One of Vancouver’s newest office towers has won an intelligent building award thanks to a package of technologies aimed at improving building performance and tenant experience.
GWL Realty Advisors (GWLRA) won the award for the Most Intelligent Office Building for Vancouver Centre II (VCII) at the Realcomm IBCon’s Digie Awards in Las Vegas June 14. The field for the award included 20 nominees.
VCII opened to tenants in January. It’s a 33-storey, 370,000-square-foot office tower at 753 Seymour St. developed for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) and Canada Life’s Segregated Real Estate Funds.
The development process integrated VCII with the existing VCI tower beside it. The buildings are interconnected through a 4,000-square-foot atrium that includes a 320-foot art installation by Douglas Coupland and a 30-foot-high green wall.
Tech package aims to boost operations, tenant experience
VCII’s tech package allows the building’s operations team to view the status of critical equipment and infrastructure, and to monitor sustainability performance in real time.
The program integrates 16 cloud-based and building systems such as electricity, thermal and water meters, occupancy sensors, elevator systems and EV charging stations.
It provides tenants and building operators better visibility into all aspects of building operations via the Building Intelligence platform.
The tech tools also enable an enhanced digital tenant experience via a mobile app that can be used for keyless or fob-less building access and to call elevators, see amenity occupancy and make bookings, check the status of EV charging stations and receive communications from the property team.
While some of the features can be found in other apps for office buildings, GWLRA said VCII is unique because the app allows GWLRA to offer tenants the option to upgrade and extend certain app features into their own space.
The tech system in the building helps to create a "physically frictionless experience for the tenants," said Betsa Filakovic, senior director, digital buildings technology, business excellence & innovation with GWLRA.
"We're using technology to remove that friction that exists in our world today, which is . . . fidgeting in our pockets or purses or bags or cars looking for passes, or running and pushing the elevator button 16 times thinking it's going to come faster," Filakovic told RENX.
A dog lover, Filakovic said one of her favourite bits of tech is a digital video feed of the building's dog play area. Users can check to see how busy it is, or can keep an eye on their dog if a colleague is dog sitting.
The win provides a deep sense of accomplishment given that the field included 20 nominees from around North America including in larger markets, said Geoff Heu, vice-president, development for Western Canada with GWLRA.
The firm is a North American real estate investment advisor providing asset management, property management, development and specialized real estate advisory services to pension funds and institutional clients across various asset classes.
"It's technology that (provides) a better tenant experience (and) a lower operations cost," Heu told RENX.
Team pleased with leasing activity at VCII
Heu said VCII is 73 per cent leased and his team feels happy with that figure given the slowdown in the office market amid the work-from-home movement.
"It is slower than the last couple of years. Everyone has heard that the sublease market is up (in vacancy)."
Tech company interest has slowed in Vancouver these days, but other more traditional tenants including accounting, legal and other professional services have remained active, Heu said.
One of the building's latest tenants is Pan American Silver, a resource company that took 30,000 square feet across two floors.
Other tenants include Kabam (121,000 square feet); Sandstorm Gold (33,000 square feet); Owen Bird law firm (21,000 square feet); PI Financial (40,000 square feet) and TSX Venture Exchange (10,000 square feet), Heu said.
"We have a nice mix."
The downtown office market will take some time to recalibrate, Heu said.
"People are understanding their longer-term space requirements and even (the) work-from-home (situation). The policies are changing."
Heu said his team remains optimistic for the long-term prospects of the Vancouver office market, which has recently touched above 10 per cent downtown office vacancy.
Filakovic and Heu said the Digie Award should help boost marketing efforts for VCII, but also provides a launch pad for other smart building designs in their own portfolio and the broader Vancouver office market, which should be motivated to keep pace with the tech stack of VCII.
"The design of the building (is) definitely setting a very different and a new baseline for our commercial buildings," Filakovic said.
"It's not just GWLRA, but it's the whole industry just trying to use technology better to meet various objectives including sustainability, tenant satisfaction . . . lower operating costs," Heu said.
“I think it's an industry-wide direction.”
Other intelligent VCII tech features
Other intelligent tech elements at VCII include:
- Work order tickets: Work order tickets can be submitted directly from the app with mapped locations within VCII, along with pictures and descriptions of an issue or the required work. Automated workflow ensures all tenant-submitted work order requests are routed to the tenant facility manager for review and approval.
- Electric vehicle charging status: Check on charging station status and availability. The app can notify tenants when their vehicle is charged, contributing to increased use of the charging infrastructure.
- Sustainability stats: Tenants can look at overall building sustainability stats and trends, including energy and utility-related consumption.
- Amenity booking: View and book available meeting rooms and control HVAC and lighting based on booking and occupancy.
- Wayfinding: Real-time wayfinding and turn-by-turn navigation to common amenities within VCII.
- Communication: Occupants can receive building-wide communication from the property team as well as communications from their tenant facility managers.
- Links to nearby services: The ability to explore nearby transit, restaurants, shops etc.
Launched in 1999, the Digie Awards recognize outstanding companies, real estate projects, and technologies.
The Most Intelligent Building Projects Awards go to extraordinary buildings, projects and communities that best demonstrate smart, connected, high-performance intelligent building concepts.