New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Miloš Halečka

Monday 06 March 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor catches up with NLA expert panellist and MiddleCap innovations director Miloš Halečka to find out how smart building advances and data are affecting the owners and creators of buildings.

David Taylor  
Hello, Miloš, how are you?
 
Miloš Halečka
Hi, I'm fine. I'm not in the UK now, but I am among the mountains in Austria. Everything is great. So, let's talk!
 
David Taylor  
Sounds great! I'm jealous! So: I wanted to talk to you about your firm, MiddleCap, and also about one of your key pieces of expertise, which is smart buildings and where we are with that phenomena at the moment, perhaps with regards to one particular scheme in London that you're doing. But first of all, I wanted to ask you about your presence in London. How has it been for you? And what's your experience been as a smaller player in the development field?
 
Miloš Halečka
Thank you very much. Well, I'd say that it's one of the best places for me to be, because at MiddleCap, being one of the smallest developers in central London, we have a different view of the market, I would say. We have PC'd our first project, Southworks, in 2021. And we have a new project called Seal House at London Bridge. So, with two live projects at the moment, we are very small, but the team is experienced in London operations because the whole of the UK team including me, came from HB Reavis, which became an established developer within the London market. So basically, we all have the experience. But we decided to accept an offer from MiddleCap five years ago, to join a much smaller company with fewer track records, but with the option to define what's important for us, and to be able to decide much faster, about whatever you want to do. So, for me the best outcome of it is that we are a very small team, and the decision-making process is very fast. So, we can make things which probably will be much more complex within a more corporate environment. We have our limits regarding the team size and so on. But we can focus much more on the priority areas, which we have. So, it's much leaner, and, I would say, much more efficient.
 
David Taylor  
And coming to the Southworks scheme, particularly, it's extremely 'smart' in inverted commas. But what does that mean for you in practical terms with your schemes these days and is it considered a key priority amongst tenants at work? And indeed, should it be?
 
Miloš Halečka
Well, this is a very interesting question. Because, for me, as a technical person, it's a great way to operationalize the data collection. Because a few years ago, the whole real estate market building industry was kind of riding the wave of getting smartphones into the building without much thinking about what we will do with the data. And now, since having sensors in the building is much more common than it was, now is the correct time to start thinking, "Okay, what do we do with these vast amounts of data?" It's not that complicated to answer this question from a landlord point of view, because we know what information and data we want to be gathered? And how we want to use it. But it's much more important to translate this to a human language for the tenant. So, giving you an example, if I'm an end user, of any type of application, I don't care much if the cloud where the app is running is cloud number one, or cloud number two. I don't really care, even if it will be like, a huge thing. For me, it's the personal outcome; like, how convenient is it for me to work with the app, or how much or which functionality do I get into, and so on. This is the kind of language which we need to use with a tenant. So, for example, we can say that we can first focus them on the data themselves, kind of advocating for using it, meaning, getting people to be interested in the environment they work in. Do I really care about the air quality? Can I somehow correlate the efficiency of a meeting I am at with the air quality in the meeting room? Or how does it feel to sit close to the façade, when the sun is shining directly at your desk and you feel really warm with basically having an easy app, which will tell you "Okay, now, it's three degrees more than usual, and you can change it by just pressing a button". So, the user experience from knowing the environment I'm at, and being able to change it in a way that will help me; that's basically the difference. This is one of the main things we need to work with. And this is also important for us, because – and it's kind of a cliche, but I still like it - that the best friend is the human. So basically, getting the feedback - if someone changes the temperature in the room, it means that we didn't do something in the most efficient way. Because our idea is not that the user should push buttons all the time; the building should adjust itself. We try to minimize the user interaction in a way that, if I'm not touching the button, it means that I'm okay with what I got. If I need to change something, it's a signal for us: okay, now, the process has changed, what does it mean? And we can work with that.
 
David Taylor  
So, in a branding sense, are tenants requiring a 'smart' building or an efficient building? And, actually, is it that ‘smart’ is a subset of efficiency, and it should be just taken as read?
 
Miloš Halečka
Well, it's hard to say if ‘smart’ is a subset of efficiency. I would say that ‘smart’ should enable the efficiency. For us, we have three main consumers of the data. First are the people, the employees of the tenant. These people are like the ultimate end-user of the building. Then we've got tenants, and these are interested in comfort and the productivity of their employees, but also, they are interested in the bills. They would like to know how the energy efficiency change their service jobs, for example. They want to know how the space is used, how many meetings are in specific meeting rooms, and so on. It's also that they can adjust the space. And then at the end, we've got the investors into our buildings, which also look at cost, the use of the utilization of the building. So, I would say that being smart is not as sexy as it was, if I can put it like that. But now it's like an inevitable piece of functionality, which should enable all these three groups of our customers or clients to profit out of that building.
 
David Taylor  
You use sensors, in the main to monitor air quality, light, noise and occupancy. I'm wondering, thus far, what you're seeing in terms of results at Southworks. Anything that's surprised you, for example?
 
