For the past decade the success of smart building projects has often been measured by a building’s rating on a recognised environmental assessment method. For example, Siemen’s The Crystal building achieved LEED Platinum and BREEAM Outstanding certifications, while Bloomberg’s new London headquarters boasts a 98.5% BREEAM score. Environmental sustainability has become the key factor on which new developments look to ‘out smart’ existing or competitor buildings.
However smart buildings today have a much broader mission. Alongside environmental sustainability, high performance buildings are being designed to improve occupant experience and wellbeing in the hope this will boost worker productivity and attract talent. For example, when Yum China opened a new corporate office in December 2017, the firm announced the goal was to “create a happy workplace that will facilitate collaboration and inspire our colleagues to even more creativity in their daily work”. This new vision for smart buildings responds to the ramping interest in the wellbeing agenda and need for new developments to deliver high performance in new areas to stand out.
Buildings that support occupant happiness and productivity sound great – so what’s the catch? Occupant wellbeing and happiness is much harder to quantify compared to environmental factors such as energy efficiency. In addition, there are not yet well-recognised rating systems, although the International WELL Building Institute is making some headway. But the bigger puzzle for the smart building ecosystem to solve is: to what extent do building conditions really contribute to occupant happiness and how should building investments be balanced with other areas such as IT?