters could be specified to handle average outdoor pollution levels. As a result, less energy would be required to push air through filters on a daily basis. On days of pollution surges, State systems would then power up to remove excess pollution from outdoors. The net result would be interiors that achieve much higher performance at a reduced energy cost, on demand.

Moreover, it is also became clear that these lessons could be applied to building resiliency goals. For example, as we enter a world of outdoor climate extremes, the Federal + State approach could be used to better manage heating and cooling needs.

These principles continue to guide the development of the RESET Standards, with the goal of achieving health & safety, as well as energy & climate targets.

Where are we today?

Today, rapid response, mini-BMS based systems for local air quality management have emerged out of Asia and are spreading around the world. They mostly consist of ceiling mounted recirculation units designed to scrub out major pollutants, including particulate matter, CO2, Bacteria, VOCs, Ozone, and NOx. Driven by sensors, they power up and down automatically based on detected pollution levels.

Although these local systems reduce filtration requirement for central systems, none of them are yet set-up for two-way dialogue. In a few cases, local systems ‘talk’ or feed data back to central ones, but they still don’t receive feedback. This is entirely the result of slow moving BMS providers whose systems are still mostly closed, i.e. only designed to receive data.

As a result, we’re currently seeing component manufacturers, such as fans and filter companies, step out of the shadows and embrace commercial IoT to by-pass central systems, enabling the critical components of both Federal and State to start communicating with one another.

However, until the Federal and State establish two-way communication, owners and tenants are starting by observing one another. Large tenants are leveraging the RESET Standard to evaluate the air quality being delivered to them by owners and operators. Building owners are doing the reverse, enabling them to rapidly identify the source of indoor pollutants that come from tenant spaces and addressing those pollutants before they affect neighboring tenants.

Ultimately for building owners, the goal of leveraging the RESET Standard is more than just to serve as a health & safety watchdog: it is to help rethink how buildings should be designed for health, safety, resilience and operational efficiency, as described above.

As a result, only 18 months after its official launch, RESET Core & Shell is being used internationally, across entire building portfolios. On the one hand it is helping owners and tenants define where their respective roles and responsibilities start and stop. On the other, it is helping them collect data in view of designing healthier, greener and more responsive buildings. Buildings operating with Federal and State systems are the way of the future, but much remains to be learned.

Ultimately, providing a system for the tenant to plug into is the building owners responsibility. One developer and operator at the forefront of this is Hines, who is actively experimenting with the integration of a ’State’ system within their own office, located within their newest office tower, One Museum Place. Both the project’s office interior and tower leverage the RESET Standards (Interior and Core & Shell, respectively) to inform the selection of solutions, targeted performance and communication of the overall outcome.

Where are we headed?

Over the past few year we have worked closely with building developers, engineers and product manufacturers around the world, enabling case studies and providing insights on the future of building design and operations. Several things have become clear:

  • The age of buildings with behemoth Federal systems / central mechanical floors is over. Although effective at meeting green building goals, they struggle to attain healthy building goals. Retro-fitting these buildings with State systems can be done easily and effectively, but miss out on overall efficiency gains.
  • The age of floor-by-floor mechanical systems is back (note that it never went away in Asia). Providing the highest level of local control, the highest performers will consist of a network of mini-BMS tying into a much slimmer central BMS. These networked mini-BMS will also allow for the highest level of healthy building results at the lowest energy cost.
  • The role of central BMS will shift to focus on resource sharing and two-way data exchange as opposed to one-way resource distribution.

Yet perhaps the clearest realization is that building owners and BMS providers who fail to adapt will see their own Kodak moment and dwindle to irrelevance. After all, 52% of the Fortune 500 companies that existed 15 years ago no longer exist. Real-estate and related tech will not be spared.