Smarter Spaces: Transforming Existing Infrastructures To Drive Sustainability

September 06, 2022

Smart places, more popularly referred to as smart spaces, are emerging as viable solutions and pose a well-received people-centric approach toward achieving long-term sustainability. While better known and initially sought for their quality-improving impact on daily living, business, and communities [1], more organizations are realizing the true potential of smart places for catalyzing their sustainability goals. In fact, recent reports show that “green building initiatives and environmental concerns” have been the top drivers of market growth since 2020 [2].

To achieve such sustainability goals while simultaneously pushing for the applications in the figure above, organizations from sectors far and wide are now shifting towards this technology-driven approach. This is primarily attributed to its offerings of optimal use of space and facilities while promoting sustainability, as well as operational efficiencies. However, the route through which most companies deploy their smart place building strategies—building from scratch, has a worthy opponent of arguably more sustainable qualities—smart redevelopment.

Let’s take a closer look at its advantages and unrealized potential for your business.


The common route: Building smarter spaces from scratch

In the advent of smart places and smart cities, most of the development revolves around creating entirely new infrastructure [3]. There is a certain allure to “smart from the start” projects and working with a clean slate that has captured the attention of investors and the public. After all, this way around development enables experimentation and tenders certain flexibility of being able to “do anything”. Finnbar Toesland from Raconteur even goes so far as to say “A hallmark of a successful smart city [or place] is its ability to add new functionality and scale as it grows” in a piece he wrote about smart from the start cities.


But who’s to say that the same—if not greater—success cannot be afforded by redevelopment initiatives? In the same way, who’s to say experimentation yields better results than numbered but well-orchestrated and time-tested approaches?

In our research on the mechanisms of smart place development from scratch, we have found a number of restraints and disadvantages that this approach entails in conjunction with the coveted clean slate. While a tabula rasa would seem enjoyable, there are underlying costs and complications some seem to overlook.

Source: [4]


Creating smart spaces requires the coordination of finance, logistics, technology, and people that integrate into a single digital ecosystem. Building smart spaces from scratch in its truest sense would then also mean your organization would have to rebuild your business, city, or infrastructures virtually from the ground. And that has rather negative implications on your budget, time, business flow, and existing infrastructures. Implications that can be diminished or even avoided by going off the beaten track.

The road less traveled: Smartening up spaces

Developers, property owners, and virtually all organizations managing or simply interacting with physical spaces are under constant pressure to promote sustainable-, low cost-operations and to simultaneously meet fast-changing expectations from stakeholders. This compels them to lean towards smart places with the following use cases in mind [5].


“Starting with existing spaces offers a big advantage over new ones because they’re already in use. While an existing built environment might not yet be digitized, this existing reality offers a valuable starting point for optimization of user experience, resources, operating cost, etc. and it’ll be simple to identify the ‘low-hanging fruit’ that offers the greatest quick wins–wins that are instrumental in any change process.”  

– Christian Nielsen, Director of Strategy, Monstarlab Americas


Retrofitting as a way to smarten up spaces can produce the same outcomes without the costs and cons of going back to square one. Many organizations can derive the most significant value by maximizing their real estate footprint. And it all boils down to creative and resourceful strategic thinking, processes planning, and design.

Source: [4]


“In the construction sector, we make the design life of the building to between 30~50 years, without the need of major structural renovations. It is the norm to see buildings go beyond this, such as the White House in Washington to Kasumigaseki building in Tokyo. Buildings then go on to become landmarks and vessels of the cultural history of a city and its people. 

However, space use and social behavior patterns drastically change within this time period. This calls for user-first planning supported by a strategy-aligned digital infrastructure. With the IoT sensors becoming ubiquitous and data-driven design, we can now retrofit buildings to have experiences that improve occupants’ well-being, incorporate sustainability goals and adapt to the future needs of society.”

Nondo-Jacob Sikazwe, User Experience Expert, Monstarlab, Tokyo 


Mindful design and planning and their ability to transform experiences with even just the smallest but conscious adjustments can make all the difference when applied to existing spaces. Some of the most successful and inventive projects in the market show us the powerful impact of being considerate of the customer, the environment, and the envisioned future of the company. And a prime example is Tishman Speyer’s story.

In partnership with Tishman Speyer, Monstarlab created a centralized platform called Zo. Putting their extensive insights on the use of space in their office buildings and data on stakeholder engagements and challenges to use, we employed a truly customer-first strategy. This effectively allowed the company to continuously learn about and build relationships with their customers, enabled the creation of dynamic, continuously relevant experiences for their customers, centralized management of services, promoted efficient and environmentally responsible facility use, and overall improved the total Tishman Speyer dwelling experience. A perfect example of what creativity and innovation can do with preceding infrastructure.

Read more about this successful partnership here.

What you can do next.

First and foremost, strategy gives reason to people and technology. It’s critical to have an envisioned future for your company so that it’s possible to define what you want, why you want it, who it’s for, and why people will care. Good outcomes start by understanding the needs of the people who are, and will be, using your spaces in the future, whether they are tenants, employees, or consumers. At Monstarlab, we are passionate about working in close collaboration with our clients to outline the future of their company and desired business outcomes before we start solutionizing and delivering experiences that will appeal to both people and business. Talk to us about how we can work in partnership to create truly Smart Places for you and your customers.

You can read some more of our expert insights on smart places in our Why Agility Must Be Part of the Agenda for Smart Places Development and Creating Smart Places for All. Considering Digital Inclusion and Accessibility Needs in 2022 and Beyond pieces. You can also visit our Smart Places page or  download our case study compilation here.

Meet our Experts



Christian Nielsen

Connect on LinkedIn |

Christian is a former management consultant specialized in innovation and technology management and has over 10 years of experience in delivering digital transformation, strategy and innovation, across industries such as finance, transportation, in several countries as a Client Partner. His focus has been on ensuring business strategic alignment and steering high performing digital teams to deliver in unity with client teams. 


Max Oglesbee

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Max serves as CEO of Monstarlab Americas, he is responsible for growing our reach and capability for our clients and our talented colleagues within the region.  Prior to Monstarlab, Max was the head of Client Strategy at Intersection, a portfolio company of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, where he developed digital solutions to improve the lives of people in shared public spaces.  His projects include digital strategy work for Hudson Yards, Caruso at the Grove, Mitsui Fudosan, and Walmart.   



[1] Forbes, “Smart Spaces Are Only As Smart As The Sum Of Their Parts”, 2019

[2] KBV Research, “Global Smart Space Market By Component (Solutions and Services), By Application (Energy Management & Optimization, Emergency Management, Security Management and Others), By Premises Type (Commercial, Residential and Others), By Region, Industry Analysis and Forecast, 2020 – 2026”, 2021

[3] Forbes, “What Do We Really Need To Build Smart Cities?”, 2022

[4] Think Tank Demos Helsinki, “Can We Ever Really Build a “Smart City”?, 2016

[5] Cognizant, “Making Spaces Smart”, 2019

Additional Reference:

PWC, “Smart Cities in 2050: Rebuilding the future of Japanese cities”, 2021


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