Surviving Sydney’s 45.8°C day

by FM Media
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What makes a high performance building? Total Facilities Expo 2013 speaker, ASHAK NATHWANI of the University of Sydney puts himself in a building’s shoes and shares how, as a high performance building, he was equipped to survive Sydney’s hottest day.

I survived the hottest day in Sydney when the ambient temperature soared to 45.8 degrees Celsius and with the help of some clever facilities management I managed to provide almost normal indoor conditions. Does this make me a high performance building (HPB)?
This is the inevitable question that we must ask ourselves from the moment of a building’s inception, to determine whether it will end up as yet another high-rise development with some green credentials or a true high performance building.
To answer that question, I need to relate my story from birth until now. In technical terms, this might be referred to as ‘cradle to gate’. Cradle in my case is when the architect and the design team first conceived the idea of me as a building.
Initially, the architect concentrated on the aesthetics of the building, while the technical team carried out various modelling and simulations from an engineering perspective to come up with the optimised solutions that would result in minimised operational energy and water consumption. However, things changed very quickly when the owner representative gave a clear message that the development needed to be a HPB. The project manager took that as a challenge and he motivated the team to think outside the square.
The list of requirements was long and each item had to be analysed on a life cycle basis, which in simple terms meant that if the payback period for any capital expenditure for a specific option exceeded five years, then that option was not proceeded with. On the other hand, there were items on the list that were also subjective, such as indoor comfort, and indeed the whole phenomenon of the performance of the building from a long-term viewpoint. Hence, the project team came up with an evaluation tool that allocated points to all items involving financial as well as subjective factors. This enabled a fair debate and healthy discussions within the team, which resulted in what I believe to be a sensible and, even if I say so myself, well-developed and intelligent outcome.
In my opinion, a HPB needs to satisfy four distinct aspects:

  1. financial performance
  2. design performance
  3. sustainability performance, and
  4. facilities performance.

The overall investment needs to be sound with a viable return for the investors. My income side is covered and all my floors are tenanted, and that has been the case since completion. Half of the building is occupied by the investor group, which helps. Therefore, from a financial perspective, all the boxes in the profit and loss spreadsheet, such as yield, return on investment, tenant retention rate and outgoings, have been ticked off, meaning I’m going in a positive or cost-effective direction.

Some of the key features that contribute to a better long-term performance are passive elements such as external shading and the façade selection. I have a ventilated double-glazed system incorporating high performance energy efficient e-glass. This is combined with an external shading system that is very cleverly designed, allowing external views and day lighting, but minimum direct solar heat. This keeps the perimeter areas fairly cool in summer time.
My lighting system is using LED technology that provides good illumination without generating additional heat or using a lot of electrical power and my air-conditioning system is the first of its kind for a high-rise development. Conditioned air is supplied from an underfloor plenum through floor-mounted ‘swirl’ type diffusers in the occupied areas. It is also provided through the workstations as air outlets have been incorporated in the furniture. These ‘individual’ air-conditioning systems can be adjusted to suit personal preferences. This has eliminated a lot of complaints.
I also have a trigeneration system, which generates on-site electricity. The waste heat from the gas-powered engines is used to provide the air-conditioning system with hot and chilled water. Another innovation I have is black water recycling, meaning water is extracted from the sewer system and used in the urinals and toilets for flushing. This did have initial teething problems (and did create a stink, literally), but it now works very well and is responsible for saving a lot of water.
Last but not least was the integrated fitout, which enabled the tenancy fitout, for at least half the number of floors, to be undertaken during construction. This saved what would have otherwise been a material-wasting and time-consuming process.

When completed, I was awarded a six-star Green Star rating for Design and As Built by the Green Building Council of Australia. It was an impressive ceremony performed by none other than the Federal Minister for Environment and Climate Change. The plaque has been hung up in the entry foyer for all to see.
I have also achieved five NABERS Energy and four NABERS Water ratings as a result of a recent audit carried out by independent professionals. This certainly qualifies me as a green building.

This is where a good facilities manager’s operational strategies and procedures come into play. For a facilities manager to operate more efficiently, they require comprehensive and accurate building documentation. So many of my colleagues have no As Installed drawings or any of the services’ vital information, handicapping the facilities manager.
Fortunately, in our case, the documentation of all the systems and indeed the entire building design and construction was carried out using the building information management (BIM) technique. All the drawings and the design documents were done in such a way that the designers and installers could ‘visualise’ the final product through 3D imaging. This helped in resolving coordination issues and, at the same time, to document all the key design decisions.
The BIM product is now used as a facilities management tool. This is unique since many other buildings have used BIM to building completion stage, but have not gone further to incorporate the facilities management module. This is mainly due to cost pressures. Talking about pressures, the life of a facilities manager can also involve demands. Although paid by the building owner, facilities managers have another responsibility – to satisfy tenants’ demands.
So, how does a facilities manager ensure that a building retains its status as an HPB? There are mandatory items that have to be complied with, primarily related to safety and security. Then, there are owner requirements, such as maintaining the environmental ratings related to sustainability. Maintenance scheduling and various building or tenancy upgrades also have to be programmed. In my case, Ryan, my facilities manager, and his assistant Rhonda have formulated an excellent mode of operation.
Both Ryan and Rhonda have attained facilities management qualifications from recognised institutions. Generally, there is a knowledge gap in so many instances, whereby the respective facilities managers may not be conversant with technologies such as trigeneration and black water systems. Both Ryan and Rhonda are up-to-date with these innovations and, best of all, are very hands-on with tools such as building management and control systems (BMCSs). They both cannot only understand the BMCS, but they can also use important BMCS software features in a very effective manner.
The benefits of well-trained facilities managers are best highlighted by noting the strategic process and procedures that Ryan and Rhonda developed and followed during Sydney’s heat wave. I outline how they did it below.

On 18 January 2013 Sydney experienced its hottest day ever. The thermometer reached 45.8 degrees Celsius in the CBD, where I am located.
Ryan and Rhonda had been monitoring the heat wave conditions and had prepared an action plan. First of all, they communicated with all the tenants by advising them of simple actions they could take like wearing suitable clothing during this unusually hot spell. Second, they advised those occupants located in the perimeter zones to keep the blinds down, especially where there was the potential for direct sunlight ingress like the eastern side in the morning and the western areas in the afternoon.
Third, they turned off the perimeter lights, where appropriate, to cut down on the heat output from the lights. Fourth, they had made sure that maintenance was carried out on equipment and systems associated with cooling systems well in advance of summer.
During the days before the hottest day, they were monitoring the ambient temperatures and starting the cooling system earlier than normal. On this day, for example, the air-conditioning was left on all night prior to the hottest day and this ‘pre-cooled’ me before the arrival of the occupants. This is evident in the graphs.
Throughout the day, the facilities management team was actively monitoring indoor conditions (after all, buildings are built for people to be comfortable, thereby enhancing their productivity) and kept all occupants informed of prevailing external as well as internal conditions. This communication went a long way.
My financial, sustainability and design attributes have complemented the ongoing facilities management operations, making me more than just a high-rise development with green credentials. I believe the plaque in the foyer should be upgraded to include ‘A true HPB’.

Ashak Nathwani is an honorary associate of the University of Sydney’s faculty of architecture, design and planning.

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