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A central platform to exchange best practices and ideas guiding the infrastructure and urban development industry in its transformation, and helping it to address its key challenges.

A Connected Built Environment

The challenge

Develop ways of using digital technologies to help establish direct communication between people and their urban and architectural surroundings to make the use of buildings and city environments more efficient and productive.

– The specific challenge is to explore and understand recent advances in digital technologies that can benefit better use of available space and resources.

– The broader context is the continued and accelerated growth of urban areas and the densification of cities, the rapid change of economic and developmental patterns, and an increased awareness of the limits of space, energy and resources.

– The motivation is the need to find ways to improve the happiness and wellness of all people and increase spatial quality and livability in cities around the world, against a background of limited resources.

The idea

Computer systems and smart phone applications are increasingly able to facilitate direct communication between individual people or groups of people and their built environment.

The Edge is a large office building in Amsterdam shared by main tenant Deloitte and six other companies. Besides being one of the most environmentally advanced buildings in the world, it uses smart technologies to organize the interface between the building and its users.

At The Edge, thousands of sensors continually monitor activity levels and environmental qualities inside the office space. The building management system adjusts conditions based on detailed real-time information and the users of the building can influence their workspace temperature and lighting levels directly, through an application on their smartphone. Various facility management provisions are organized through this system.

Because the environmental conditions in all areas of the building are constantly monitored, the building’s management systems can accurately predict and steer the climatic and energetic circumstances. The use of resources can therefore be minimized. This cuts down the building’s energy consumption drastically and makes it more achievable for the building to produce most of the energy it needs. At certain times in the year the building produces more energy than it requires.

Facility Management costs have reduced substantially as well, as a result of the availability of real-time information. Printers, coffee machines, meeting rooms and AV systems, for example, are connected to the building management system and their use is monitored automatically. Feedback from the monitoring of movement in the office space provides input to make cleaning services more efficient.

The building’s computer also discusses detailed workspace requirements with each office worker, to offer any of a variety of workspace solutions designed specifically for the tasks at hand. At The Edge, people work in the most appropriate and comfortable workspace for the work they are doing.

Typically, office workers are only at their desk for a fraction of the time. This can be 25 or 30 % for some types of businesses. A standard desk is not often the most ergonomically comfortable and suitable solution for the variety of tasks people perform. The workspace organizational concept at The Edge is new, but it relies on the smart application of existing technologies.

Since no one has a fixed desk position all available space can be used efficiently and productively. This way, Deloitte’s 3,000 workers use only 1,100 workspaces, and these are of much higher quality levels than is typical. Space is used up to three times more efficiently, which results in a much reduced need to build office square meters, less monetary and environmental cost, and therefore the possibility to spend more on the quality of the workplace itself.

The way forward

Direct communication between groups of people and the computers that organize the functionality of systems in the built environment around them could also make a huge contribution to the way we inhabit our cities and use the limited space and resources available to us in the most productive and efficient way.

Smart phone applications already give real-time information about the availability and the timing of city public transport routes. Soon, these systems will allow transport networks to take into account user demand, and timetables will be adjusted continuously to provide service, exactly and efficiently, to specific requests. This is likely to reduce the size of the transport vehicles – a change from large trains to small, clean, flexible units.

PLP are proposing CarTube, a pioneering mobility solution which combines two existing modes of transport – automated electric cars and mass transit – into a single, seamless underground road system. Automated cars, circulating above and below ground, are controlled via a dynamic platoon system allowing cars to move within milliseconds of one another. Users will be able to book a CarTube trip through smartphones using either their own cars or available public cars. Cars will travel in a continuous flow at a steady speed without ever slowing down, providing far greater capacity than conventional public transport. CarTube will typically double transport capacity for the same investment as conventional mass transport and reduce travel time by 75%. And the benefits of clearing public routes and spaces in dense urban fabrics of polluting cars can hardly be exaggerated.