Built Environment

Wed, 2015-10-28 22:49 -- Jon DeKeles
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The built environment is an essential piece of the smart city puzzle. Buildings are the biggest single source of carbon emissions, accounting for about 40% of the world’s carbon footprint, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Buildings are energy hogs too, eating up nearly half of all energy consumed in the United States. Any city serious about livability, workability and sustainability must raise the “intelligence quotient” of its built environment.

This chapter will give city leaders and planners the tools to make the built environment part of the solution. It begins by defining the terms and explaining how buildings interact with information and communications technologies (ICT). It turns next to the way smart buildings create benefits for a city. Finally, it lists the technology targets that allow a city to achieve those benefits. As we go along, we’ll pause for brief case studies from around the world.

Key definitions

The term ‘built environment’ encompasses all human-made infrastructures. It refers to buildings, of course, but also to parks, stadiums and public spaces. However, three aspects of the built environment – streets, energy infrastructure and water infrastructure – are not emphasized here because they are addressed in separate chapters.

Buildings are a prominent part of every city, from private homes to offices, factories, stores, schools, hotels, restaurants and theaters. ‘Smart buildings’ is the common shorthand for structures empowered by ICT. Smart buildings use sensors, meters, systems and software to monitor and control a wide range of building functions – lighting, energy, water, HVAC, communications, video monitoring, intrusion detection, elevator monitoring and fire safety among them.

Why make buildings smarter? In its June 2013 Global Sustainability Perspective, real estate developer Jones Lang LaSalle put it this way: “Advances in smart building technology are enabling a new era in building energy efficiency and carbon footprint reduction, yielding a return on investment for building owners within one to two years. We can now perform real-time remote monitoring and control of entire portfolios of buildings, leading to dramatic improvements in building performance and meaningful energy savings."

The city-building connection

In most cities, the built environment is a patchwork of private and city-owned buildings. But even though a city government may own only a small fraction of the buildings, it can hold great sway over all buildings in its jurisdiction. For instance, it can:

Lead by example and ensure that its own buildings adhere to the targets explained in this chapter, unleashing the power of ICT in public buildings.

Create and enforce codes and standards that embody the changes it wants

Create incentives for owners to make their buildings smart

Educate residents through public awareness and outreach campaigns

Provide support and guidance by giving access to advice and trained staff via web, phone or in person

The methods cities adopt for driving change in built environments will vary, of course, but leaders pursuing a smart cities agenda will want smart buildings as an action item.

So what are the technology and best practices targets that enable a smarter built environment? This chapter will discuss how targets introduced in the Universal chapter apply to the built environment. But first, a quick look at dependencies in the built environment and then the benefits an intelligent built environment provides.

Dependencies within the built environment

Improvements in the built environment will need to be planned with an understanding of dependencies on other city systems and services. If we limit our dependency list to just three other systems for the sake of simplicity, it is easy to see that buildings rely on services from energy, communications and water systems.

The connection is pretty straightforward. Commercial, industrial and residential building systems alike all require electricity and/or natural gas. Many will be adding electric vehicle charging stations in the years ahead, which is something cities need to take into consideration. Building occupants require potable water and wastewater removal. And reliable communications are a requirement today for business and industry as well as residents.

Benefits of realizing the targets

Here are just a few of the ways an intelligent built environment can enhance livability, workability and sustainability.


Improving occupant comfort. With full situational awareness and optimization of building conditions, a smart building can tailor light, heat and cooling to each area or even to each individual. Since most people spend nearly all of their time indoors, improving that environment improves their comfort quotient.

Enhancing occupant safety. ICT can greatly improve safety and security via access cards, video monitoring, fire and smoke alarms and similar means. Full situational awareness means that building operators have a complete picture of their building and its environs, and are able to respond to issues or threats in real time as well as optimize day-to-day building management. In some cases, these systems can even correct problems remotely and automatically.

Improving occupant health. Indoor air can be more polluted than the air outdoors. Smart buildings monitor air conditions to ensure that occupants aren’t exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide, radon, chemicals or other potential health hazards.

Providing convenience and “remote control” capabilities. Who hasn’t left for vacation only to wonder if you remembered to activate the burglar alarm? Thanks to advances in ICT, remote control capabilities can remotely monitor and manage security and energy systems from afar using a computer, tablet or smartphone.


Lowering business utility bills. Smart buildings save on power, water, gas and waste, giving owners and occupants a competitive advantage.

