ULI Washington News

2014 Trends: Innovative Design * (Data Analysis + IoT) = Smart Everything: How smart design & the Internet of Things are redefining our relationship with the spaces and places around us.

By Jessica Itzel

Imagine walking through your door after a long day and, like an old friend, your light fixtures read your facial expression and adapt to your particular mood. Or picture a grocery store shelf that restocks itself based on patterns of consumer purchasing behavior. Until recently, innovations like these seemed futuristic, but with more connected devices than humans in the world today, the emergence of the Internet of Things has enabled these ideas to become reality.

Internet-enabled devices and the smart systems that power them collect and manipulate enormous amounts of actionable data, which has already begun to revolutionize traditional business models and the way people interact with the world around them. Think of the Nest, which reinvents the thermostat by using data to save energy by learning and adapting to the patterns and preferences of its users.

Consumer products like the Nest have introduced us to the applications of the IoT for personal use, but as Matt Hopkins, Director of Artchitecture at streetsense and moderator of the Innovative Design * (Data Analysis + IoT) = Smart Everything panel revealed, the implications of this phenomenon for the real estate industry are much broader. The Internet of Things is rapidly transforming into the Internet of Everything as virtually everything can be connected to the internet and used to gather, read, and manipulate data. For those entrusted with developing and building in this new era of smart technology, the IoT is reinventing the way we design – and experience – physical spaces.

Each panelist offered a unique perspective on how the IoT is influencing the built environment, but all had one message in common – the time is now for developers to utilize Big Data and the IoT to make design decisions and improve the everyday lives of the people affected by them.

Panelist Keith Besserud, Director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Founder of Blackbox, used the relatable example of a city traffic scenario to demonstrate the potential for data analysis be used to solve a common problem faced in urban areas. By implementing data-gathering sensors throughout a city, mathematical models would be programmed to simulate traffic patterns and behavior, and would ultimately become advanced enough to be able to predict the consequences of adding a new stop sign, changing a traffic pattern, or creating a bike path. While our industry currently lacks the integrated models to reach this point of prediction, those developers and planners who are able to take advantage of this opportunity will see tremendous consequences in the way cities are planned for efficiently and productivity.

The next panelist, Matt Gentile of Deloitte, echoed Besserud’s emphasis on the opportunities for the IoT to influence smart design practices, but focused specifically on the behavioral implications of such technology. The IoT, he argued, will make us better observers of actual behavior by having access to data, like understanding energy consumption by having and companies that take advantage of this data-gathering in their business models will thrive. His note to developers: design for data and become more IT-savvy.

Miguel McKelvey, co-founder of WeWork, a company that creates urban coworking spaces, shared his perspective on how the internet of things is changing the way people interact and work. In his words, his concern is with happiness and human interaction in space, and his goal is to create spaces that people enjoy working in. For McKelvey, the value of data analysis and the IoT is its creation of a new era of entrepreneurship, sparked by the idea that people can generate income from unused resources. Technology is allowing us to share nearly everything, and asset holders in real estate should consider ways to participate in the sharing economy by utilizing unused resources. These spaces – and the way people share and communicate with them – are all driven by the IoT and are optimized for maximum use of resources by the collection and analysis of data.

Each panelist approached the topic of smart design in the age of connectivity and Big Data from their own particular perspective, perhaps best summarized by Hopkins at the close of the panel:

Keith: Model everything
Matt: Spy on everything
Miguel: Share everything

Despite their different approaches to the topic, each panelist shared a vision for a near future that is at once highly personalized and highly collaborative, powered by the connected devices that we use in our everyday lives. To those who develop, influence and build the spaces that we live, work, and play in, their advice is simple: use the technology and data that we have to make smarter design choices that will ultimately improve our communities and the lives of the people who live in them.


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