The population of the world’s cities is growing at a rate of two people per second. Each week, cities are growing by 1.5 million inhabitants. In 2050, the number of people living in cities will be almost as large as the world’s entire population today. As cities continue to grow, the way we construct and manage buildings has never been more critical to global economic and social development. Gert Rohrmann from Siemens Building Technologies UK looks at the challenges these environments present and how new, innovative technologies offer increasingly clearer insights into how workplaces are managed.

The increasing rate of urbanisation in recent decades has led to growth in the construction of high-rise and tall buildings worldwide, particularly in the emerging economies of the world. The key economic driver for the growth of tall buildings is the lack of space in the densely urbanised parts of the world, and this is particularly true for residential developments. The rising population within cities has meant that mixed-use buildings are gaining greater importance and high-rise construction is no longer restricted to the financial and business sectors; instead it is becoming an accepted global model for managing the increasing number of city dwellers that migrate to cities each week.

The key driver for high-rise construction is to save space and accommodate more occupants, compared to lower density buildings. This approach is much more economical, as buying a smaller plot of land and constructing a tall building is more affordable than purchasing widespread terrain. With the rise in urbanisation, tall buildings provide a variety of options for housing and offices, allowing a city to grow without expanding its boundaries or infringing green space or farmland. As an example, London has plans for a further 455 towers, with Canary Wharf and the Docklands areas being focal points for construction.

Tall buildings are increasingly designed as mixed-use structures housing a combination of offices, fitness and lifestyle amenities, cultural spaces, apartments, hotel rooms, and retail and event spaces. These “mini cities” can create a sense of community whilst also promoting the larger community around the building with pedestrian street traffic that benefits local businesses. High-rise construction can also be beneficial to the environment, not only because it takes up less space, but because systems like water, heating, cooling and waste are more cost-efficient when they are being managed across a smaller area, with less distance to travel.

Critically, information and data from multiple sources across high-rise facilities need to be shared to create maximum efficiencies and performance from the investment in building infrastructure and building systems.

Digitalisation means leveraging digital technologies to improve and transform activities within a building; it enables the workforce to operate differently and take advantage of digital tools such as software platforms and mobile devices. At the heart of digitalisation is data, and buildings increasingly generate data. Because sensors and devices are everywhere and the data they supply can be analysed and evaluated, digitalisation will take buildings to the next level in terms of efficiency, safety, security and comfort. The digital transformation in building technology will bring about a paradigm shift for the entire industry; it will lead to new and changing business models. Software will become a central factor, and openness and transparency will be key.

The sheer scale of these modern facilities, density of occupation and growing user demands present specific challenges for safety, security and energy management.

Even within the same building, the needs of different locations will vary considerably, and priority must be given to ensure safety and security measures taken are relevant to the threat, rather than a ‘blanket approach’. A full risk assessment should be undertaken to uncover potential vulnerabilities, understand the impact of intrusion, attack or fire, and identify the optimum response.

Managing an emergency

Centralised command and control platforms manage critical situations and enhance security and safety operations, whilst reducing risks. This is particularly relevant in tall buildings where it is difficult to investigate an incident physically due to the size of the building – this is where technology can help to support the life safety strategy. Building managers are immediately prompted to take the correct action and the software will automatically set in motion a sequence of pre-agreed activities to ensure the right procedures are adhered to, as well as distributing essential information across multiple agencies.

Capitalising on synergies between core sub-systems, such as integration with building management, electronic security, fire safety and power, will provide higher levels of performance from all systems and also create a fully automated approach to task handling and incident management, should there be a critical event. Integration of multiple technologies into a single platform will provide instant situational awareness, improve ‘cause& effect’, distribute information, coordinate responses both internally and with external services such as the Fire Service and manage all these resources. By combining systems and creating a logical sequence, it is possible to limit potential damage.

The following scenario within a high-rise facility illustrates the benefits of technology integration and how this maximises safety across the building:

  • The command platform identifies a sudden rise in temperature across an affected area and alerts operatives
  • Simultaneously a fire is detected, the alarm raised, and video surveillance cameras automatically activated to verify the situation
  • The software prompts a call to the relevant senior management
  • Ventilation systems adjust to prevent smoke from spreading; escape routes are highlighted
  • Emergency lighting systems are activated, and wayfinding instructions set in motion
  • Access controlled doors are automatically opened to facilitate exit; live messaging from the command and control centre alerts personnel using clear instructions and facilitates safe, orderly evacuation to safe muster points
  • Extinguishing systems are discharged to protect critical assets such as data rooms, once the area is vacated
  • Heating and air conditioning systems are turned off to minimise the spread of smoke throughout the building
  • The access control system creates a roll call of people on site to check against the final register of evacuated personnel
  • Live images of the incident are relayed to senior management and authorised staff at muster points using mobile devices

Alarm rules assist operatives in managing response times, actions and feedback to ensure the right procedures are adhered to, as well as distributing essential information to relevant personnel. Exported video can be combined from multiple cameras into one cohesive flow of evidence for analysis and importantly, a full audit of all activity is automatically generated to provide a detailed incident report.

Inputs from multiple devices are now synchronised so that building managers can quickly master each situation and to mitigate human error, decision-making is more systematic, and a logical workflow is followed. Management are automatically updated about the scope of the issue, quickly identifying key parameters such as people in danger and hazardous materials, and providing an audit trail for every action.

Deep integration enables identification and analysis of unusual behaviour and anomalies to facilitate proactive, rather than reactive, decision-making. By combining a wide variety of building and infrastructure systems, and creating a logical sequence, it is possible to limit the escalation of damage.

Energy savings

An important area of integration is to enhance energy efficiency and subsequent cost savings. Integration with security systems has a major role to play in this process as this provides vital information relating to the occupancy of a building.

The installation of presence detection to determine room occupancy, combined with the integration of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting, maximises energy efficiency across all floors. This is further enhanced by the command and control platform’s ability to operate the heating and cooling systems on a demand basis, ensuring that these systems are only in use at the appropriate time, including automatically reducing or dimming lighting in line with the concentration of occupancy, whilst still maintaining suitable levels for an efficient environment.

The software facilitates forensic analysis as data from different sources can be displayed in consolidated formats, and historical analysis enables users to identify and visualise trends in operational performance by comparing current readings with previous data.

Looking ahead

Siemens estimates that the current trend towards IoT (Internet of Things) connectivity will mean that by the year 2030, there will be 50 billion networked devices. According to further predictions, 65% of users will require access to their data at all times, 60% will expect greater transparency in their business processes, and 52% will view digitalisation as a way to optimise their systems.

Intelligent systems and devices supply a wealth of data, the potential of which has so far been virtually untapped. It is already possible to analyse and convert this data into transparent information, using big data applications, which can in turn be fed into linked performance indicators, and in real time. Intelligent algorithms and techniques such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) can assess trends and detect patterns in user behaviour or consumption, making informed decisions, predictive strategies and continual optimisation possible. Effectively creating even smarter buildings.

The building world is changing to an ever-greater degree, influencing how we work, control our environment, enhance safety and use energy resources. Digitalisation will give building owners valuable information on how their buildings are being utilised throughout the day and how usage changes with the seasons, whilst at the same time automatically adjusting and adapting to provide an ideal and safe working and living space for occupants and employees.