The challenges of maintaining the modern environment

Maintaining a space in the modern environment poses a number of challenges. As a Macro facilities management consultant, I’ve worked on many different buildings and projects across the region, where the maintenance needs have varied greatly.

We’ve had the good fortune to work on anything ranging from cubic commercial offices and large mixed-used developments to new transport systems and aesthetically different residential buildings. While there is no standard interior, there are one-off buildings with new challenges that push me and my team to face a steep learning curve—and a few maintenance headaches too.

We’re currently managing the handover of the unique Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre (SZDLC) at Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort and with this LEED Platinum project being the only Estidama 5 Pearl building in the United Arab Emirates, the maintenance of it needs to be innovative. The building has absorption chillers, solar cooling, grey water harvesting, a Photo Voltaic roof as well as lighting that is predominantly using advanced LED technology.

In today’s world, companies are concerned with future-proofing and sustainability in its buildings, which is reflected in the material and finishes it uses. For facilities management professionals this means constantly learning new ways to care for a building. We have to deal with angular walls, open water features, combinations of wall coverings and glass enclosed elevators.

An internal water feature may seem easy to maintain but imagine it has very little movement and only uses UV sterilisation. You need to apply some lateral thinking on how the quality and clarity of the water is maintained, without the use of potentially harmful chemicals.

Cleaning glass enclosed elevators means we have to utilise the roofs of the elevator cars, only employing people with the appropriate training, to access the internal surfaces of the glass.

Maintaining a square building is easy. But with the rise of iconic buildings in this region, the challenge is on. Overhanging balconies, sloping floors and complex mechanical and electrical plant and equipment need innovative solutions. Access is one of the major issues and using Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWP’s) isn’t always the answer when trying to reach the light fittings recessed into a high ceiling set above a slanting floor.

The indoor climate of a building also needs careful attention. At the SZDLC, the centre’s interactive exhibits as well as the AV and IT systems have a narrow parametre of tolerance in terms of both heat and humidity. To control this, we employ remote monitoring and adjustment through an Internet Protocol- based system to the manufacturers of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system components.

This enables us to ensure that the exact environment is maintained at all times, with the manufacturer able to make any required modifications to the operation of the equipment in terms of both performance and efficiency (in accordance with LEED and Estidama requirements). This is done through a remote monitoring centre located in Vienna.

As well as the use of integrated technology we find that the old-fashioned traditional approach of having a technical team on site 24-7 helps too. We find that technology can’t replace every aspect of problem solving or maintenance and repair.

As with many challenges in the built environment, it is all about thinking outside the box, thinking creatively and finding solutions. This approach applies to maintenance too.