Increasing worker satisfaction. Who doesn’t want to work in a state-of-the-art building where the air is fresh, creature comforts are automated and safety and security are wired in? Businesses located in smart buildings are more attractive to potential employees, which allows them to compete for the best and brightest.


The built environment can make a major contribution to lowering emissions and lowering resource use. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is impossible to meet sustainability goals without using smart technology to improve the built environment. Examples include:

Reducing energy waste. Most buildings can save 10% to 30% on energy just by installing an intelligent building management system to manage devices such as occupancy sensors, light dimmers and smart thermostats. There are many other ways a smart building can reduce overall costs too. For instance, buildings with smart meters or smart thermostats can participate in utility demand response programs. By briefly reducing consumption during peak times they allow the utility to make do with fewer expensive standby power plants. (See the Energy chapter for details.)

Reducing water waste. In the same way that ICT helps smart buildings save energy, it helps them save water too. Operational optimization helps smart buildings manage water resources with precise efficiency, eliminating waste and reducing cost for owners and occupants. Sometimes it’s just a matter of better scheduling. For instance, scheduling pumping and irrigation at night when power is cheaper.

Reducing carbon emissions. Smart buildings use less energy and less water – important because water requires large amounts of energy to pump and treat. As a result, carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are lower in smart cities.

Reducing the frequency and cost of repairs. Today’s building management systems can monitor key equipment to notice problems as soon as they arrive -- or, in some cases, predict problems before they occur. They can prioritize work orders so the maintenance crew always works on the most important problem first. And since they can keep equipment fine-tuned, it operates at maximum efficiency.

Enabling distributed generation. Not only can ICT reduce energy waste, it can help buildings produce their own energy via on-site solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells and the like. Distributed generation won’t replace power plants outright. But together with energy storage and demand response, it can reduce the number of peaker power plants. (Peaker plants run only when there is high demand for power and sit idle the rest of the time and And since most peaker plants run on fossil fuels, avoiding their use provides carbon reduction benefits.) Distributed generation also helps reduce the environmental costs associated with transmitting energy over long distances, particularly important for more remote villages in developing countries.

Providing ROI for building owners. Smart buildings are a win for building owners. Operational optimization delivers both cost savings and enhanced value per square foot.


Built environment targets

To this point we’ve defined the built environment, discussed how cities can influence their buildings and highlighted the benefits of smart buildings. We’ll conclude by examining the technologies and best practices that can bring those benefits to your city.

We presume that you’ve already read the Universal chapter, which explains the targets that apply throughout a city. When it comes to the built environment, those universal goals are sufficient – there are no additional building-specific targets.

For convenience, you will see a checklist at the end of the chapter that lists the universal targets. Below we point out refinements to several of them that demonstrate their relevance to the built environment.

Instrumentation and control

Buildings that use smart devices to monitor conditions like water use and heating and cooling can capture data that building managers can use to make better decisions about managing resources.

Implement optimal instrumentation. You’ll want to keep several things in mind as you determine optimal instrumentation for buildings.

For one thing, don’t think that building instrumentation simply means a smart meter. You can now remotely monitor almost any building condition – occupancy, light level, air quality, temperature, etc.

For another, you will want to distinguish between existing and new buildings. In existing buildings, you want to take full advantage of any sensors or switches that are already present. Fortunately, companies are starting to make software that can talk to legacy equipment from many different manufacturers. It is usually much less expensive to find a software “overseer” than to rip out old instrumentation and replace it with new.

When it comes to new buildings, you can be more ambitious. It is much less costly to put state-of-the-art instrumentation into a new building than to retrofit it into an existing building. Thus, as you plan the city’s building codes and incentives, you can raise the bar for new buildings as compared to old.

This is an area that will require holistic thinking and collaboration between departments and between outside stakeholders. For instance, the electric power utility may want smart meters, thermostats and appliances to adhere to communications protocols. Likewise, the fire department may have requirements for fire alarms and smoke detectors. Obviously, the city’s codes and recommendations should be compatible.


Once you’ve deployed smart sensors and systems in a building, the next step is to allow them to communicate the information they gather.

Connect devices with citywide, multi-service communications. In a few cases, a building’s sensors and systems may communicate directly with the citywide communications system. For instance, a smart meter or a smart thermostat may tie in directly so it can talk to the electric power utility. In a similar fashion, some utilities talk directly to building load control switches to turn equipment off if the grid is under stress. (The owners get compensation from the utility.)

