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Buildings keep pace in an ever-changing wired world

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Buildings keep pace in an ever-changing wired world

A new certification program grades the connectivity of retrofitted buildings and new construction. Tenants never miss a call in towers that make the cut; landlords add an incentive to their leasing pitches

The TD Centre’s new technology closet is compact, full of cellphone provider modules that can be easily switched out as new tech is available.

Visionary architect Mies van der Rohe incorporated state of the art technology into his design for the towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre 50 years ago. Conduits rising through the walls of the buildings contained wiring for multiline telephones and cable connections for television and radio.

Over the years, the complex of six Toronto towers has had continual upgrades to keep up with changing technology. It now offers the same level of high-speed fibre optic cabling and wireless connectivity that are being built into Toronto's newest office complex, CIBC Square, which just broke ground at 81 Bay St., adjacent to Union Station. It is due to open in 2020.

The landlords of both properties say they are committed to "future-proofing" their buildings to keep them at the cutting edge of continually evolving and unpredictable wired and mobile technology. They've become among the first commercial buildings in Canada to be certified by WiredScore, a New York-based organization that rates the digital connectivity of commercial real estate.

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"Connectivity is no longer an amenity, it's a utility. It is the top thing that tenants are looking for, after location and price," says David Hoffman, general manager Cadillac Fairview's Toronto-Dominion Centre. "WiredScore certification answers the question: Can the building support our business needs now and in the future?"

"Future-proofing means putting in an infrastructure that can accommodate any type of technology the future may bring," adds Charlie Musgrave, senior director of office leasing for Ivanhoé Cambridge, which, along with Hines building management, is overseeing the CIBC Square project on Bay Street. The 2.9-million-square-foot project was designed by Britain-based WilkinsonEyre Architects in collaboration with Adamson Associates.

For WiredScore, Ivanhoé demonstrated that the buildings will have the highest quality of technological infrastructure, with two redundant connections to the building for internet and mobile services as well as backup generators to guard against power outages. The building will also be one of the first in Toronto to have a building app, using a series of sensors incorporated through the building's lighting system that will continually monitor that all tech systems are working smoothly, Mr. Musgrave explains.

The TD Centre in Toronto is among the first seven buildings in Canada to be certified by WiredScore.

To anticipate the need to eventually refit buildings for future technology, the CIBC Square buildings will have extra high ceilings and wide stairwells.

Green spaces and common areas inside and outside the building, as well as a food and beverage court, will have full connectivity, so tenants can choose how and where they want to be productive within the space or even outdoors.

Other Ivanhoé buildings in development – a residential-commercial complex in Paris and Manulife Financial Corp.'s Maison Manuvie in Montreal, due to open this month – have also been designed to qualify for Wired-Score platinum certification, Mr. Musgrave says.

Constant upgrading of even newly installed equipment is essential to drive leasing as well as tenant retention, because the evolution of technology is relentless, the landlords emphasize.

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The strength and reliability of wired and mobile connections have become increasingly important with the rise of cloud-based internet and software as a service. As many as 59 per cent of Toronto workers surveyed by U.S.-based WiredScore said they often have problems accessing information on company servers or cloud storage.

A new antenna array to solve that problem was recently installed through all the buildings in the TD complex. Studded through ceilings in the building are antennas covered with caps that resemble large versions of coffee pods. Known as a distributed antenna system (DAS), the system transmits signals for the Bell, Rogers and Telus wireless networks. Before the array was installed three years ago, there would have been no coverage for some parts of the building, such as the parking garage and elevators.

The telephone connection room at the 50-year-old TD Centre was once state of the art. But the Toronto building’s connectivity systems have been overhauled to meet changing technology and needs.

"Now there's full four-bar cell coverage everywhere in the building, even on the roof, because phones looking for a signal don't have to seek out a signal tower. The building itself is an antenna," Mr. Hoffman explains.

Part of looking ahead is removing outmoded elements that are no longer needed, and replacing them with state of the art alternatives, says Ryan Garner, senior project manager for Rycom Corp. The telecom service management company did an analysis of all the telecommunications installations for both tenants and building operations at TD Centre. The audits of the tech system hubs, known as riser rooms, have cut and removed miles of abandoned cabling, freeing up capacity in the conduits through the building for future installations.

Fortunately, telecom equipment has become much less bulky over the years. Some of the bundles of copper phone lines that originally entered the building are as thick as an adult's forearm. Many have been removed and were replaced by fibre-optic cables that aren't much thicker than lamp cords.

In one of the original and decommissioned telecom rooms, seemingly endless clusters of thousands upon thousands of individual phone wires stretch the length of a tennis court. In a much smaller room next door, modules the size of briefcases serve all the distribution needs for Bell, Rogers and Telus. The server equipment bolts onto metal racks and the compact components can be changed out quickly as technology improves.

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The goal is to ensure these buildings are still as attractive and productive 50 years from now, for tenants who certainly will have technological requirements that are yet to be imagined, Mr. Musgrave says. "We don't know how future generations are going to want to utilize the workplace and function in it, so we have to build in maximum flexibility."

The under-construction CIBC Square project, shown in a rendering, will open on Bay Street in Toronto with the latest in technological advances – plus flexibility to deal with future needs.

About WiredScore

The certification program was launched by the City of New York and its former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and has spread to several cities in the United States and Europe. It was officially launched in Canada in October.

The program is akin to the LEED system rating a building's environmental or green standards. Wired-Score reviews existing and planned telecom and connectivity infrastructure based on building schematics. Buildings are assigned a rating based on a scorecard developed through an assessment of more than 1,000 commercial buildings globally.

There are four certification levels, from basic internet connectivity for all tenants to best-in-class and secure service that meets all current needs and has a program in place to plan for future upgrades as needs change. In order to achieve platinum certification, the top level, buildings must offer service from at least three separate internet suppliers and have redundant points of entry for services as well as redundant power generation and backup systems to prevent loss of service.

The first buildings certified by WiredScore in Canada are:

Scotia Plaza, Toronto, KingSett Capital and Bentall Kennedy.

One York Street, Toronto, Menkes Developments.

4711 Yonge Street, Toronto, Menkes Developments.

Toronto-Dominion Centre, Toronto, Cadillac Fairview.

CIBC Square, Toronto, Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines.

3500 Steeles, Markham, Ont., Canderel Group.

76 Stafford, Toronto, Hullmark Developments Ltd.

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