Bridging the Knowledge Gap for Smart BuildingsWed, 02/19/2014 - 16:24
The transfer of knowledge and technology is not always a smooth process in which one benevolent overseer hands down their experience and singlehandedly creates a new sector in a developing market. Such a process usually involves a complex scenario of competing market interests, with negotiations between private and public sector bodies and the gradual building of a domestic supply chain.
Mexico’s discovery of the green building concept and its accompanying technologies and certifications has not always been straightforward. When IMEI (the Mexican Institute of Intelligent Buildings) was founded in 1991, it was intended to fill the knowledge gap that existed in Mexico in the very sectors it would advocate. Its founder, Jorge Martínez Anaya, sought to create an institution that would identify trends in the market, provide training and ensure the constant availability of information to players interested in intelligent building technology. More than 20 years on, this scope has broadened significantly. “We now give an annual prize to the smart building of the year. We will soon start giving more prizes, such as the safest and greenest buildings,” says Jorge Luis Hagg Hagg, IMEI’s President.
An alliance with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) has also proved fruitful. The links to BOMA have helped spread LEED certification in Mexico, since BOMA is also linked to the US Green Building Council, which developed LEED. Ten years ago, Mexico had no LEED certification processes under way, compared to more than 30 LEED-certified buildings today, with 230 more projects undergoing the certification process. Hagg Hagg acknowledges that although Mexico should develop its own standards, that time may be a long way off. “IMEI has been working with ISO and other associations to create higher building standards in Mexico that may in time become NOMs. But in the meantime LEED is a good start, and serves as a good guide while its standards are being adapted to the local Mexican market.”
One of the obstacles that has long hampered a boom in smart buildings is the initial cost, seen by many firms as an unnecessary expense rather than a wise investment. Over more than two decades, IMEI has heard this argument in every possible permutation. According to Hagg Hagg, “over the three to five years that it takes on average to design, construct and make a building livable, 25% of the total investment will be spent just on constructing the building. 75% will go toward the everyday running of the building, from normal operation to maintenance and renovation. The financial model of a green building is such that an initial investment, although seeming sizable to some, translates into the best performance possible throughout a building’s lifespan. The savings come in the long-term, while also bringing higher rents from tenants.” Those tenants hold the answer to another important question. If owners are reluctant to design an intelligent building due to the bigger original outlay, might tenants also not be put off by more expensive rents? Not so, says Hagg Hagg. “Having more amenities, automation, security and comfort for the building’s users raises the rent, but the productivity and lifestyle in that environment also greatly improves, which makes tenants want to stay.”
For Hagg Hagg, the biggest challenge presented by intelligent buildings is a curious one: the technology itself, or more specifically how it is integrated. When architects, civil engineers and the owners of the building sit down to decide what the features of the building will be, it becomes tricky to get everyone thinking on the same page. Technological solutions exist to cater to various visions for solar cells, fabrics or air conditioning, but getting everyone to agree to the same solutions is where IMEI steps in. “We provide all the information and training to help with this process, and we give our members information on new technologies and trends,” says Hagg Hagg. IMEI taps into its vast network of contacts to bring together such specialists as architects of high performance buildings or automation experts, to speak on how their work can benefit intelligent buildings.
Mexico has come a long way since 1991. Torre Mayor and the HSBC Tower dominate the Mexico City skyline as ambassadors to the possibilities of LEED certified buildings. The intelligent building industry must now look forward and face its future challenges, such as developing zero net energy buildings. For goals like this to be achieved, the government must step in, states Hagg Hagg. “Government participation is the most crucial factor, as the technology is already there and constantly evolving. Conviction as to the importance of sustainability is there and the funding is accessible through banks. But we still need the support of governments around the world. The entire political environment has to be set up so that it supports these initiatives.”