Can you make a heritage building smart?

Posted by Derek Mason

2nd July 2024

Picture caption: The re-branded London Museum is close to Farringdon. Picture credit: Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

How easy is it to turn a heritage building into a smart building? That’s the question being asked and answered at the Museum of London over the next couple of years. By embracing smart technology, the museum will be able to run more efficiently and with a minimal carbon footprint.

As Steve Watson, the museum’s technical lead, told the press, “It’s about building a new museum which is ready for the future, with the least environmental impact possible”.

Originally based at London Wall, the Museum of London needed more space, and its new home is a cluster of buildings in West Smithfield: the General Market, West Poultry Avenue, and the Grade II-listed Poultry Market. The General Market was built in 1883, and the Poultry Market was rebuilt in the 1960s after a fire destroyed the original 19th-century structure.

Adding smart technology to historic buildings is not simple, although doing this work as part of a £437m construction project will be a little easier than a retrofit. The General Market is just a shell at this point, giving a lot of scope to add what’s needed. But the irregular building fabric and existing services and systems mean it’s more challenging than making a modern building smart.

Arup are responsible for building services on this project, and have created the smart building specification, including using the BDNS (Building Device Naming Standards) to name every single piece of equipment, kit and cabling.

Watson is piloting the smart museum approach at the Museum’s branch in Docklands. The MSI or master systems integrator being used will be the same as at the new location – One Sightsolutions – which he calls “a kind of digital clerk of works who makes sure people are producing the right data with the right structures”.

Once the data is in order, it is sent to a smart building platform. The museum is using onPoint from Buildings IOT, along with a comprehensive stack of additional software.

One of the motivations for making the museum smart, is to attract a younger audience. The museum is also rebranding this month to the simpler name of London Museum. Younger visitors are making choices about how they spend their time and where they go, based on their carbon footprint. So it follows that more sustainably managed buildings could make the museum more attractive to a younger audience.

Once complete, the smart buildings will feed data into AI algorithms which will analyse the data to pick up glitches and faults. These algorithms are also capable of suggesting potential efficiency savings, so the environment of the buildings is carefully managed.

Optimising the running of a museum in this way is pioneering for the sector, and there are some interesting historic elements to this project too. One example: the General Market’s deliveries once arrived by rail, and modern-day museum visitors will be able to watch the Thameslink train pass through via a window in the basement’s wall.

And in the Poultry Market, the stand-out feature is the recently restored concrete dome, which was the largest in Europe (at 70m by 40m) when it was originally built in the 1960s, and the main reason it was listed.

If the project runs on time, the General Market should open in 2026, and the Poultry Market in 2028. Irrespective of their aim to attract a younger audience, I for one will be interested to pay a visit!

Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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