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Is your desk in an old banger of a building?

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Do you work in a building whose technology is comparable to an old banger? Terry Sharp, vice-president of the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), believes we should demand more from our places of work in the same way that we expect certain features as standard on a modern car. 

The Aston Martin DB5 tops many petrolheads’ “dream car” lists. Its classic look has taken on iconic status ever since Sean Connery’s James Bond was first introduced to his new, gadget-laden set of wheels in Goldfinger way back in 1964. There are many cars from bygone eras that remain favourites to this day, such as the E-Type Jaguar, the Lotus 7 and the AC Cobra, and original models still fetch huge sums at auction. However, as good as they are to look at, none of them are likely to function, drive or be as comfortable as a modern, standard family saloon. 

Technology has progressed in recent times and features that were once perhaps only special additions on a vehicle have become standard on many models. 

Features we now take for granted include: Automatic climate control (inc. fan speed and heating/cooling/air-conditioning/pollen filtration), cruise control, electronic engine management systems, automatic rain detecting windscreen wipers, and reversing bleepers. These are no longer just for top-end luxury models, and most cars these days have comfort and efficiency systems. 

We are fed data of performance, range, outside temperatures and even our tyre pressures are monitored. Technology pushes further, of course; adaptive cruise control and automatic lane-keeping steering is available and soon driverless cars will be here too.

Windscreens don’t haze with condensation anymore, and airbags, auto tension seat restraints and crumple zones all contribute to our safe passage. Engine management systems and technology has contributed to improved speeds and efficiencies, while electric cars further enhance energy harvesting from brakes and down-hill free-wheeling.

Anyone lucky or rich enough to own one of the classic cars mentioned earlier is very unlikely to use it as their “everyday” car, in many cases the car might not even make it out of the garage at all. For regular driving and commuting, drivers want comfort, reliability, safety and practicality – things that very few, if any, classic sports cars can offer. 

With this in mind, it does seem odd that we don’t always have the same attitude towards the buildings we work in. For decades it has more or less been taken for granted by employers that their staff will work in whatever building the company is based in, whether it’s a historic listed building, a mobile hut or a city skyscraper.

Expect more

But in the 21st century, with all the technology available to us, should we not expect more from the buildings we occupy? Or are we just content to sit at our desk in a building that is the equivalent to an old banger?

Some historic buildings are replaced completely in order to adapt to modern demands. Sports stadia are a prime example of this. The old Wembley Stadium was considered a national treasure, particularly among traditionalist football supporters from around the world. It enjoyed unofficial status as the “home of football” since it opened in 1923, but its trademark twin towers and decades of history counted for little as it fell further and further behind multifunctional stadia designed for the 21st century. The new stadium, opened in 2007, is not to everybody’s liking aesthetically, but, complete with its retractable roof, it provides a venue suited to the needs of a range of activities, from sport and music to catering and exhibitions.

While cars have evolved from being essentially boxes with four wheels and an engine to advanced, accessory-laden machines, buildings have been left trailing in the way we make use of the technology available to us. Some advancements in the automotive industry, such as the development of hybrid and electric cars, have of course been driven by environmental concern and now, the building industry is beginning to follow suit. 

Buildings account for over 40% of the world’s energy consumption, but the introduction of the Minimum Energy Performance Standard (MEPS) in April 2018 means the building industry is now falling into line. The government’s target is for the commercial property sector to be achieving a minimum EPC band of C by 2030 in the battle against climate change. Many might argue that the building industry has been too slow to address the issue, and the recent climate change protests, whether you agree with their methods or not, have certainly put many industries, including ours, under more scrutiny than ever before.

Empty shells

In the past, buildings may have been viewed purely as empty shells to keep us warm and dry, but modern technology raises their potential to be so much more – and building owners who take advantage will reap the benefits. We have the technology to drastically reduce emissions from buildings and this, in turn, will enable us to convert existing buildings into living, working structures that will meet today’s environmental emissions targets. 

A 2016 study by global research firm Ipsos, on behalf of Steelcase, found that UK workers are the least satisfied with their office ambience, with 33% of workers saying they don’t like their office environment, suffering from a lack of control over making it suit their needs. Nearly half (45%) of UK workers are dissatisfied with the room temperature at work, and 32% are unhappy with the light intensity. Only 39% of respondents said they could adjust the office temperature, and only 21% were able to alter the lighting.

These factors could have a serious detrimental effect on the concentration, productivity and engagement levels of workers, with the study showing that a lack of flexibility and control over the physical work environment correlates with a lack of engagement. In contrast, highly engaged employees are those that have the most flexibility over how and where they work.

Greater control

Installing a Building Energy Management System (BEMS) not only helps a building manager increase their building’s energy efficiency, it also gives the building’s tenants greater control over their working environment. Individual regulation of room temperature using window contacts, daylight-dependent lighting and building automation systems adapted to customer requirements can all contribute towards conserving energy.

So, if your office was a car, would it pass its MOT or fail on the emissions target? Those of us who spend 30 hours a week or more in the same place of work should expect a healthy working environment – and a well-managed building will produce a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. 

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