The Stoddart Review's vision of the future is the reality of OVG Real Estate's The Edge building in Amsterdam. Opened in 2014, it's one of the most talked about office buildings in the world. Adam Leach explains why.
13 February 2017 | Adam Leach
You pull up into the underground car park, get out of your electric car and plug it in to charge.
As you walk through the light-filled atrium to pick up your ¾ Flat White with just the right amount of sugar you like with one hand, you flick through your phone with the other to see which of your colleagues are already in and which meeting spaces are available.
A couple of clicks and a short walk later, and you're all there. And all the while, the lights shining down on you are also sensing your presence, tailoring conditions to you.
This may well be the norm for the average office in 2050, but it is already the norm for those working in The Edge in Amsterdam.
Developed specifically for principle tenant Deloitte, designed and built by smart and sustainable building specialists OVG Real Estate and PLP Architecture, the firm behind 22 Bishopsgate, it is both the greenest and smartest building in the world.
It does have the electric car charging points, and the smart coffee machines, and all the apps and gizmos to enable real-time meeting plans and real-time room bookings - which with no actual assigned offices is a very important thing - but it also has a lot more.
With its huge covering of solar arrays and an effective water pump heating system, which heats water deep below its foundations and pumps it through the entire building when required, it generates more energy than it consumes. With its data analysis of footfall, weather and traffic, it calculates likely catering demand to avoid wastage, with its rain capture, flushing the toilet carries no excess environmental impact, and from its spacious atrium to its top floor natural light illuminates everything.
It has all the high-tech flares and design flourishes of the internet of things, smart technology and sustainability that make it seem like a science fiction-inspired art installation.
But as Martin Bell, a senior FM and member of the FM World editorial board found on a tour of the building, it adds substance to such concepts. "I'd heard so much buzz and fluff about the internet of things, but seen very little substance, so The Edge has been the first instance where someone has really helped me be able to understand the future and what is possible."
One of the more easily relatable aspects of the design that shows this is found in its fixtures and fittings. Through a partnership with Dutch electronics firm Phillips, the building is lit entirely by a specially designed and super-efficient LED lighting system. But it does more than just illuminate the building. Each luminaire is connected through ethernet and the overall system is attached with 30,000 smart sensors that enable it to measure occupancy, temperature, humidity and lighting levels.
"What they did from the lighting perspective was they realised that it was a lot cheaper to actually run the lighting off the IT network while also getting data through the sensors," explains Bell.
This is where both its smartness and greenness can be most easily digested, and also where its implications for facilities management are most clear. In addition to measuring climate conditions, the lighting system also integrates with each occupant's smartphone to detect where everyone is, what space is in use and what is free, and alter the heating and lighting in the building to the most efficient levels.
This puts the power in the hands of the FM team to make both short and long-term savings. Through detailed and real-time dashboards, vacant spaces or rooms can be almost instantaneously turned off or down, while analysis of long-term patterns enables them to alter the use of the space to reflect occupancy patterns.
"On a Wednesday afternoon, traditionally the schools are closed, so it is often a time when lots of people are off," explains Ron Bakker of PLP Architecture and lead on The Edge. "So on a Wednesday afternoon, they don't open one or two floors because they are not there. That's the theory, and of course there are still times where people want to sit in a particular place but that's much less of an issue there."
To be able to analyse just what spaces are and aren't being used and actually act on that information is also one of the aspects that most impressed Bell. "If you're able to really understand what's going on in your building then that's the bit that will enable you to optimise how you're using that space and manage your second-highest cost to the business."
That enhancement of control doesn't just apply to the FMs themselves, though. The occupants are given access to much of the buildings control systems through a series of integrated smartphone apps, enabling climate conditions to be customised down to an area equivalent to about four desk spaces.
As much potential for savings as having the ability to turn off unused spaces and giving staff full flexibility on where they work creates, it is only effective if the people themselves adopt it as a way of working. On this, Bakker believes The Edge has succeeded.
"If you look at where they are in the office, what they do, they'll sit somewhere to do their emails, then they'll sit with their work group, then have a meeting, they move around the building doing different parts of their work.
"I think that is the real innovation there, that's really cool. Technology supports this because they talk to the building about their workspace requirements and the building allocates them a space and finds their colleagues."
Although The Edge may have succeeded on this front, how easily can it be replicated in other facilities? Not easily, according to Andrew Howells, head of workplace consultancy at Condeco. "You can tell someone they're only utilising 44 per cent of their space and you can tell them that their break-out space is being used about 20 per cent, which is around about what I've seen in all the studies we do, and they go, well, what do we do next?"
This aspect is clearly an area where the contrast is most extreme between The Edge and the more traditional offices, but also one where the most value can be generated by narrowing the gap. "The way we're going to be driving increased utilisation is sweating the space more," says Bell. "We know so little about the spaces we occupy; so many organisations' approach to it is still taking the most basic rudimentary walk-round clipboard checks."
Sensors working overtime
On a brighter note, though, the same limitations are not true of non-human office occupants. From The Edge's printers to its coffee machines, sensors track and record all the important details of operation and supplies. This data, opens up the potential for more predictive maintenance and it is an aspect in the wider world of FM seen as offering exciting opportunities.
"What you're doing," says Bell, "is you're not waiting for someone to say the coffee machine has run out of beans or that a light bulb has gone because you've got all this information that is going to enable you to predict when this is going to happen, so you can schedule your intervention before it is needed."
As a building, The Edge undoubtedly offers an exciting insight into what is possible with the most advanced technologies and also with embracing flexible working to the fullest. From its sensor-filled lighting and equipment to its app-guided occupants, it shows the direction of travel that others will likely be following. But if it is to be a window into the office of the future, what does it suggest will be important in the facilities manager of the future; what are the key skills that will be required?
As Howells sees it, while the pace may not be as fast outside of Amsterdam as inside, it is changing, "It's clear that facilities managers will need to change in the future, even to back up the decisions they make with empirical data.
"Most of the facilities managers we speak to and we do work for, have that data at their disposal and the sense data in particular is telling the customer how much space is being used from one day to the next, enabling them to be able to paint a better picture of how the environment should look tomorrow."
As for Bell, he sees the function moving away from being the guardians and more towards being guides. "Previous FMs didn't have the infrastructure and didn't have the data. They were the firefighters and the jugglers, whereas I think now, because there is the data, this means that there is much greater ability to be predictive and for FM to plan. FMs need to be standing back from the coalface a bit and focus more on actually trying to influence the outcomes a bit more."
Principal tenant: Deloitte
Architect: PLP Architecture
BREAMM Outstanding rating
number of smart sensors in the ceilings
6,000 low-energy (300 Lux LEDs)
number of kilograms of CO2 saved in 10 years compared with a 'normal' office building
estimated energy consumption (standard figure 40.7)