Adelaide now boasts one of Australia’s smartest buildings, GPO Exchange. The 20-storey A-grade commercial building has raised the bar for smart buildings, winning an Australian Engineering Excellence Award 2020 and an International IBcon Digie Award for Most Intelligent Office Building 2020.

The $300 million Charter Hall development was designed by Hassell and Fitzpatrick + Partners and completed by Built in late 2019. Located at 10 Franklin Street, it adjoins and pays homage to the 1907 heritage Telephone Exchange building.

The building gets its smarts from the use of over 25 separate building control systems, including a self-service visitor management system, smart lighting and monitoring system,  and electric vehicle charging, all monitored via one unified data and building dashboard  system. 

Each system is connected to an IP backbone and selective data is captured from each system in order to provide contextual insights about how the building is being used. This includes occupancy levels, lighting levels, spatial utilisation, how and what types of waste is being generated, how the loading docks are used, when the electric vehicle charging stations are being used and determining the patterns of use for the end of trip lockers.

“All together the smart building systems capture over 32,000 data points which are used to monitor building and utility usage patterns,” says Bruce Duyshart, director of smart buildings consultancy, Meld Strategies. “This extent of usage data is a step change for smart buildings. It’s not about how many points are captured, but which points are captured that is important to defining a clear operational picture.” 

Meld Strategies, who were engaged as the principal technology consultant to create the technology specifications and project manage the delivery of GPO Exchange’s smart technologies, says that the mass of usage data is sent to a range of specific dashboards customised for each building stakeholder (e.g. asset owner, facilities manager, security manager, concierge, tenant, etc.).

“With a renewed focus on the capabilities of new sensors and technologies, asset owners are coming to realise how little they know about their own buildings from a utilisation perspective. Smart building technologies provide greater visibility into how the building is being used, which provides opportunities for improvements in building performance and tenant experience,” says Duyshart.

For the building manager, some of the new technologies allow a more streamlined management process. For example, the contractor management system is used to check that contractors attending site have been inducted, completed their SWMS, and have up-to-date insurances before the system will provide them access to the keys they require to access relevant floors and equipment rooms.

For occupants, the building provides a more digital and mobile experience via a mobile app called Charli. Charli allows occupants to tap their phone for building access, book lockers, contact the concierge, and even order a coffee from the lobby cafe. 

Construction challenges

Duyshart says that a typical building uses about 6 primary building control systems, but GPO Exchange has extended this list to well over 25 systems in addition to the traditional mechanical, EMS, security, lighting, lift and CCTV systems. Rather than operate as separate ‘islands’ a structured platform enables a consolidated view and building health status via a single interface. 

“A lot of technologies and technology concepts still aren't well understood by the industry. This means that establishing and over-communicating the vision throughout a project is paramount to success.”

Duyshart says that implementing new technology systems successfully requires that the general contractor and subbies have a practical understanding of the specifications and the correct interpretation of the design intent. 

“The key question to answer for all involved is: what is the clear vision and outcome that needs to be achieved? This requires supporting everyone involved and progressing on the journey together.”

Ultimately, this required more documentation, oversight, and plenty of communication extending down the line to all players in the supply chain. Also, the one critical aspect of success: buy-in from the client and key stakeholders.

Barriers to widespread adoption of smart building technology

Duyshart says that behavioural change is probably one of the biggest barriers impeding the adoption of new smart technologies. The lack of education and training around technology is challenging for contractors, trades and owners making its adoption an educational endeavour as much as it is a construction one, especially since technology is constantly evolving.

“Implementation requires a real dedication to ensuring the quality of each installed system and the associated as-built documentation. As each system is planned and installed, you have to shape finer grained decision-making  to ensure that each system can be secured, protected, maintained and easily  adapted to suit future upgrades.”

Duyshart says that it’s rewarding to finally see a vision come to life and that this was ultimately attributable to the project team weathering the storm together despite a number of  unforeseen challenges that arose and the client remaining positive and proactive throughout.

“The success of the project ultimately relied on the client and stakeholders maintaining an open mind and can-do attitude. This created an environment in which the vision wasn’t diluted along the way, even when certain delivery or project constraints proved difficult,” says Duyshart.

GPO Exchange has raised the bar for smart buildings. It wasn’t a project that set out to do tech for  tech’s sake, but aimed to improve value for building owners and occupants across all key outcomes: health, safety, sustainability, security, experience, and information transparency.

The 24,500 sqm commercial building has achieved 6-star Green Star, 5-star NABERS Energy, 4-star NABERS Water, 6-star NABERS Waste, and Gold WELL Certification.

“GPO Exchange is a great holistic demonstration of what is possible for smart buildings, the likes of which the market has never seen before.”