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Cleaning and Maintaining Vertical Cities

Robotic technology is constantly being heralded as a significant disrupter of physical maintenance activities, including cleaning. We have already seen the introduction of horizontal cleaning robots, and although the efficacy of these early models remains in doubt, it is highly likely that imminent versions will add positively to the current cleaning toolkit of choice. However, this complement to horizontal cleaning cannot be considered as a wholesale disruption of the service and in themselves the robots may have limited shelf life.

Additionally, vertical robotic cleaning systems are emerging and NJC has established working partnerships with a range of system manufacturers of varying technologies, as we seek to understand which offer the greatest benefit. But in doing so we have asked, “what is maintenance and how best is it achieved”?

Within our existing markets, there is little doubt that London’s transition to a vertical city is underway, but it has commenced within very traditional thinking that relies on untried technologies as the next generation of support functions, with drones being the unelected cheerleader of innovation. Accompanying the vertical evolution of the built environment, we are also seeing the evolution of design methods, competencies and skill sets of those human and technology assets that will operate at height.

Siting a complex crane on top of a building that drops a bath (better known as a building maintenance unit or cradle!) over the side on metal ropes doesn’t currently pass muster and will completely fail the buildings of the future. Salesforce Tower in San Francisco was named “Best Tall Building Worldwide” in the recent Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat awards, but window cleaning is carried out using very traditional cradles which completely fail in matching the design ambitions for genuine innovation. Vertical Maintenance 1.0 requires a completely different mindset and we must challenge design intent and therefore what maintenance is and how best to achieve it.

Tall buildings of the future will cease to be the tired variation of a vertical box or a dysfunctional race to the sky. Many currently may claim to be vertical successes but the reality is that whilst the space may  work for the user it offers significant challenges to the wide range of support functions that constantly seek to deliver high quality services within very challenging physical constraints. The much publicised ‘Tulip’ is already deviating by both function and style but will rely on adaptation of traditional methods to maintain the exterior.

A quick review of the Endless Vertical City (Sure Architects), which was tentatively destined for Shoreditch, offers glimpses of the future of design and its necessary maintenance tasks, and the tried and tested would undoubtedly undermine the design intent.

The future will require wholesale adaptation at the design development phase to accommodate the infrastructure necessary to safely facilitate vertical maintenance. This will require a mindset change by architects, designers, developers and investors, with a new breed of support organisation to maintain these structures. However, this will prompt the question of how do we support this new infrastructure with innovative technologies, and how will this affect the hierarchy of safe use if the primary processes are without human intervention, but may subsequently require it.

Future working at height will require detailed design intervention by maintenance advisors to challenge the intent, product selection and maintenance regime, to achieve a safe maintenance process. The solution will completely change the competencies of designing, managing and working at height, including who maintains the technologies both at height and on the ground.

The future of maintenance of tall buildings will see the technology identified and incorporated within the asset infrastructure, controlled within the suite of other technologies that manage and report upon the user environment. These systems will take internal and external environmental information and automatically adjust schedules, frequencies and activities to better improve the asset performance and user experience and will be supported by a maintenance team that we are already reshaping.

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