In most cases, though, the building’s sensors will communicate internally to a building management system. That software then monitors and summarizes that internal data and shares it externally as permitted by building owners.

When it comes to new buildings – and sometimes even for old ones -- many forward thinking building owners are choosing a single, “merged” IP network – one that can carry all traffic, whether data, voice or video.


Interoperability targets ensure that your built environment plays nicely with others. Of the three universal interoperability targets, two require additional discussion.

Adhere to open standards. Building technology must adhere to the same communications standards as all other smart city gear – even when the building industry is a barrier to this smart city goal. And it must also contend with standards unique to the built environment.

When it comes to communicating between the building and the rest of the city, you can rely on the standards set forth in the Telecommunications chapter, notably IPv6. But when it comes to the equipment and the communications within the building, you will have to navigate a maze of options.

The buildings sector has been slow to adopt open standards. In areas such as internal communications within a building, the sector has several competing “standards,” including BACnet and LonWorks.

In short, you will need a) the help of an expert to make the right choices and b) a firm determination to stay open no matter what inducements are offered to use a proprietary system instead.

We mentioned earlier how a group of cities is collaborating on Open Data applications. Cities could also benefit from participating in ICT standards organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and buildingSMART International. The cost is minimal and ROI can be substantial. Standards for Building Information Models (BIM), indoor location, indoor/outdoor information integration, etc. are being developed with virtually no city input. If cities don’t express their interoperability requirements, there’s no guarantee they will get what they need. Cities need to be smart about standards development so they know which standards to ask for in procurement documents.

Prioritize the use of legacy investments. It bears repeating – cities and building owners should make every effort to tap into existing devices and equipment before retrofitting buildings with new gear. Older devices can often be integrated with building management systems, thereby avoiding unnecessary replacement. Using existing equipment when possible is a wise way to get maximum value from your investments. For an example, see the 88 Acres case study linked at the end of this chapter; it explains how Microsoft leveraged legacy investments when it rolled out smart buildings on its campus in Redmond, Washington.

Security and privacy

Of the three universal security and privacy targets, one needs extra discussion.

Publish privacy rules. It’s important to remember that information coming from buildings is often extremely sensitive. Consider occupancy sensors, which could reveal when high-value merchandise is unguarded. Or consider energy usage – should that be shared to help the city analyze its energy efficiency targets? Or consider public buildings that use video surveillance to record comings and goings. In what circumstances can the videos be viewed and by whom? In short, be sure to consider your city’s built environment when planning your citywide privacy policies.

Data management

Our universal data management target deserves emphasis for the built environment.

Create and adhere to a citywide data management, transparency and sharing policy. The information that can be gleaned from buildings is invaluable for city goals such as energy efficiency, carbon footprint reduction, economic development, transit planning and land use planning. It is crucial that your built environment initiatives adhere to a careful data architecture so that information can flow seamlessly as needed.

Computing resources

Local governments are typically responsible for many buildings – everything from jails to public swimming pools to sewage treatment facilities to bus barns and city hall itself. Of the four universal targets in this section, two deserve emphasis.

Consider a cloud computing framework. A few years ago, only the biggest buildings could cost-justify a top-of-the-line building management system. And until recently, only a few large property owners could afford a system to oversee a whole portfolio of buildings in different neighborhoods or even different cities.

Today, thanks to cloud computing, these advanced capabilities are affordable and widely available. Cloud computing gives access to:

  • High-powered computers
  • Sophisticated software
  • Expert staff
  • 24x7 staffing and monitoring
  • Redundant backup
  • Advanced security, both cyber and physical

Instead of financing a huge data center and staffing it with specialists, a city can often simply rent all the hardware and software power it needs via the cloud.

Have access to a central GIS. A robust geographic information system (GIS) is invaluable for many city functions related to buildings, including maintenance, public works, parks, building codes, planning and many more. The information you glean about your buildings becomes much more powerful when located on a map.


Below we explain how the four universal analytics targets apply to the built environment.

Achieve full situational awareness. Situational awareness has two aspects in the built environment. The first is awareness of individual buildings (or collections of buildings). Today’s systems can monitor and display every important parameter. They can even be programmed to alert operators when conditions go out of bounds. Building managers can quickly spot problems and dispatch resources to restore functionality. In some cases, problem identification and resolution can be automated, or even predictive, so that problems are resolved before they cause damage.

