These Walls Can Talk

Smart building The Registry real estate

Buildings get smarter and so do workplaces.


By David Goll

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n an era of rapid technological progress, is there a reason that an office complex or classroom building—both housing lots of smart people—can’t elevate its own IQ?

In a smart building, software allows communications among traditionally separate systems running everything from lighting, heating and ventilation to security and telecommunications. The systems’ convergence creates a single intelligent network that allows a building to react dynamically to real-time conditions using input from every source attainable. Moreover, smart buildings are the backbone of smart work environments, something that tenants increasingly want.

[quote]”They are engineering smart buildings with automation, which facilitates the creation of smart work environments.” Bob Brown, chief executive and co-founder, Fremont-based Teladata LLC[/quote]

Energy is typically the largest expense for any U.S. building owner or user, accounting for 30 percent of operating costs in an average commercial building, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Overall, commercial and industrial buildings use $200 billion a year nationwide on power, producing nearly half of the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Smart buildings are being credited with reducing energy use from 20 percent to 30 percent as compared to conventionally built and operated structures.

“The scope of thrift is limitless once you have all of these systems exchanging data,” said David Wilts, an evangelizer for the get-smart trend and an associate principal for Arup Group Ltd., a multinational engineering, design and consulting firm based in London with San Francisco offices.

Among his clients, building owners primarily want the efficiencies, cost savings and value-add aspects of smart buildings, said Bob Brown, chief executive and co-founder of Fremont-based Teladata LLC, a physical infrastructure consultant. Tenants want “smart environments” where employees can work collaboratively on any number of digital devices anywhere in and around their offices. “They are engineering smart buildings with automation, which facilitates the creation of smart work environments,” Brown said.

Westfield Group LLC’s network infrastructure manager, Tyler Kelly, said the mall company is automating Westfield Labs at 835 Market St., adjacent to the Westfield San Francisco Centre. “Efficiency and cost savings were the main motivations,” he said. Westfield Labs develops digital innovations to introduce at the company’s more than 100 upscale retail centers worldwide. That includes San Jose’s Valley Fair and Oakridge and 19 more in California.

In Los Angeles, Westfield shifted its U.S. headquarters from Wilshire Boulevard to a Century City commercial complex in May. The Australian company upgraded a three-story, 120,000-square-foot space housing 550 employees with an automated system governing lighting, extensive video-conferencing equipment and scheduling of the office’s more than 40 conference rooms, among other activities.

Fresenius Medical Care North American, a Waltham, Mass., -based provider of kidney dialysis services and renal care products, opened a 230,000-square-foot office with sales operations, a call center, manufacturing and research and development at 4040 Nelson Ave. in Concord in late August. It added a 50,000-square foot warehouse.

The company spent more than a year designing a smart and technologically advanced operation to remain competitive for the next decade or more, said Nathan R. Minchey, Fresenius senior manager of global manufacturing operations. After gutting the former Siemens AG manufacturing plant, Fresenius added energy-efficient LED lighting throughout and automated all lighting, cooling and heating controls.

Employees can walk into the complex’s myriad conference rooms, pull a cable out of a large meeting table, plug it into a laptop and automatically activate lighting, TV and sound, Minchey said. When unplugged, the TV and audio functions turn off automatically in one minute, lights in 20 minutes. Fifteen-ton air handlers sense temperature and humidity levels outside the buildings, adjusting air and other conditions inside accordingly. The plant manufactures large hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis machines that weigh up to 5,000 pounds apiece.

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