Smarter Spaces: Existing Infrastructures Made More Sustainable

March 01, 2022

Part of our Smart Places thought leadership series

Smart places, more popularly referred to as smart spaces, are emerging as viable solutions and pose a well-received people-centric approach towards achieving long-term sustainability. While better known and initially sought for their quality-improving impact on daily living, business, and communities [1], more organisations are realising the true potential of smart places for catalysing 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].

Smart Space Market Share, By Application

In an effort to achieve such sustainability goals while simultaneously pushing for the applications in the figure above, organisations from sectors far and wide are now shifting towards this technology-driven approach. This is largely 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. 

And here we reveal its advantages and unrealised potential for your business.

The common route: Building smart places 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 (evinced in the figure below). After all, this way around development enables experimentation and tenders a 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. 

Smart Places Tech Shares

Source: McKinsey

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.

Creating smart spaces requires the coordination of 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 organisation 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. 

Perceived Disadvantages [4] Fundamental Cause/s High initial expenditure Planning your architecture and development in tune with technology and vice-versa will require more funding and time compared to working with existing space and technologies that can be optimised to perform the same functions. Not to mention how the assets or properties we need to make smart spaces often already exist and are a few tweaks away from the properties we want. In the words of Demos Helsinki’s researcher Mikko Annala, ”A large deal of our built environment is now in need of renovation”, and ”If we find clever ways to integrate smart solutions into older buildings, we can save significant amounts of resources.” Extended disruption In terms of timeframe, starting from scratch especially lengthens the process with the infrastructure development phase. Working with an existing space and connecting or integrating existing systems will significantly expedite your process by letting you skip to the tech integration and optimisation stage. Additionally, the smoother transition of working with resources you have or building on top of an existing system and business flow may just save your company from the trouble of introducing your patrons to an unfamiliar and unnecessarily “out of brand” experience. Resource obsoletion Starting from scratch may dwindle your initiative’s impact on sustainability. Apart from rendering existing assets obsolete or slowly setting them up for the same fate, manufacturing infrastructures from scratch pushes for more consumption—contradicting the core essence of sustainability.

Source: [4]

The road less travelled: Smartening up spaces

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

Top Use Cases

“There’s a richness in data and the advantage of a deeper understanding of human-space dynamics when working with existing spaces. Optimising long-standing infrastructure systems with an overview of historical use of space can be your secret weapon for better customer experiences, resource-saving performance, and overall success. Data acquired here can be leveraged to make a difference through grounded, data-driven decisions for fool-proof and truly intelligent infrastructure.”

Jackie Du Plooy, Executive Engagement Director, Monstarlab Dubai

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 organisations can derive the greatest value by maximising their real estate footprint. And it all boils down to creative and resourceful planning and design. 

How smart spaces boost the bottom line

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 behaviour patterns drastically change within this time period. This calls for user-first planning  supported strategic digital infrastructure. With the I.o.t 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, A.C.O.

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 centralised 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, centralised 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.

Zo Gallery

Read more about this successful partnership here.

What you can do next. 

First and foremost, the priority is to consider the needs of your customers who are using your spaces, whether they are tenants, employees, or consumers. At Monstarlab, we are passionate about working in collaboration with our clients to come up with solutions that meet their business goals while delivering an exceptional experience and adding happiness to their customers’ lives.

Talk to us about how we can work in partnership to create truly Smart Places for you and your customers.

You can also visit our Smart Places page to learn more and check out some of our projects around this vertical.

Meet our Experts

Jackie Du Plooy
Connect on LinkedIn |

Jackie has over 20 years of experience in digital transformation, strategy & innovation, and commercial management across industries including BFSI in several countries as a Client Partner. Her focus has been on building high performing teams and sound strategic partnerships by bringing together delivery and commercial professionals to drive the customer strategy and journeys of digital transformation.

Learn more about Monstarlab UAE

Nondo-Jacob Sikazwe
Connect on LinkedIn |

Nondo graduated with two Masteral degrees in both Engineering and Architecture. He has also worked as a licensed architect and designed, managed, and built larger city-scale urban projects both for commercial and government organisations. He also has material experience with R&D in user experiences at various scales from digital services to smart cities in APAC and EMEA regions. 

Learn about Monstarlab Japan & A.C.O, Inc.

[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?”,
[4] Think Tank Demos Helsinki, “Can We Ever Really Build a “Smart City”?,
[5] Cognizant, “Making Spaces Smart”, 2019

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


Andrea Nalupa

Andrea Nalupa

Marketing Manager

Andrea is a Marketing Manager at Monstarlab, specialising in research and content focused on technical and business insights across various sectors.

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