Inside Dubai's 3D-printed Office of the Future
Paromita Dey takes a tour of Dubai’s Office of the Future, the world’s first 3D-printed building, which is powered by Siemens
The concept of 3D printing has been garnering significant attention in the global construction sector, and the region’s industry is abuzz with the possibilities this technology presents. The first 3D-printed office building – Office of the Future – has already taken shape in Dubai, and was inaugurated by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on 23 May, 2016.
This initiative forms part of Dubai's 3D Printing Strategy, which was launched in April 2016, and focusses on the development of 3D printing to improve the lives of the emirate’s residents. The strategy will target the real estate and construction, medical, and consumer sectors, and commits Dubai to the use of 3D printing technologies for a quarter of its buildings by 2030.
Located at the foot of Emirates Towers, the 3D-printed office is the only inhabited structure of its kind in the world. A 3D printer measuring 6m in height, 37m in length, and 12m in width, with an automated robotic arm, was used to produce the building. The structure was printed using a giant cement printer, and assembled on site.
Printing took 17 days; the components were installed in two. Subsequent work on building services, interiors, and landscaping took three months.
Benjamin Piper, partner, design principal, at project architect Killa Design, told Construction Week: “Initially we had a 3D-printed structure, which is the internal shell. Then we added an 80cm insulation on top of the shell, which was made of expanded polystyrene. The unconventional shape of the polystyrene was cut by computer-controlled robots.
“The design time was about two months, and total construction time was around three months. For the project, I would say that it was a question of what was available within the given time, hence it was well time-engineered.”
The labour involved in the printing process included one technician to monitor the function of the printer, a team of seven people to install the building components on site, as well as a team of 10 electricians and specialists to take care of the mechanical and electrical engineering. Piper says the structure is comprised of three main building components and a courtyard space.
“The first building component, which is the offices, is semi-private,” he explains. “Then we have a reception zone, and the last one is the general working space. We also have some private office spaces, and meeting rooms in the back.”
He continues: “There is a public gallery space, where the intent is to show content from the Museum of the Future, which is currently under development.”
A monumental project like this obviously requires a hi-tech building management solution. The office building uses smart technology from tech giant Siemens to integrate the building management system (BMS), access control, and surveillance into a central building management platform.
Integrating key components of the Office of the Future is Siemens’ building management platform, Desigo CC, enabling the control and optimisation of the building’s technical infrastructure, surveillance, air conditioning, and access control and safety technology, from a single location. A customised platform displays the status of these different systems in real time, enabling operators to accurately monitor and control the building’s performance. The concept also uses a video surveillance system with high-definition cameras that provide a 360o view, web-enabled access via apps and web clients, and an access control system based on biometrics and smart cards.
Koen Bogers, senior executive vice president of building technologies at Siemens Middle East, says: “Regarding Office of the Future, we got involved early on with the design, and we are very happy that we could provide smart building technology for such a unique project. It is like the cornerstone of smart infrastructure; in this one, we are providing security and building management technologies, and integrate all that are being supplied in this office.”
Siemens also supplied smart fire protection with technology for detection, alarm signalling and control, using multi-criteria detectors that can adapt to changing environments, analyse signals for false alarms, and protect against hazards such as carbon monoxide. The system can also be analysed, evaluated, and diagnosed remotely for efficient maintenance.
Bogers continues: “We had specially configured Desigo CC for this project. We can do that for all buildings if needed, but the Office of the Future is obviously a bit different. It’s more than a traditional building management station; it is an integration platform. We can integrate everything, from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) to fire safety, security cameras, and [so on].
“The platform focusses on the layout of the building, the costs involved, the type of access control – in this case, it is quite advanced with biometrics. It is enabled with near-field communication (NFC).”
The project comes with its own set of challenges, of course, a bit different from the traditional construction standards. Piper says: “Every project has its own challenges, this also had some since, in many ways, the contributors were working pro bono. Part of the challenge was understanding who was responsible for which part of the project and making sure that we are all working in steps.”
He also notes that the project costs were on par with conventional construction standards, a fact that is unusual given that any research project has the potential to be costly. “As part of a broader goal, we are currently studying how the cost of construction can be significantly reduced.”
The project strictly adheres to the sustainability standards set out by Dubai Municipality, and will continue to be used as a base for research, with regular testing being carried out on the structure.
Bogers concludes: “The integration platform being used in the project, for linking the presence of people in a room to the amount of cooling provided, fire and safety, and so on, has resulted in lots of benefits, like energy efficiency.”