See the bigger picture

“future proofing” – innovation in design

Today’s successful businesses are driven by evolving technology and innovation. They are early adopters of technology, they embrace innovation and their customers are forward thinking end users.
In the industry of architecture and design these businesses are on the cusp of becoming mainstream as the idea of ‘future-proof building’ is increasingly becoming as important to developers as is the demand for quality design and workmanship. What is not yet mainstream is the ability of all developers to incorporate the latest technological advancements into their projects.
Mainstream or not, there is no doubt that future-proof building is here to stay. What varies is the level to which it is incorporated. Future-proof building is the term coined to wrap sustainable innovation in to one neat bundle. It refers to the features and innovations in the building design that improves user benefits of the building now and ensures that the building maintains and improves its future value.
A number of future-proof building principles which are considered at the start of new projects, and which are always considered for retro-fits or remodels, include: energy efficiency, health and safety, life cycle costing, quality assurance, resource responsibility, security and automation, sound control and space management. And, within these broad areas some of the more easily recognisable elements are site and site placement, mechanical systems, water and energy efficiency, recycled content and rapidly renewable materials and the people and their environment.
One cannot talk for long about future-proof building without talking about LEED. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it is a rating system, a certification for “green” buildings which was developed by the Green Building Environmental Council of the United States (USGBC) and provides certain environmental standards for construction. Although sustainable practices have been used for years, LEED was developed to provide a streamlined set of standards; it allows for professional accreditation and it can be used for new builds and for renovations.
Modern architects are deeply engaged in the global conversations about the issues of sustainability, energy efficiency, global warming and land preservation to name just a few. The challenges of incorporating leading technology and innovation in these areas can produce both opportunity and danger. The opportunity is that sustainable buildings are good for the triple bottom line of environment, business and society (or the more easily remembered people, planet and profit); while the danger is that pursuit of the perfect sustainable design might result in design contortions and costs which will deter even the most socially conscientious among us.
But opportunity and danger aside – a good architect will focus on finding the most harmonious relationship between the built environment and the natural environment, will invest extensive time to really understand the building’s purpose and will consider relationships between all of the buildings various components and end-uses. Future-proof building and LEED both focus on sustainable solutions and on designing a holistic, long-term solution which considers the land, the building and the end-use.
It is impossible today to discuss future-proof building and LEED without referencing the Government Administration Building, one of Cayman’s largest and most environmentally friendly buildings whose lead architect and project manager is one of Cayman’s smallest, but equally environmentally aware, architectural company – Design Cayman Limited. Design Principle, Cindy O’Hara is a LEED certified Accredited Professional and was involved with the project from the very beginning.
Like the Government Administration Building, companies considering a new build should consider site placement at the very start, repositioning as necessary to accommodate indigenous trees and shrubs in the area. They should also consider the always changing human capital needs with innovative office planning protocols such as demountable office walls – allowing office sizes and numbers to be changed with minimal impact, data and power lines running underneath the raised floor and not up the walls so that they can easily be ‘redirected’ to a new desk, removable floor tiles which provide easy access to the power and data lines below and motion activated overhead and task lighting which does not require wall mounted switches – remember that the walls are moveable so wall mounted switches would be problematic!
The innovative office planning protocols are end user specific; however the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are vital parts of all projects. Efficiency, balance and right-sized equipment are critical and cutting edge technology and innovation can drastically improve these – where using the latest and greatest is practical and affordable. However it should also be noted that the early integration of passive and renewable systems such as solar, landscaping for shade, using natural ventilation and incorporating ‘daylighting’ can allow buildings to benefit from the long-term savings without adding to the cost of construction.
But for those not in the market for a new building – there are endless options for how technology and design innovation can make a difference to interiors and to renovations as well. Site placement is not a necessary consideration when taking office space in an existing building, and new tenants may not have the luxury of choice when it comes to the mechanical, electrical and plumbing, but an empty space can be designed with many of the interior solutions discussed further on in this article.
Why make your building interiors green?
The intent of LEED for commercial interiors is to assist in the creation of high performance, healthy, durable and affordable interiors. A number of relatively simple projects can be undertaken in existing offices which will have beneficial long-term effects, and these are all applicable to new builds as well, as the best future-built policies are those integrated seamlessly at the very start:
Change lighting fixtures and bulbs: add task lighting at desks and turn off lights not required to work; maintain a yearly lighting schedule showing when bulbs were installed so that replacing them is routine and optimises efficiency.
Change AC filters regularly: set up a maintenance schedule in Outlook and follow up to ensure that the filters were changed; move the thermostat to a location that is not affected by airflow from a nearby diffuser or near a window where the temperature may be higher, these areas have fluctuating temperatures and cause the air conditioner to run unnecessarily.
Ensure that all thermostats are programmed at a comfortable temperature (77-78 degrees) to save energy.
Air-conditioning: add dedicated AC exhaust and intake to ensure fresh air is provided.
Insulate: use high efficiency spray insulation to the underside of the roof structure to provide an enhanced thermal barrier.
Maximise shade: install, or encourage your landlord to install, shading devices to the exterior of windows (or proper interior blinds which provide shade and will always stay down and allow light to filter through).
Get the most out of your space: economise on space/multi-use areas with multiple overlap tasking. For example an office with a large wall could also be equipped for teleconferences. Use a flexible open plan, modular team office groups rather than closed offices, as this encourages direct interaction of managers and staff. And give all staff lap-tops to encourage multi-use of space and easy relocation of site.
Maximise natural light: work with a designer to rearrange interior spaces to allow natural light to access all spaces – and then simply add glazed panels if necessary for privacy.
Use recycled/renewable materials: including carpets, some furniture and re-used furniture, and buy everyone a permanent cup and plate. Discourage being a disposable office.
Do not print everything: and when you do use double-sided printing – save on paper. Maintain a soft-copy filing system with multi-level server storage redundancy and reuse scrap paper for note taking/sketching.
Turn off and unplug electronic devices: such as the photocopier, every night, or use power bars with timers (you can get them at pet stores for fish tanks) or an ‘on/off’ switch. Most equipment have ‘sleep mode’ which is still consuming energy.
Use living green plants throughout your office space as they can:

  • Reduce absenteeism by up to 20 per cent
  • Stimulate productivity and creativity
  • Cleanse the air, improving employee health
  • Humidify the air and relieve dry eye symptoms
  • Create an impressive and sustainable ‘work of art’ – walls

Sustainability and conservation are no longer luxury design elements. They can be implemented in new builds or renovations; the largest and, conversely, the smallest of projects and will always assist in the future proofing of the building. Future proofing provides flexibility to the users; it creates energy and water efficiencies and it addresses the needs not just of the end users but also of the surrounding community.
We live in a time when the growing expectation is for responsible use of the planet’s non-renewable resources and prudent use of those which are readily available and require only foresight and careful planning. Future-proofing is not a buzz word. It is a process which allows developers to leave a legacy of thoughtfully designed buildings which exhibit due deference to the environment and the community. It gives developers, designers, homeowners and small business owners the opportunity to be a part of something lasting. And most importantly it allows you to increase the value of your investment before it is even built.
For those interested in finding out more about the environment read former Vice-President Al Gore’s book “An Inconvenient Truth”, and for those simply interested in becoming more environmentally friendly – adopt the philosophy of the power of small choices. It does not have to be a green building simply choosing to use reusable shopping bags is a step you can take which will make a difference. Future-proof your building or your home if you can, but take steps to future-proof the planet as well.

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Cindy O'Hara

Cindy O’Hara was the managing director of OBM International’s Cayman Office from 2001 to 2007 before opening Design Cayman in January 2008. She studied architecture in Canada, France and Spain and has 18 years of experience in the Cayman construction industry. A highlight of her career is the Government Office Administration Building, of which she is currently the Design Manager and Project Architect.

Cindy O’Hara, MRAIC, LEED AP
Managing Principal
Design (Cayman) Limited
Full Service Architectural Practice

T: +1 (345) 949 2800
[email protected]

Brian Macdonald

Brian Macdonald has a proven track record of 20 years in architectural business, the last 12 of which have been in the Caribbean region. He has worked on and managed a variety of projects from hospitality through, commercial, research, civic and luxury residences. With good design awareness, he applies passion and integrity to every project, whilst listening to, guiding and advising the client for the best possible results.

Brian J Macdonald, ARB, RIBA
Managing Principal
Design (Cayman) Limited
Full Service Architectural Practice

+1 (345) 949 2800
[email protected]