22 December 2011

Intelligent Cities

This month's Intelligent Cities seminar hosted by CIBSE's Intelligent Building Group at the Science Museum provided a stimulating insight into aspects of the city of the future. My electric hover transporter had failed to start due to a lack of battery power - so I took the tube to South Kensington.

If I had been in Seoul, South Korea, I could have taken the opportunity to shop at the station's virtual supermarket, zapping images of products on shelves displayed on the platform edge safety screens - the goods delivered straight to my house long before I had returned home.

The seminar led by Professor Derek Clements-Croome of Reading University, focussed on ways to optimise our diminishing global resources to maintain our urban way of life. This was a form of living that everybody in the room, based on a show of hands, was committed to. 70% of the world population is expected to be urbanised so the joys and problems of city living will be widespread.

Speakers ranged from academics at the leading edge of urban planning, including ARUP's Smart Cities Programme, to Sarah Daly a consultant from mygreeneye focussing on behavioural change and the benefits that a group of individuals can make collectively. Views of architects, energy providers and digital communication experts filled the rest of the day - providing ideas on physical solutions that built upon the systems currently found within the urban realm, but often reliant upon the sharing of both knowledge and networks.
The technology discussed offered an insight into how our current building control and operation systems are often inadequate and do not talk to each enough, an issue that is currently being addressed by the soft landings programme of building aftercare. There is also strong interest in using data post completion in-use, rather than design stage information captured in BREEAM and EPC assessments. As one of the speakers said - data needs to be turned into intelligence. Learning from our mistakes will be one of the most valuable lessons - Carbon Disclosure is part of this process and the social media network might just be the forum to get 'citizen engagement'.

As the event was organised by CIBSE - services solutions were likely to play a major part of the day, but this was well balanced with the human perspective. One lone voice from the audience made a valid plea to carefully consider advancement in the city with preservation of heritage - our cultural richness offers amenity value that is often undervalued, particularly in a forum focussing on technology. Sarah Daly picked up on this point identifying the importance of amenity to personal wellbeing and drew on correlation between gadgets and poor mental health. Her wider research has led to the creation of 'People Payback Calculator' that analyses the financial benefit of creating a healthy low carbon workplace - three parameters inform the research sickness absence, productivity and staff churn. This is the type of data, leading to useful intelligence that will allow clients to be informed about their investment in either new or refurbished building.

At our own refurbishment project for the Institution of Civil Engineers at 8 Storey's Gate, this people productivity data was provided by the services consultant - but ultimately had limited influence on the project's financial appraisal. The client had a wider overriding remit to achieve environmental excellence. The architectural profession should be seeking to utilise this data as we all know that 80% of the current building stock will be around in 2050....don't we?