As cities continue to grow and evolve, the way we construct and manage smart, safe and secure buildings has never been more critical to social and community development. Here, Francesca Boeris looks at the growing trends towards investment in tall buildings and the challenges these environments present in terms of door entry, fire detection and smart security.
Increasing urbanisation in recent decades has meant an upturn in the construction of high-rise and tall buildings across the UK. The key economic driver for the growth is the lack of space in densely urbanised areas, but also the trends of redevelopment and regeneration within cities. In London alone, 76 tall buildings have joined the capital’s skyline in 2019, a threefold increase from 2018*.
Whilst this is particularly true for residential developments, the rising population in cities has also meant that mixed-use buildings are gaining greater importance and high-rise construction is no longer restricted to the financial and business sectors.
Mini-cities stack up
The key driver for tall building is to save space and accommodate more occupants, compared to lower density buildings. But also to regenerate existing buildings, areas and restore confidence in city centre living for the growing and working population.
Comelit Group has recently worked on Impact House as the redevelopment of a largely vacant office building to create a 16-storey development, comprising 197 luxury apartments in Croydon.
250 City Road is another example in the heart of London, standing at an impressive 36 storey development, which will on completion offer 438 apartments, five star luxury facilities, host finest cafes, restaurants, retail outlets, creative workspaces and a 4* nhow hotel, with the addition of 2 acres of wi-fi enabled green space.
The rise in urbanisation, tall buildings such as Impact House and 250 City Road, provide a variety of options for housing and offices, allowing a city to grow without expanding its boundaries or infringing green space or farmland.
Tall buildings are also increasingly designed as mixed-use structures incorporating housing, offices, fitness and lifestyle amenities, cultural spaces, apartments, hotel rooms, and retail and event spaces.
These ‘mini cities’ can create a sense of community while also promoting the larger community around the building with pedestrian street traffic that benefits local businesses.
High-rise construction can also be beneficial to the environment, not only because it takes up less space but because systems like water, heating, cooling and waste are more cost-efficient when they are being managed across a smaller area, with less distance to travel and operated using smart, integrated technology.
The sheer scale of these modern facilities, density of occupation and growing user demands also present specific challenges for safety, security and energy management.
Even within the same building, the needs of different locations will vary considerably and priority must be given to ensure appropriate safety and security measures taken are relevant to the threat, rather than a ‘blanket approach’.
A full risk assessment will uncover potential vulnerabilities, understand the impact of intrusion, attack or fire, and identify the optimum response.
And this is most successful when carried out at the start of any initial design process, as Comelit UK specification would be involved.
The increased number of occupants and height above ground means that conventional evacuation procedures are inappropriate for high-rise buildings.
Should an incident occur, the simultaneous evacuation strategies adopted for low-rise applications must be replaced with a phased approach, as limited stair capacity makes the length of time needed for full evacuation impractical.
In particular, with high-rise buildings fire rescue is often impossible from the outside. As we have devastatingly seen from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, this puts additional pressures on the resilience and reliability of internal life safety systems and procedures. And we await the final findings of the Hackitt Review to see what further detection measures will be enforced going forward.
The speed of fire detection is crucial as it enables building managers to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity and prevent further escalation. Robust detection is essential to ensure there is no opportunity for a false fire alarm. The effect that false alarms have on a tall building is immense, as lost working hours and the upheaval of evacuating premises adds up to significant financial loss.
Critically, information and data from multiple sources across high-rise facilities needs to be shared to create maximum efficiencies and performance from the investment in building infrastructure and building systems.
Smarter building management
Technology can help with managing the unique challenges posed by tall, multi-purpose buildings.
From door entry to concierge services, centralised command and control platforms manage critical situations and enhance security and safety operations, whilst reducing risks.
This is particularly relevant in tall buildings where it is difficult to investigate an incident physically due to the size of the building. This is where technology can help to support the life safety strategy.
Building managers are immediately prompted to take the correct action and the software will automatically set in motion a sequence of pre-agreed activities to ensure the right procedures are adhered to, as well as distributing essential information across multiple agencies.
Capitalising on synergies between core sub-systems, such as integration with building management, electronic security, fire safety and power, will provide higher levels of performance from all systems and also create a fully automated approach to task handling and incident management, should there be a critical event.
Integration of multiple technologies into a single platform will also provide instant situational awareness, improve ‘cause and effect’, distribute information, coordinate responses both internally and also with external services such as the fire service, and manage all of these resources.
Integration of systems, such as Comelit has introduced with renowned access control leaders such as Salto, are key to success in securing tall buildings.
The Salto KS integrated App, compatible with all leading smart phone and tablet technology and tailored to provide push notifications, offers audio and visual functionality for building entrances and apartment doors, to control all aspects of door entry. This includes providing remote, real-time access whilst not on site for deliveries and visitors, alongside communicating with concierge services.
By example, the integration has been used to ensure key security at Angel Gardens, standing as a 36 storey building with 466 rental apartment offerings, mixed use luxury facilities and a 24 hour concierge service. Ultimately, it will present a ‘mini city’ living opportunity in the heart of Manchester.
Comelit has been specified to integrate necessary door entry systems across the development, incorporating main site access and car park entrance systems, together with video calling capability for all apartments and fully shared network facilities.
Residents can operate all door entry features via their mobile phone, as enabled by Comelit’s integration with Salto’s exclusive KS cloud-based access control system. This provides remote, real-time access whilst not on site for deliveries and visitors, alongside communicating with concierge services.
Commenting on the development, Nick Stevens, Comelit’s business development manager for UK Specifications, concluded: “Angel Gardens as a significant tall building, sets a new benchmark for high-end renting across the UK with its exquisite level of amenities. Every detail has been considered to present the height of luxury to the upwardly mobile Manchester City Centre Market, and new residents will undoubtedly have high expectations, including personalised experiences, tailored to suit their lives.”
In summary, tall buildings are increasingly providing a large amount of community living or working space on a small land footprint. Within city living culture, with careful attention to smart security, valuable often restricted land can be used and developed more efficiently, allowing cities to continue to adapt and thrive, delivering high-quality developments for the benefit of growing numbers of city residents.
*High Times: 76 tall buildings to join London’s skyine in 2019, featured in The Guardian, 5 March 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/05/tall-buildings-london-skyline-2019
Francesca Boeris is managing director of Comelit UK. For more information visit https://www.comelitgroup.com/en-gb/