Bruce Duyshart on why smart building will actually be more intelligent – and sustainable

A new crop of smart buildings is soon coming online, according to smart building strategist Bruce Duyshart of Meld Strategies. He thinks we just might be more than a tad surprised at the outcomes.

So-called smart buildings have been on the cards for several decades now. The truth is that much of the promise has been scaled back to workable realities, often a long distance from their Jetsons-like origins in our imagination.

But that is about to change.

According to smart building strategist Bruce Duyshart, principal of Meld Strategies, the property industry is about to finally see what smart buildings are capable of, as technology finally catches up to the promise of smart buildings and delivers on the wish list.

In particular, keep an eye on two buildings by Charter Hall and another by Investa, he says. These buildings have had long “gestation periods” and details are under wraps, but their unveiling will finally show the step up in deliverables through technology.

The change is thanks to the arrival of common protocols and agreed industry standards.

The earliest iterations of smart buildings, he says, were “a world of pain”, because of the lack of common standards.

“The internet didn’t explode until common standards were developed.

“So now we’re seeing things begin to accelerate as vendors of building technology products begin to adopt more tried and tested open industry IT and internet standards than proprietary platforms.”

The benefits for sustainability could be significant.

Tech innovation can support sustainability and improve the performance and safety of the sector, Duyshart says.

“Not only can you more effectively integrate and remotely manage and control building systems, you can gather a wealth of highly valuable data.”

This means there is now the ability to provide insights that allow building managers to continually improve outcomes.

You can keep micro tabs on your occupancy, in other words.

Going beyond sustainability 101

“How many cars are in the building, how many people? how many bikes? how many lockers are spare?” It’s details like these that can provide good insights that go beyond just cutting energy use and water use, which is really “sustainability 101”.

How technology is deployed though, depends on what problem you are trying to solve. “Have we over utilised or under utilised our resources? What insights have I gained that will result in better user experience or better operational experience?”

There is a changing dynamic going on between the base building and tenants who are doing their own fitout, Duyshart says.

“Historically they’ve been at arm’s length. Typically, the attitude has been ‘here is the shell and do what you want inside your tenancy’. But now it’s the tenants that are the tail wagging the dog. It’s, ‘Our people are really important to us’.”

Keeping the tenants happy is when everything works well

So increasingly, the thinking is to “keep your tenants happy, but the best way to keep your tenants happy is to understand their needs and to ensure that everything works and flows together. And this isn’t so much about technology, it’s about creative thinking, placemaking and working through the fine-grained details to ensure that there is a great lobby, great food and beverages, the place is easy to get in and out of and to stay connected.”

The user experience rules

More than anything Duyshart says, the important thing is the user experience and how people will interact in a social way with each other and their work.

Sure there is the bigger picture of sustainability ratings and issues such as material design; “that’s a rite of passage” Duyshart says, but more important is “the next granular level of how you live your life.”

Residential and offices need similar outcomes

In the modern workplace, you need to apply the same design approaches as you do to residential property.

But in more than one case, he says, even upmarket residential apartment buildings can get things wrong and forget, or just omit, to put in basic technology such as a mobile telephone antenna system. “Who doesn’t use a mobile telephone these days?”

“Put yourself in the shoes of those living there. They want to know: ‘how do I get parcels, groceries or Uber Eats delivered? What if I’m not at home?”

If you’re on Level 27 you have work out the logistics of how to connect with the world outside.

He knows how these things happen. It’s a developer using a “cost plan on the back of an envelope” for the square metre cost rate of building based on traditional costs. The cost of providing mobile phone reception is relegated to some other component marked “extras”.

“Traditionally, the focus has been on how you market the location, overall building design and finishes, rather than delivering useful services. Until someone raises these types of ‘liveability’ issues, and suddenly it’s discovered there is no budget for that.”

Time’s up for such lax processes, says Duyshart.

“The reality is that both of these asset classes have to lift their game.

“People are spending a lot of money on rent, both at home and in the workplace.”

The questions they want to ask are: what justifies these rents? how is this space better? how does it fit my work style? is it open and collaborative?

In apartment, the question might be, “how do we share common spaces with each other?”

Residents want to know it’s easy for friends to drop in. They don’t want a lobby that feels anonymous.

“People are over anonymous lobbies,” Duyshart says.

Via6 Seattle, Washington

In Seattle check out Via6 for a memorable apartment experience

One fabulous example of how to get apartment rentals right is Via6 in Seattle in the US.

“It’s ridiculously good,” Duyshart says. From the first instance of walking in the door the experience is uplifting.

“It looks great, it smells great with an open air restaurant, big leather chairs… sandstone fireplace.” Florist, barber shop and bike shop, plus a mezzanine breakout area complete the experience.

“Everyone socialises there,” he says.

There’s also a big commercial kitchen where you can hold events and bring your own catering people.

“Imagine going to a great restaurant with an open communal table and outside seating.”

What this kind of design thinking is doing is “compensating for expensive amenities that are otherwise embedded into an apartment, and putting in communal areas instead, and that develops a community vibe.”

In response, apartments can be a bit smaller, so more affordable.

It’s a WeWork type disruption for resi living

Duyshart says, if he was a developer he’d jump at the opportunity. And it’s ripe for the taking. In the same way that WeWork has disrupted work the potential of this idea is to disrupt apartment living.

Back in Australia Meld says he has some “pretty good clients” who increasingly understand the notion of offering better quality – among them Charter Hall and Crown Group.

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The next wave is on the way

If the current wave of change is green, Duyshart is pretty certain the next wave is smart.

The companies Duyshart works with and what he’s picking up around the traps tells him that that in the coming years we will see a lot of buildings coming to fruition.

Until now standards have been the problem. Or rather the lack of them, until now.

“So now we’re seeing things begin to accelerate and vendors begin to respond.”

We’re starting to see projects with long gestation periods that will demonstrate the future of smart buildings.

To see what he’s talking about watch out for emerging details of Wesley Place at 130 Lonsdale Street in Melbourne great by Charter Hall, 60 Martin Place by Investa, the GPO Tower in Adelaide also by Charter Hall.

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  1. Yes Bruce Duyshart is right, change is on. But soon we are going to have to join up the conversation about what a smart building is and how they will be created. Just now there are too many jumping on the smart building bandwagon with a self serving focus on what’s in it for them. That is not to push back on Duyshart’s points as I agree that buildings will be more customer facing and functional than they ever have been. But they will also need to be more resilient, compliant and sustainable. They will need to be more adaptable and incorporate the ability for future expansion and change of purpose. They will be conscious of their embedded carbon footprint – and that includes what has had to be destroyed to make way for modern edifices that chase down their place in the next coffee table book. And the current methods for rating building will need to change.