Miloš Halečka
Well, let me think. I was just digging into the data for the last three days, and there were a few things which surprised me. So, for example as an interesting fact, we were analysing, and we were checking the data about the use of the lifts. Because, I think a few weeks ago, I read an interesting article about, I think it was Kona, releasing the data from their systems in multiple European cities. And they pointed out the different patterns of behaviour, like return to the offices in London was not as huge as it was sometimes referred. But the hotels, or at least the lifts in hotels, were used much less than they expected. A different story was, for example, in Amsterdam, where they said, well, the utilization of the lifts in hotels is much bigger than anyone expected. So: can we conclude that the tourism industry in Netherlands is back where it was, and it's not the case in London? So, we just take the data from our lifts, the energy spec from the lift, and we were really able to see the patterns of people not coming into the office on Fridays on Mondays as much as they used to. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah...
 
Miloš Halečka
…It also differs from tenant to tenant. But for us, for example, it means that if we are trying to minimize the energy spend of the domain itself, can we somehow optimize the lift operation? So, let's come back to the tenant. Let's come back to the lifts vendor, and let's discuss with all of them, what is the potential here? Let's say we can get the answer from the lift provider saying that: yes, we can change the algorithm which ran the lift, basically saying, okay, we can try and turn off one of the lifts on Friday, for example, because it doesn't make sense, and the waiting times are still okay. We can discuss it with the tenant if this fits their own way of work at the moment. And they can confirm that, for example, yes, we are, we have decided to let our people work from home on Fridays. We are okay with that; basically, it opens up the topic, and we can approach all the stakeholders, and based on that, we can maybe come up with something which will help to save us energy. And this is just a small part of the operation of the building, the lifts. But then we can dig deeper into how much are the boilers used? What is the feedback from the temperature of the spaces, the air quality, and so on. So maybe I didn't answer the question directly...It's just one small topic from all the topics which we can discuss. We have all sorts of sensors which measure the ambient light, and I would say that having temperature, humidity and also CO2 sensors, it's much more common at the moment, but I haven't seen many buildings with ambient light sensors. And since we have them, we are able to have daylight-harvesting functionality. So basically, the light fixtures dim based on the ambient light to keep the light at the same level. We are also able to find out how people behave, based on the light conditions. You can really see how people behave in the building based on the ambient light coming from the street. But that's for a longer story!
 
David Taylor  
...no, that's great. But one very last quick question. In your experience, do we in London lag behind in this field, as compared to other locations? For example, Bratislava, where you do a lot of work?
 
Miloš Halečka
Well, I don't think I'm able to compare it in this way. If you want, to get an easy answer, London is definitely much more advanced or much further on in this topic than Bratislava. This depends on the real estate or the office market itself. So, if the average rent in London is much higher than in Bratislava, it also means that we have a much wider margin for deciding if we want to put some technologies into the building or not. And if the tenant is capable of paying for that. But Bratislava is not the best example because really the real estate market is not that advanced. I can maybe compare with Berlin, where we also have operations. And I would say that here the push for sustainability is, maybe I wouldn't say bigger, but much more prevalent. Also, the spatial limitations are not as strict as in London. And the energy grid is able to cooperate with us much more, in a way that the energy infrastructure in Berlin is more modern than in London. We still have some kinds of utility issues and issues with substations. The point I'm trying to make is that I see the next step is demand control in the buildings themselves, meaning the demand response, to be precise. Meaning that the building can receive signals from the grid. And based on the signal from the grid, we can optimize the operation of the building. So: let's say getting information about the current price or current carbon intensity of the energy; we can adjust the building in real time, and based on that we can optimize or to help optimize the grid and also optimize our own operation. This, I would say, is much more difficult in London than in continental Europe because in central London it's not that easy to replace infrastructure. 
So, to give you a clear answer, I don't think that there is a market which we can claim to be much more advanced than the other markets when we're talking about large cities in Europe. But since London is the leader in real estate in terms of the tenants, and in real estate investment, definitely we can find the best projects in London. But it still lags in many areas, like infrastructure.
 
David Taylor  
Well, that was the longest short answer I think we've we've ever had in this feature (laughs). So, congratulations to you!
 
Miloš Halečka
I warned you! (laughs) You know, I like to listen to myself, but usually I just get lost in my own thinking! (laughs)
 
David Taylor  
Well, it's all fascinating stuff, and I wish you the best of luck working in London, and I hope you have a great time. What are you doing in Austria? Are you skiing? 
 
Miloš Halečka
Well, no, I'm not skiing at the moment because I'm at the home office. But basically, I started to live in Austria in the last year because, since I travel all the time between Slovakia, UK, and Germany, I realized that, you know, I basically work from anywhere. And this is the only week after long, long weeks that I didn't travel anywhere!
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. Brilliant.
 
Miloš Halečka
Thank you very much. And good luck with editing my long answers and I apologize for that!
 
David Taylor  
Thank you very much Miloš, and it's lovely speaking to you. 
 
Miloš Halečka
Thank you. Have a nice day, and hopefully I will meet you in person.
 
David Taylor  
That'd be lovely. Cheers! Bye!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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