You Don’t Need to be Techie to Think Smarter

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It seems like everything is smart these days. Our busiest roads are being converted to smart motorways, where speed and lane availability will be aligned to congestion in real time. Our smart phones take care of everything from managing our diary to helping us check the weather or find the quickest route to a meeting. And as for our smart TVs, who would have guessed back in the days when you had to stay in to see your favourite programme that the TV would be able to record the whole series, suggest other shows we might like and even pause live TV while we put the kettle on?

The challenge for those involved in designing and constructing the built environment is to harness all that smart technology potential and utilise it in a way the addresses key urban challenges - such as space optimsation, building comfort and energy efficiency – to create smart cities.

It’s a mistake to assume that the responsibility for all the creative thinking and innovation required to build smart cities sits with the technology providers that will design the systems and the IoT (Internet of Things) specialists who will drive integration. Those companies are vital to the success of smart cities but, in the jigsaw of skills that will make our cities truly smart, they lack a vital part of the picture: the human experience of buildings, public realm spaces and urban infrastructure as places to live, work and spend leisure time.

Technology may power smart cities but the success of that connectivity will be dependent on innovation in building design and construction. Architects and contractors will have to consider how our built environment needs to adapt as a more fluid, agile space, where control systems use real-time information and analysis of collected data to determine how buildings are managed without human intervention. We’re used to buildings that conserve energy with lighting and heating/cooling controls but what if it’s not just individual buildings that need to be zoned within a single BMS? What if a whole urban area is monitored and managed by an IoT system?

Suppliers of building products will also have a role to play. How can the fabric of the building maximise or even boost a Wi-Fi signal? What can be done to counter the urban heat island effect? How can we retrofit existing buildings to adapt them for the smart city network? How can the materials we specify answer the requirements for a more flexible built environment that can be reconfigured to meet changing needs…?

As a marketing consultancy specialising in the built environment, CME may not have the answers to these questions but we know what questions to ask and the headline summary is that these are exciting times.

Sarah Reay