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What is the future of smart buildings? An interview with Kevin P. Flanagan

15 Mar 2018

The Edge in Amsterdam is one of the world’s flagship smart buildings and represents the future of digital office environments. Designed by PLP Architecture, the building features sophisticated monitoring systems and apps which allow employees to alter their daily working environment to suit the projects they are working on.

The multi award-winning Edge is the greenest building in the world, according to BREEAM, and uses LED screens in meeting and break out areas that are designed to enhance collaborative working and creative problem solving.

We spoke to Kevin P. Flanagan, partner at PLP Architecture, about how their vision for smart buildings translated into The Edge and how they hope to fit into the world’s growing smart cities.

What do you think explains The Edge's success?

Its success is based on the meeting of several trends and societal influences,  making it one of the first truly 21st century concepts which works with its users.

By using smartphone apps, which integrate with building system monitors, it’s easy to integrate building optimization with the user’s personal preferences.

The Edge gives millennials the work environment they want and that their education prepared them for.

Deloitte The Edge

How do smart building projects like this integrate with smart cities?

It starts at the smallest level, with the integration of the connected living aspects, such as social networking apps, cloud-based data and logistics.

We believe that scale is needed for true integration. One smart building will only truly reach its potential if the whole city is smart, while still respecting the inhabitants and their sense of daily freedom.

Other PLP Architecture projects, such as Sky Central and 22 Bishopsgate, investigate how we can develop this idea further.

How has The Edge worked in practice?

The original focus of The Edge was sustainable design, but millennial staffers have adapted it to create a more free-flowing working environment. Instead of accepting traditional pre-assigned office desks, this group prefer to sit freely in the large central atrium where, coffee in hand, they can discuss ideas in an environment that values taking risks with new concepts.

We understand that some of the apps that were initially very popular when the building opened 1000 days ago have fallen out of favor. One explanation is that these apps may not have changed in line with user demands, although this may also be due to the way the boundaries are blurring between work and private life.

This has perhaps resulted in a move away from “office only” apps towards more open source ones which can integrate with smartphone capabilities and one’s own personal contacts.

As a true measure of commercial success, the developer OVG is now planning to build another 50 similar offices across the world.

Do you see other smart buildings following The Edge’s example?

I think the aspect of The Edge which will impact smart building trends the most is the move to provide greater flexibility and choice for employees, as this is what has driven the most value. Open spaces for collaborative working and apps which promote using them are going to become ever more essential.

The arrival of 5G will mean a leap forward in work life integration and open up even more possibilities for smart buildings.

I hope that the concept of an atrium filled with natural light as a place for the open exchange of ideas will be understood as key to these subsequent designs, along with building monitoring systems and apps.

We’ve had almost 100 years of offices with fixed workspaces and plant stands, which were first designed for Johnson Wax HQ in Chicago, but they are now unfit for present and future work, where agility is paramount.

What was your most important learning from the project?

The lesson seems to be that you should provide freedom and a sense of the open while introducing powerful, personalizable networking systems that can adapt to meet the goal of creating a bespoke working environment and pleasurable working life.

We would like to thank Kevin P. Flanagan for his time and insight. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here or follow PLP Architecture here