Building on Buildings 2.0: Our takeaways from the conference

It’s been 1 week since our Buildings 2.0 conference — plenty of time to download, process, and digest.

But after attending a conference and absorbing many compelling ideas, it’s easy to return to the daily grind without a clear understanding of how to move toward making the visions shared at the conference a reality.

To this end, we’ve put together a few ideas that might help drive progress — and perhaps, when we reconvene in 2018 for Buildings 2.0, we’ll have positive, real-life results to share with one another!

To help break down the information, attendees collaborated in groups after the morning sessions and presented their most compelling ideas to the room.

Smart vs. intelligent buildings

The distinction between smart and intelligent buildings was a topic of discussion that tied many of the panels together. It gradually became clear that equipping buildings with sensors or using advanced design tools wasn’t enough — instead, we need to understand what the data from the sensors means and how to use this data to improve performance.

The speakers expanded on this general observation by pointing to a few key challenges using case studies and new technologies that are entering the market.

Some of these key challenges include:

  • Continuing to drive innovation in design as it relates to specific parameters (such as environment, zoning, cost, urban form, etc.)
  • Exploring new ways of certifying buildings
  • Understanding how to use new products, materials, systems, and companies
  • Advancing efficient building practices
  • Integrating systems and technologies towards a building operating system
  • Managing risk of new systems, technologies, and design methods

The speakers addressed these challenges in a number of specific ways.

Neil Katz, Associate at Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM), offered a detailed account of how SOM is using computational and parametric approaches to design and fabricate their buildings.

Andrew Witt, Co-founder of Certain Measures, explored ways in which he is drawing upon his background helping architects such as Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel build complex forms to create more efficient ways of using building materials through machine learning and computer vision. He went on to offer examples of how such vision can help owners and designers better understand existing building stock as it relates to future demand and construction.

Jessica Rose Cooper, Chief Commercial Officer at the International WELL Building Institute, Neil Lakomiak of Director of Business Development and Innovation for Underwriters Labs, and Kurt Karnatz, President of ESD, offered alternative perspectives on building certification.

Cooper explored how the WELL Building Standard uses human centered design to improve the quality of space, enhance occupant productivity, and increase the long-term value of a building. In particular, she pointed to the alarming $300B cost of work-related stress in the U.S. and $650B in Europe. She went on to argue that we need to begin thinking of “buildings as a form of preventative care.”

Lakomiak and Karnatz discussed their collaboration to certify data centers. They went on to suggest how we might think of data centers as the intersection of all smart building technology — both because data centers power intelligent building systems and because they are subject to demanding specific operational conditions because they run around the clock and require an extensive amount of power and water to function.

Jeremy Attema, Strategist at Stok, added to this conversation by offering a detailed analysis of how high performance buildings offer a strong return on investment.

Jason Blumberg, CEO and Managing Director of the Energy Foundry, Dan Walsh, Director of Modernization, Major Projects, and Smart Building Technologies at Kone, and AJ Rao, Senior Researcher at USG, shared their insights on how building materials and systems evolve through internal research and development. They also touched on how the incubation and integration of new startups has the potential to disrupt the industry. They each paid particular attention to the increasing importance of open innovation and the challenges that large companies face when considering the adoption of products from young companies.

Rene Morkos, Founder and CEO of Alice Technologies, offered a compelling presentation about the ways artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to revolutionize how building construction is scheduled by relying on a BIM-integrated, generative, recipe, and parametric approach. Alice, he said, can save several months of scheduling and offers a number of solutions for a particular building that allows for variations based on number of teams, time, or cost.

Many of those presenting their work and in attendance were interested in how disparate building systems and data can be integrated. Akit Agarwal, Founder and CEO of Micello, shared his work mapping the interiors of building across the globe in order to turn CAD and PDF drawings into a ground on which app developers can build products. Such a platform would have the potential to integrate all the different building systems and services.

Doug Chambers, Vice President at WeWork, discussed his efforts to develop a comprehensive project and office management system that would have the capacity to manage every aspect of how a customer or contractor interacts with WeWork. Chambers also highlighted their efforts to integrate the design and construction process. Given the sheer amount of square footage they are adding to their platform each month, they can quickly learn and explore many potential solutions to integrated project delivery.

Neil Ross, Business Architect and Strategist at Microsoft, shared how Microsoft developed a building management system for its 500-acre campus in Redmond, WA. Currently, they are integrating a wide range of partners and offering this solution to the broader market.

The IoT ecosystem, according to Ross, lies at the core of a broader investment being made by Microsoft. The company converted a massive amount of data, gathered on their campus, into actionable insights by integrating different building systems into a shared management and analytics platform connected in the cloud via Microsoft Azure. These insights allowed them to make changes that ultimately reduced energy consumption by 18.7 percent. They were also able to increase the productivity of people, reduce operating costs, and optimize building utilization.

Throughout the conference, the question of risk in adopting new technology continued to pop up as a common theme. It was particularly prevalent during the panel on “how contractors and building owners are driving innovation,” where Joe Harris, Asset Manager at JMB Financial Advisors, Charles Porter, Owner of Development Management Associates, and Benjamin Stephenson, Technical Services Manager at Pepper Construction discussed ways to pilot new technology and the integral relationship between innovation and sustainability.

How do we integrate and action on these initiatives?

To support the integration of different building materials, systems, and technologies, we must pay careful attention to the occupant in order to extend design and services from their needs and habits. Building owners who demand better performance — yet seek to hold onto assets for longer period of times — will also drive integration. Value will also be a key driver — both quantitative in terms of money, time, and energy saved and qualitative in terms of the comfort of the space, the way it exhibits a style that attracts people, and its overall health.

Getting our buildings to where we want them to be will take time and require some fundamental shifts in how we approach building and development, we can take immediate steps by continuing to gather and share best practices and assemble a comprehensive index of tools, technologies, and tactics for building more sustainable, resilient, and profitable buildings. And lastly, remain engaged with groups initiating new projects and maintaining existing projects and hold them accountable to these best practices.