According to Dell and Intel’s 2016 “Future Workforce Study Global Report,” 55% of workers expect to be in a smart and connected office by 2023. The recent transformation of District Center, a 1990s-era building in downtown Washington, D.C., shows what that future might look like — and also how these technological advances can benefit both building owners and occupants.
“We will always manage a building as a cost center, but what if we were also thinking about a building as a strategic asset?” said Laurent J. Vernerey, president of Acuity Brands, which supplied the connected-building products used in District Center. “Think of it as an asset that allows the people inside a building to go about their business in a frictionless environment.”
MetLife Investment Management and Norges Bank Investment Management purchased the 12-story, 910,000-square-foot property for approximately $505 million in 2014. Constructed in two phases between 1994 and 1998 and covering an entire city block, the new owners wanted to use technology to make it stand out in a competitive market. To do that, MetLife engaged JLL’s Smart Buildings Team to create a cutting-edge connected office.
“There were new buildings going up around the area that had the luxury of starting from scratch, but they wanted this building to be special, and they felt they could do that with technology,” said Yann Palmore, vice president of JLL’s Smart Buildings Program, during an event at District Center in June. “Tenants are changing the way they think about the buildings they want to be in, and our hope is that visualizing it in ways like this really does differentiate District Center and make this a more attractive place.”
Because of the technology upgrades that JLL and its partners installed, District Center was recently named a “showcase project” by the Better Buildings Initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). (Figures from the agency show that energy usage fell 33% in the building from 2014 to 2018.) Only 66 commercial buildings across the country have received that honor.
“The energy savings in my view are a great benefit and a reason to do it,” said Journey Williams, vice president with SmartBT, the company that served as the project’s system integrator. “But the main reason to do it is for the tenants and the occupants. It can help them integrate their work and personal lives.”
District Center’s transformation began in 2017. The first step was the selection of a digital platform to oversee the systems in the building.
“To have a smart building, you have to have systems that can talk with one another, and they need to talk a common language so they can start sharing information and enable new sequences and new intelligence,” Palmore said. “You need a platform in place that will scale with you and allow this communication to happen.”
This platform, or Supervisory Control Management System (SCMS), can “aggregate the data from each of the systems into a common interface” so that different user groups can interact with the technologies in the building, according to the DOE Better Buildings Initiative. Palmore said the systems in District Center communicate via a secure IP network that is air-gapped, or not connected to outside networks.
Next came upgrades to the building systems. District Center needed new HVAC and lighting controls, new energy metering systems and a new security system. (The security infrastructure includes new systems for access control and video surveillance.) Built into the lighting are more than 1,000 multisensors powered by the internet of things (IoT).
True to their name, these multisensors perform multiple functions. They track occupancy levels for code compliance, check daylighting and artificial light levels, and measure temperature and air quality. Compared to older products, Palmore said their functionality is much more integrated.
“What’s really been interesting through this project is how much of this happens on pretty much the same hardware,” he said. “In the past, a lot of this would be very siloed. Now it’s all happening in very similar hardware. That gives you a lot of flexibility and the ability to do some interesting things.”
For example, each multisensor has a Bluetooth beacon for wayfinding and location-based services through a smartphone app. Target stores use the same technology to help customers find their way around.
District Center’s multisensors gather vast amounts of data, but not all of it is relevant to the different groups that use the building. For example, tenants need information that helps with their work, while operators and owners need analytics about building operations and maintenance.
“We boiled it down to two major interfaces for the tenants,” Palmore said. “Digital screens via a dedicated smartphone app and digital signage throughout the building.”
Palmore said the screens — both handheld and wall-mounted — convey personalized information that improves the occupant experience.
“For people who like to work and move around, there is a thermal map that shows the temperature gradient across a floor,” he said. “So a warm-bodied person might choose to work in a colder area. The platform can expose all sorts of data that can be visualized on a screen.”
Occupants can control lighting and temperature, reserve rooms and prepare them for presentations, raise and lower blinds, order food, track transportation options and much more through the smartphone app or wall-mounted screens throughout the building. The app even grants employees access.
“The days of carrying your badge around are gone in this building,” Palmore said. “You use your mobile phone as your badge. That’s one less thing you have to keep up with.”