Nigh the World’s Smartest Office Building

The Edge is Nigh – Welcome to the World’s Smartest Office Building

Say goodbye to the old ways, this greenest of green office buildings knows when you go to the toilet and how well you slept last night – well almost.

We now have a building that knows whether or not you have sugar in your coffee, when you need to go to the toilet, when you need a coffee break … well, not quite the latter two scenarios, but I’m sure it won’t be long before it happens. It already knows when there’s no toilet paper and when the espresso machine needs a refill.

Will workers of the future sit at desks with a big brother eye in the ceiling hovering invisible, checking heart rate, cholesterol, blood pressure, brain wave activity? We’re not quite there yet, thankfully.

What we do have right now is an office building called The Edge in Amsterdam, which knows where you live; it knows your license number and what car or bike you drive or ride. I am reminded of Toffler’s Future Shock and in this ‘roaring current of change’ I’m feeling a bit adaptively challenged just writing this. Controlled by a building? Even Alvin Toffler couldn’t have imagined what was to come in the 21st Century in the digital age.

One wonders how the human animal will cope working in an office designed to tend to his or her every need, as does The Edge, quite possibly the smartest office space ever constructed.

It all depends on being connected

It all begins with a smartphone app. It all depends on being connected. The Amsterdam building’s main tenant, consulting firm Deloitte, helped develop the app, and as a worker, from the moment you open your eyes in the morning, you’re connected via your smartphone. The app examines your timetable, and the building directs you to a parking spot, having recognised your car when you arrived.

It doesn’t stop there. The app then finds you a desk. Of course, at The Edge workspaces are based on your schedule so it knows your preferences for light and temperature, and it tweaks the environment accordingly; it knows whether you need a work booth, sitting or standing desk, balcony seat, meeting room, or, a touch scarily, a ‘concentration room’. You have no quiet corner of your own to go to every day. A quarter of the building has no desk space, but The Edge has adopted hot desking, now common in most new offices to encourage new relationships and chance interactions.

Creating a working community

Architect of The Edge at London-based PLP Architecture, Ron Bakker, says hot desking allows for interaction; a place to meet.

 “We’re starting to notice that office space is not so much about the workspace itself; it’s really about making a working community, and for people to have a place that they want to come to, where ideas are nurtured and the future is determined,” Bakker says.

The Dutch call this ‘het nieuwe werken’, the new way of working. It’s about resource efficiency; but, as reported in a Bloomberg feature last year, it’s also about the best use of  humans.

The smartphone, your passport to The Edge, can also find your colleagues, manage your gym routine, order up a dinner recipe, and a bag of fresh ingredients will await you at the end of your working day.

Deloitte gathers gigabytes of data on how The Edge and its workers interact. Central dashboards in the building track everything from energy use to when the coffee machines need to be refilled or a toilet cleaned. But don’t stress, the boss can’t read your personal data from the sensors. Deloitte surveyed employees before it installed the license plate scanner. The vast majority of respondents thought it was fine, as long as it made work life easier.

Philips made super-efficient LED panels specifically for The Edge powered by Internet cables. There are some 28,000 motion, light, temperature, humidity and infrared sensors creating a ‘digital ceiling’ that wires the building like synapses in a brain. Hello, Dr Who.

The Uber of buildings?

Coen van Oostrom, chief executive officer of the building’s developer, OVG Real Estate, says The Edge could be the Uber of buildings. “We connect them, we make them more efficient, and in the end we will actually need fewer buildings in the world,” van Oostrom says on Bloomberg.

Stale office air is exhaled through the roof, creating a cycle of natural ventilation, and even on a cloudy day, the building maintains an opalescent quality, with natural light and angles of glass.

During summer, the building pumps warm water more than 120 metres deep in the aquifer below, where it sits, insulated, until winter, when it’s sucked back out for heating. The system is the most efficient aquifer thermal energy storage in the world, according to Robert van Alphen, OVG’s project manager for The Edge.

The Edge is watching you

The on-site gym encourages people to work out. The gym’s app tracks your progress and some exercise stations harness the energy from your workout, sending your energy back to the grid – why waste it? Even if you seem like a hamster in a wheel.

The Edge watches you in the bathroom, too. A normal-looking towel dispenser provides a spool of cloth for hand-drying, but it’s connected to the Internet. It lets the cleaning staff know when a busy bathroom is probably ready for a clean-up.

Bugs and bees and bats and birds are the building’s friends on a terrace where there’s a path of green growing things just for their benefit.

OVG is planning to take sustainability even further with its next development, a mixed-used office and apartment building.  But what about recyclable buildings?

“We basically make buildings in a very linear form,” van Oostrom says. “We have an architect design something, we build it, we use it for 30 or 40 years, and then we demolish the building again and throw away the material.”

For the next building, OVG will use a facade that can be rented for 30 years. Then the manufacturer will take it back and recycle it into a new one.

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