240 Blackfriars UBM2
UBM redefined the way it works at Great Portland Estate's 240 Blackfriars Road

Inside Europe’s smartest offices

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Natalie Holmes

PlaceTech looks at three of Europe’s most impressive Smart Buildings, to find out how new technologies are impacting energy efficiency and enhancing employee experience.

240 Blackfriars, London

A landmark skyscraper by Great Portland Estates on London’s Southbank, 240 Blackfriars is one of the most sustainable buildings in the UK, with an LEED platinum rating and score of 86. This achievement is thanks in no small part to the development’s Smart Building credentials.

240 Blackfriars UBM

Occupied by UBM, a leading B2B events organisation firm, 240 Blackfriars was hand-selected by the company’s building management team for its potential to facilitate a whole new way of working. During the planning phase, it emerged that 58% of desk space in the company’s former building was not being occupied, yet there was a lack of meeting rooms and break-out areas. Mobile working, a new workplace macrotrend, provided the solution.

Rather than simply hot-desking, however, working at UBM is a responsive process.

The majority of the floors are designed to accommodate 140 people, but only have 100 desks, with each department assigned its own ‘neighbourhood’ base. Employees can work wherever they choose, at any given time, bringing overall occupancy up to 90%.

Each employee has a ‘240 passport’ that lets them access the building and its facilities, as well as hot lockers for storing possessions close to their chosen workspace–selected from a large touchscreen on arrival. As well as providing storage space, these smart lockers gather information about how such space is used, to continually improve efficiency.

UBM’s previous office used more energy when staff were not there, than when the space was full. Getting people to turn off unused equipment was a challenge. In 240 Blackfriars, a smart desk-booking system integrated with the electricity supply allows a ‘power off’ strategy—and it’s this that has been instrumental in achieving that platinum LEED rating.

The building also benefits from smart lighting and window blinds, which are in turn integrated into the desk and room booking system. Not only do these technologies have a huge impact on energy efficiency, they also turn the office into an exciting, dynamic place to spend time.

Tyréns HQ, Stockholm

As a multidisciplinary consultancy at the forefront of sustainable development, Swedish company Tyréns worked with IBM on their Stockholm headquarters to find out how people interact with the building they work in.

Rather than produce a passive research report, the company decided to actively examine the impact of smart buildings by experimenting with their own offices. “Rather than just relying on guesses and gut feeling, we wanted real-life analysis of how people actually use buildings,” explains the company’s Building Information Modeling and IoT Strategist, Per Bjälnes. The goal was to accurately answer questions such as, ‘Why is it too hot on this floor?’ and ‘How many people actually use this 12-person meeting room?’

Using Autodesk Revit, a building information modelling (BIM) software, Tyréns was able to create a 3D representation of all the building’s rooms, as well as their furniture, lighting, and heating systems. In combination with 1,000 sensors, the building became a connected whole, with processors receiving and responding to data on temperature, light levels, power usage and movement, and producing real-time visualizations throughout the day and night.

Tyrens IBM Watson

This information allows building managers to make informed decisions about how to keep areas comfortable and efficient, with positive knock-on effects to both workers and the environment—not to mention running costs.

The Edge, Amsterdam

Deloitte’s new Amsterdam HQ, developed by OVG, is a culmination of cutting-edge technology and experiments. The project takes many smart building features to their logical next step, and has been hailed “the smartest office space ever constructed.”

Employees who use the space install a smartphone app, which connects them to the building in ingenious ways. Even before they arrive, the app checks workers’ schedules, and recognises approaching vehicles to allocate conveniently located parking spaces.

One of the key functions of the app is to assign a workstation to staff each day. Rather than each of the office’s 2,500 workers having their own desk, they are assigned a place to work based on their itinerary and preferences, be it meeting room, breakout space, or quiet corner. This enforced flexibility is deliberate, designed to encourage dynamism and enhance productivity by offering variety. What’s more, it means the space itself is used more efficiently. Why power all those desks when fewer than half are used at any one time?

OVG The Edge Deloitte

Workers arrive each day armed with their laptops, and can store their belongings in lockers—again controlled by the magic app. Each time someone enters a meeting room or space, the light and temperature settings respond to that person’s preferences.

Data is harvested by an army of discreet but powerful sensors. The information is then fed to software, which in turn processes and responds in real time, powering down parts of the building that don’t require energy, for example, or warming up areas soon to be occupied.

Unsurprisingly, the Edge’s eco credentials are five star. The building was given a score of 98.4%, the highest ever awarded, by BREEAM, an industry standard environmental assessment. This is not only thanks to hundreds of solar panels, but also to the substantial impact that responsiveness has on waste reduction and resource efficiency.

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