Automation and controls in offices change, accommodating new work styles

To appeal to various clients and work styles, office building automation system design is shifting

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer January 3, 2023
Tracking and displaying the energy usage at ESD's headquarters in Chicago provides occupants the awareness of the amount of energy used and when and what the impact is. Courtesy: ESD

Office building insights

  • Office building design is changing as owners and tenants expect more, especially in a building’s automated systems.
  • Touchless controls, outside air and high-tech buildings are new trends in office space.

Miles Brugh, PE, Project Electrical Engineer/Manager, ESD, Chicago–Adrian Gray, C Eng, Eur Ing, Global Director – Commercial and Real Estate Sector, HDR, London–Matt Humphries, Associate Principal, Arup, Toronto–John Yoon, PE, LEED AP, Principal Engineer, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago


  • Miles Brugh, PE, Project Electrical Engineer/Manager, ESD, Chicago
  • Adrian Gray, C Eng, Eur Ing, Global Director – Commercial and Real Estate Sector, HDR, London
  • Matt Humphries, Associate Principal, Arup, Toronto
  • John Yoon, PE, LEED AP, Principal Engineer, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago

Tracking and displaying the energy usage at ESD’s headquarters in Chicago provides occupants the awareness of the amount of energy used and when and what the impact is. Courtesy: ESD


What mechanical, electrical, plumbing or fire protection systems within office buildings require specialized automation or controls that previously might not have?

Adrian Gray: The level of required automation will vary from project to project primarily based on cost. Meeting rooms however now have a higher demand for MEP/audiovisual/room booking/food and beverage controls automation. Fully smart integrated buildings will strive to use automation to identify efficiencies such as turning off lighting and air conditioning in nonused working spaces.

John Yoon: With many large cities adopting or close to adopting, building performance standards and similar decarbonization requirements, I expect to see increased emphasis on improving the granularity of control in building automation systems to reduce energy consumption. Certain functionality that typically would only be seen in U.S. Green Building Council LEED projects such as luminaire level lighting controls and automated demand response will eventually become more common to meet BPS requirements.

Are you seeing automation and control features on these types of projects that you wouldn’t on other facilities?

John Yoon: Locally, we’ve seen the adoption of new energy conservation stretch codes that incorporate numerous new requirements for commercial office buildings. Several appear lay the groundwork for future ADR and DEG/DES requirements. While the ultimate goals are a bit nebulous — there are placeholders in the code that say that in new construction, roofs must be “solar-ready,” have “energy storage system ready” areas and that “grid-integrated controls” for HVAC equipment be provided. As anyone who has designed any of these types of systems will know, the associated controls can be very elaborate depending on the size of the system and local utility company’s interconnection/DR requirements. It is expected that these requirements will become incorporated to some degree as part of the 2024 IECC.

Adrian Gray: The common requests tend to be air quality monitoring; secure Wi-Fi coverage that allows staff to work in an agile way; desk, meeting room and collaboration space booking systems; integrated AV meeting rooms; and building sustainability apps.

What smart or internet-enabled technologies are you being asked to specify to improve working conditions?

Adrian Gray: Yes, more than 50% of HDRs current office projects have a requirement for automated controls and integrated converge single networks to meet specific project requirements and provide a degree of future expansion. A new commercial office is typically benchmarked against smart or intelligent buildings as the norm, existing commercial buildings are embracing upgrading existing building management systems and MEP plant. Well-designed controls in intelligent buildings can play a key role in reducing the carbon emissions and optimize a building’s performance.

John Yoon: We’re sometimes asked to specify integration between multiple different systems (security, elevator dispatch, HVAC BAS, etc.) to provide what is perceived as enhanced functionality that tenants would want. For example, a company’s CEO could swipe in at the parking garage using a security ID card that information would be sent to the elevator controls to dispatch an elevator so that it is waiting for them in the lobby, the HVAC system would increase outside air to certain areas of the tenant suite based on calculated occupancy, etc. While that sounds great on paper, the sticker shock and logistics associated with coordinating multiple different vendors means those wish list items often gets value engineered early in the design process.

How have your engineers worked with building owners and facility managers to implement integrated technology in these structures?

Adrian Gray: HDR has been engaged to drive and develop controls and smart building technology strategy covering HVAC, lighting, AV meeting room integration, CCTV and door access and wireless app integration with food and beverage teams. HDR worked closely with stakeholder’s (executive board and FM management teams) to ensure the clients are engaged throughout the decision-making process.

What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome for these projects and how did you do so?

Adrian Gray: The key challenge is how to interface the standalone silo operating systems/networks onto an integrated landlord’s converged building network without major redesign works and without an extension to appointing an MEP contractor. A typical solution would be a master system integrator software/hardware/analytic platform solution that will collect and consolidate silo system data from all the different silo network device interfaces and provide an on-site analytic reporting FM dashboard. Also included was the MSI to lead and consolidate full testing and commissioning.

Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owners to design a project?

Miles Brugh: As a project team, we have fully adopted BIM in our drafting process. By making BIM our primary source of draft (modeling) we have been able to better coordinate with our architectural partners and other project teams to create a more efficient process. We can actively coordinate and identify issues to allow for more productive coordination calls. It also allows the architect partners to identify any critical spaces/zones for us to work around to really help meet theirs and the owners design goals.

Adrian Gray: Yes, a recent HDR project example is Citi, where all the technology rooms are shown in the Revit model as fully coordinated with MEP and information and communications technology services.

John Yoon: Yes. We typically develop our models to LOD 300-350. While the enhanced in-house coordination allowed by BIM in the design stage is incredibly useful, we find that for projects in existing buildings, the architectural and structural elements are often not modeled accurately. The architectural model may look great on paper, their implied degree of precision is misleading. Simple things, such as wrong deck-to-deck heights and structural beam sizes are common. Those types of things may not impact an architect’s scope of work but can cause major headaches for MEP engineers. As a result, we have become more cautious when working on BIM projects in existing buildings. While the architectural model looks great, the implied level of accuracy is misleading to our designers.

How are cybersecurity concerns being addressed with building automation systems? What steps are you following with the building owner and operations team?

John Yoon: In the past, building automation systems have been sandboxed on dedicated networks. This made cybersecurity relatively straightforward. The guiding concept was that having a dedicated BAS-only network prevented access from other systems or the outside world, which made the BAS less vulnerable to cyberattacks. As systems migrate to the cloud and become more interconnected, this ability to isolate the BAS goes away.

The typical “one-size fits all” solution is to specify VLANs and firewalls to provide some level of separation. This gives many building owners a false sense of security and makes them less sensitive to potential vulnerabilities. But many integrators when under pressure to control costs will cut corners and do things like put multiple systems on the same VLAN.

However, there is often nothing that protects the various systems from each other. Any single system that shares that same infrastructure could compromise the security of everything else that is connected. When you have multiple third-party systems that are interconnected with the BAS, who is responsible for ensuring that cybersecurity for each of those systems is properly funded and implemented? Contractual language for that needs to be included in any maintenance/warranty agreement.

Adrian Gray: Our information and communications technology specification contains a detailed technical section on cybersecurity that includes.  Government and industry cybersecurity standards to be applied, threat and defense configuration (real time detection), anti-malware software, commissioning with penetration testing (external third party to be used), logical V-LAN separations.

Bureau 24/7 monitoring is also part of the cybersecure specification ensuring that in the case of an attempted penetration alerts are actioned immediately providing long-term protection monitoring for the landlord. The building automation systems that are included are EMS, PMS, BMS, CCTV, door access and lighting controls. HDR has designed a resilient converged network platform to provide system interoperability.