Achieve operational optimization. The ultimate goal of a smart building, is to have everything running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Smart buildings use analytics to ensure that a building’s resource usage is efficient. And with the power of analytics, buildings can optimize their conditions to ensure the continued health, productivity and comfort of occupants.

Achieve asset optimization. Sophisticated asset management software can calculate which buildings should be replaced or repaired and when.

Pursue predictive analytics. Unexpected equipment failures can take a toll on maintenance budgets; so can work stoppages caused by equipment failures. Predictive maintenance uses analytics to predict which building equipment is close to failure so it can be repaired or replaced before it fails.

 ISO 37120: A yardstick for measuring city performance

In 2014, the International Organization for Standards announced an ISO standard that applies strictly to city performance. The document -- known as ISO 37120:2014 -- establishes a set of open data indicators to measure the delivery of city services and quality of life. It defines common methodologies that cities can use to measure their performance in areas such as energy, environment, finance, emergency response, governance, health, recreation, safety, solid waste, telecommunications, transportation, urban planning, wastewater, water, sanitation and more.

In the table at right, we have indicated how the standards related to Shelter and Urban Planning intersect with the Council’s Built Environment targets identified on the next page.

Proper city planning and investment are essential to, at a minimum, keep slums and homeless populations from overwhelming city resources and turning the shining ‘cities of the future’ envisioned by many into dark, dystopian urban landscapes.

Shelter Indicator

Create citywide data management policy

Have access to a central GIS

Pursue predictive analytics


15.1 Total residential electrical energy use per capita (kWh/year)

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15.2 Average number of electrical interruptions per customer per year

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15.3 Average length of electrical interruptions (in hours)

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Urban Planning Indicator


19.1 Green area (hectares) per 100,000 population

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19.2 Annual number of trees planted per 100,000 population

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19.3 Areal size of informal settlements as a percentage of city area

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19.4 Jobs/housing ratio

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Enabler Built Environment Targets

How smart cities deploy and use ICT to enhance their built environment

Implementation Progress

NonePartialOver 50%Complete

Instrumentation & Control

Implement optimal instrumentation

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Connect devices with citywide, multi-service communications

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Adhere to open standards

Use open integration architectures and loosely coupled interfaces

Prioritize use of legacy investments

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Security & Privacy

Publish privacy rules

Create a security framework

Implement cybersecurity

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Data Management

Create a citywide data management, transparency and sharing policy

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Computing Resources

Consider a cloud computing framework

Use an open innovation platform

Have access to a central GIS

Have access to comprehensive device management

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Achieve full situational awareness

Achieve operational optimization

Achieve asset optimization

Pursue predictive analytics

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Target: Prioritize the use of legacy investments
88 Acres - how Microsoft quietly built the city of the future
A team of engineers at Microsoft cast aside suggestions that the company spend US$60 million to turn its 500-acre headquarters into a smart campus to achieve energy savings and other efficiency gains. Instead, applying an “Internet of Things meets Big Data” approach, they invented a data-driven software solution that is saving Microsoft millions of dollars. Now Microsoft and its partners are helping building managers around he world deploy the same solution.

Target: Achieve operational optimization
Classroom sensors reduce the number of sick kids – and save money
Analyzing ventilation rates from sensors in more than 150 California classrooms for over two years, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that bringing rates up to the state-mandated standard could reduce student absences by approximately 3.4%. Improving ventilation reduces the amount of carbon dioxide students breathe.

Target: Achieve asset optimization
Building life-cycle cost tool helps compare alternative designs
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed the Building Life-Cycle Cost (BLCC) program to provide computational support for the analysis of capital investments in buildings. The software can evaluate federal, state, and local government projects for both new and existing buildings.

Target: Use an open innovation platform
Powering the Charge for Electric Cars
While developing the Tesla Model S electric car, Tesla launched a program to aggressively deploy high-power, fast-charging stations -- “Superchargers” -- along major travel corridors throughout the United States. Council member Black & Veatch partnered with Tesla to construct the largest contiguous electric vehicle charging system in the world. Learn more about the build out in this video.

Target: Connect devices with citywide, multi-service communications
City Uses JMap Mobile to Fight Emerald Ash Borer Infestation
Scientists estimate that the costs to Canadian municipalities for the treatment, eradication and replacement of trees affected by the emerald ash borer could reach 2 billion dollars over 30 years. Read how a Quebec city is using the JMap Mobile application from K2 Geospatial to inventory infected trees.