Can ‘old’ buildings be just as energy-efficient as new ones?

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Heritage buildings can compete with modern buildings in terms of sustainable energy efficiency. Various options are available to building operators of older buildings – replacing heating, air-conditioning, lighting systems and even upgrading elevators with access and destination control technology.Two of the leading technologies in the elevator industry today are Schindler Lifts’ PORT Technology (with a 20-year heritage of innovation) and KONE’s new People Flow Intelligence technology. Both operate on similar principles – facilitating smooth people flow and access vertically and horizontally.

In this feature, we look the architecturally excellent Heritage icon of Sydney’s financial district, the new home of Macquarie Bank Limited (MBL) at 48-50 Martin Place. It is an extraordinary story of how close collaboration among architects, consultants and service solution providers can result in bringing a Heritage building up to A-class building standards, while not compromising form or aesthetics.

The building, previously owned by Commonwealth Bank, was comprehensively restored in the late 1980s, and with its acquisition of the building in 2011, Macquarie embarked on building upgrades in 2012 and 2013. Within those two years, MBL collaborated closely with notable industry names such as Johnson Pilton Walker Architects, Norman Disney Young, Brookfield Multiplex and Schindler Lifts to modernise the Sydney landmark though a well-thought out process of design and engineering. Retaining the Heritage elements of its Beaux-Arts style exterior and its opulent neoclassical interior – which featured extensive use of marble, scagliola, decorative pressed metal and bronze work – was paramount.

Despite complex Heritage and base building restrictions, Schindler Lifts was still able to achieve A-Grade status for vertical transportation (VT) services in a building serving 2000 people where the pre-existing VT infrastructure was woefully inadequate. How it did that was to enhance the building with modern technology and complex engineering solutions.

Aesthetics and engineering
The building, as it stands today, comprises 11 levels of state-of-the-art commercial workspace. The banking chambers are still a fully functioning branch of the Commonwealth Bank and much of the space has been meticulously restored by both the Commonwealth Bank in the 1980s and by MBL over the last two years.

The Heritage-listed building is a magnificent testament to financial institution buildings of the period. Architectural firm Johnson Pilton Walker (JPW) has helped MBL retain the building’s majestic charm, while at the same time creating a space that meets the needs of modern-day functional workspaces. The refurbishment of 20,000 square metres over the nine existing levels involved a complete overhaul of building services and systems, a new interior fitout and glass shuttle lifts. An additional two floors of premium space were added to the top floor of the building, serving as executive offices, meeting rooms and client entertainment spaces. Atop the new floors is a dome-shaped glass roof that fills the space with abundant natural light. These were key elements in the upgrading process in order to achieve six-Star Green Star – Office As Built rating.

The new interior of the building features additions such as a light-filled open atrium, an internal staircase at the eastern end of the premises to improve inter-floor connectivity, expansive use of glass walls in meeting rooms to capitalise on the natural light, feature glass floors in some of the top floor meeting rooms, an ornate seating area on Level 10, which encompasses elements of the original copper rooftop, and two custom round-glass elevators, which serve as the executive express elevators from the banking chamber to Levels 10 and 11.

Steve Newton, Schindler Lift national transit management and top range manager explains the engineering intricacies that were involved with such a build.

The initial planning process for the bespoke lifts and discussions made a U-turn with the complex Heritage requirements surrounding the project, according to Newton. As the Commonwealth Bank still had its banking chambers on the ground floor, it was imperative that only the elevator car was visible from the banking chamber. Thus, an engineering solution was provided to prevent the counterweight from descending to the banking chamber level. This involved employing dual counterweight diverter sheaves with a dual hitch point arrangement to allow placement of the counterweight to the elevator car, and a two-to-one roping of the counterweight to slow it down in relation to the speed of the elevator car. With an all-glass shaft construction, cantilever rails were fixed at each floor to minimise visible joins and brackets, with rails cut to non-standard size to match existing floor-to-floor distances.

Newton further explains, “Instead of one-to-one ropes going into the machine room, we went with two-to-one on the pulley. By doing that, it halves the speed of the counterweight, which then travels half the distance. This means that the counterweight would never travel down into the banking chamber.” The amount of engineering that went into accomplishing this meant that a 2.5-metre high glass shaft could be constructed in free space and also allowed for 2.5-metre of ceiling space for the banking chambers. This meant that when the elevator cars were descending from the upper floors, they looked as if they were floating. All this kept everything neat and minimalistic, and keeping in line with MBL’s vision of a light-filled atrium and interior throughout all levels of the building.

Technology upgrades
The bespoke glass lifts and the complex engineering behind them may be the project’s talking point, but what may interest facilities managers and building operators is how the introduction of PORT Technology – a third-generation transit management system pioneered and refined technologically by Schindler Lifts in the last 20 years. Installing existing lifts with this intelligent destination-control system lifted the building’s vertical transportation services to A-class standards. Newton says, “We had some lifts that were Heritage, and we also put in new elevators, which also had Heritage requirements on them. As MBL was putting more staff in the building, to achieve property council performance levels for elevators in A-class buildings, we had to modernise all lifts with Destination Control technology. This helped to get them up to performance levels of modern buildings and was a boost to the handling capacity for the elevator system.

“Grouping people so the lifts are only going to two to three floors before returning to ground level meant that waiting times were reduced. This was a significant boost to performance,” adds Newton.

The technology behind Destination Control is highly sophisticated and helps vertical transportation systems meet property guidelines. There is also room to personalise systems to client requirements.

Newton notes that 25- to 30-year-old buildings, which are in the modernisation phase, don’t meet current property council guidelines. For elevators in these buildings, technologies like Destination Control help systems get up to speed. However, there are more than just compliance benefits. Technologies like Destination Control also result in energy savings.

“Even with old motor generator technology, if you put in brand new controllers, variable voltage frequency lift machines, then if you put in new inverter drives that feed power back to the mains, that in itself is a generator,” says Newton. “And heavier counterweights can also generate power. So with that technology and with the Destination Control system in place, energy consumption can be reduced by up to 70 percent.”

How this works is that intelligent elevator systems like Destination Control are able to dynamically put elevators into ‘sleep’ mode when there is no demand on the system. Putting elevators into a reduced energy mode during off-peak hours can pull in an extra 10 to 30 percent in energy savings.

While Schindler pioneered this technology, players within the elevator solutions industry have caught on to the technology, bringing to the market similar systems to Schindler’s Destination Control technology. This means that there are now more opportunities for facilities managers and building operators to tap opportunities to bring about potential energy savings and greater energy efficiency. With introduction of technology and a few minor upgrades to an existing elevator system, building operators can boost their buildings’ vertical transportation services, keeping them aligned with current property council guidelines – thus helping older buildings compete with newer modern buildings around the corner.


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