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How Technology Can Create Better Buildings

The industry needs to accelerate adoption of innovation, but the question is how. SVP Jim Palmer of Irvine-based Ten-X, an online real estate transactions platform, raised that question for panelists at Bisnow's San Diego Future of Real Estate event last week.


That's Jim, who was our moderator, far right, with Rob Davis and Jim Young.

Cleantech San Diego executive chairman Jim Waring said all the technology needed to make buildings significantly more efficient is available, but the problem is getting companies to adopt them. He presented reasons why this is so. Jim said for buildings like the hotel where the event was held, electricity is considered a marginal expense, so installing technology that saves 10% to 20% isn’t enough to motivate most building managers.

With real estate developers, time is the enemy, he noted. They need to get their buildings operational as quickly as possible, so will do what’s familiar. The challenge is “how to bring these companies in at the design stage of a new building, so that it’s baked in from day one.” Below are Lee OdessJimDon Clark and Rob Davis.


Jim said companies creating these technologies are frustrated because they’re not getting faster penetration, stressing that if not utilized they may disappear from the marketplace. For example, a salesman marketing a product for Cisco told him the company would abandon the project without $250M in sales the first year.

Cleantech San Diego is a nonprofit membership organization focused on evolving San Diego to a Smart City. It consists of 100 local businesses, universities, governments and nonprofits committed to advancing sustainable solutions for the benefit of the economy and environment.

Florida-based UniKey VP Lee Odess (above left) said the most successful innovators are companies that bring expertise in-house, rather than being afraid of it. Security is one area where technology can increase effectiveness, while decreasing cost, he noted.

Lee, whose company offers a mobile platform to replace keys, codes and passwords by turning a smartphone into a universal electronic key, said companies need to begin with infrastructure that provides access to control systems—“look at the infrastructure first, then go from there.”


SD-based Realcomm founder Jim Young (pictured middle, with Rob Davis and Jim Palmer) stressed the need for companies to have at a chief innovation officer. “At least one person must have the time to consider how to do things better,” he said, noting The Irvine Co has 24 people dedicated to innovation. Realcomm offers two global conferences annually, IBcon and CoRE Tech, that provide the latest information on innovative building technologies.

Locally based CleanSpark VP Rob Davis suggested companies should employ an energy czar to monitor energy usage and recommends ways to improve energy efficiencies. His company builds and operates the macro- and micro-grid, maximizing use of sustainable energy to produce affordable, stable, predictable and reliable power on a large scale.

Companies are reluctant to innovate in this area, he said, though hundreds of thousands of dollars could be saved by investing in energy production and storage technology. Rob said one minute of peak demand can exceed 50% of the electric bill. “Stored energy can clip those peaks that cost so much,” he added.


LA-based Caruso Affiliated SVP of technology Rick Gehringer (above left) suggested companies need to make advanced technologies part of their culture. While his company is committed to developing sustainable structures, it is also using technologies to create positive experiences for tenants at residential and office properties and guests at retail centers.

Rick talked about a a CRM system to capture information from guests at “touch points” from the time they enter a property until they leave. He said the information, which might include conversations, purchases and other activities, is co-mingled to create opportunities for concierge employees to provide the best service possible.

His team creates apps customized to the needs of tenants and guests, like a special app that allows CBRE employees at Caruso’s Masonic Temple in Glendale to access concierge and other services.


California-based Clark Pacific president Don Clark said his firm is leveraging new building technologies to solve problems, like labor shortages, and save developers time and money. His company, which has four plants throughout California, prefabricates building systems, which helps overcome labor shortages by constructing parts of buildings off-site.

By using a prefabricated exterior skin that is pre-insulated and pre-glazed, skilled tradesmen can be shifted to other areas where they’re needed most. Prefabricated systems speed up construction, Don said, noting his company worked on Levi's Stadium in San Jose and is underway on the largest ever prefabricated office campus in Silicon Valley.


Clark Pacific is pushing energy efficiency and the flexible workspace, Don added, including a recently patented precast floor system that has a thermally active ceiling with an integrated access deck. The system utilizes radiant temperature of the concrete to keep the building cooler than the outside air.