Property Australia

How any building can become a ‘smart building’


If we are to achieve our net zero goals, we must rely on existing stock as well as new developments, which is why establishing 'smart buildings' is an important piece of the jigsaw.

Australian buildings account for about 23 per cent of national emissions, and as the industry moves towards a net zero future, buildings need to adapt.

“Reducing building emissions, improving the end-user experience, and ensuring the resilience of human habitats means we need to optimise the 90 per cent of assets that are already built,” said Julian Bott, Cundall APAC Managing Director.

“Smart building innovations, thoughtfully planned and delivered, are an attractive pathway for future-proofing the value of their properties and keeping them relevant in the 21st century property market.”

While there is a lot of talk about 'smart buildings’, the concept is generally attached to new structures with the most cutting-edge technical characteristics, but to Cundall Melbourne Principal Engineer (Building Controls), Michelle Ganley (pictured below), this could not be further from the truth. 


She is co-author of The Thinking Building: a complete guide to smart buildings APAC edition, which aimed to map out accessible, achievable, and cost-effective ways a building can become smarter, more resilient, and ready to connect to digital networks.

"The biggest thing I try to demystify is the misinformation that a smart building has to be this brand new state of the art building, because there's so many features that you can retrofit into an existing building,” she said.

The report lays out one simple example, an older building that gets a lighting upgrade that incorporates LED lighting, occupant sensors, daylighting sensors and a smart lighting control system that can be managed via an app or digital platform is likely to consume less energy than a conventional manual switch-based fluorescent office lighting system.

Ganley said many buildings already have some measure of smart building design, but it was about connecting these systems together that can enhance accessible, achievable, and cost-effective ways a building can become smarter, more resilient, and ready to connect to digital networks.

While smart concepts like motion triggered lighting can help reduce energy reduction in a building, Ganley said the systems can be more expansive and nuanced. 

“In terms of energy monitoring systems, you can use it to set up real time monitoring,” she said.

Ganley said companies could input targets that would help their buildings achieve net zero, and then monitor the systems to match those targets.

Then it can be like sending alerts to operators; such as ‘it looks like you're not going to meet your target this month’, or ‘this area of the building is using a lot more energy than expected, maybe you should go and have a look and see what's happening’.

Another benefit of connecting these systems is maintenance and extending the life of an asset.

“You're predicting issues with plans often before they occur, which in turn, reduces the amount of issues that do occur, which does extend the lifecycle of main equipment, which is really expensive to replace,” Ganley said.

The University of Wollongong expanded its footprint with a new campus in Hong Kong that came fitted with many smart features. 

ISG, UOW, Kowloon City Campus-012

The University of Wollongong’s Hong Kong campus.

The 30,000 square feet site transformed in the face of COVID, with elements such as touchless sensors for toilets and doors, UV sterilisers in the fresh air ventilation system and live streaming and recording systems.

Used in integration with other IT/AV systems, this technology enabled agile remote teaching and learning options. Digital modelling studies on carbon emissions reduction and energy efficiency informed lighting and HVAC solutions, with the final optimised energy efficiency solutions including smart lighting control systems and scheduled HVAC operation via a Building Management System (BMS).

Ganley said retrofitting older buildings is prevalent in London, due to the high amount heritage buildings.

“I've seen heaps of clients that are trying to turn old heritage buildings into smart buildings,” she said. 

“And we've seen through that, that it's definitely possible, and it's often easier than you think.”