Keeping buildings at the top of their game

Article by JLL Staff Reporter
New York City skyline with urban skyscrapers and rainbow over buildings
Image credit: Shutterstock

It’s easy enough to walk into an iconic building such as New York’s Empire State Building or London’s The Shard for a look-see, but much harder to fathom all the behind-the-scenes effort that keeps that building in top condition.

Across the world, architects have built some extraordinary buildings, highly valued for their aesthetics, history, cultural purpose or the highly critical operations they house. These structures need the services of highly skilled property and facilities managers who understand sensitive materials, historic elements or complex workings of high-tech production operations.

Indeed, looking after a landmark can pose different challenges to caretaking a modern office building or warehouse. Managers go to great lengths not only to keep the buildings functioning efficiently, but also to preserve their heritage.

The Empire State Building, for instance, has become one of the world’s most energy-efficient buildings—even at 80 years old. In a comprehensive energy retrofit, project managers upgraded the building’s 6,514 vintage windows to energy-efficient versions without disturbing the tower’s architectural features. Among many other elements, the project also included replacing the outdated elevators with state-of-the-art models that actually generate electricity when braking.

“Iconic buildings are more than just buildings—they reflect the expectations of the public at large as to what they should be and look like,” explains Chuck Manula, Managing Director, Integrated Facilities Management, JLL. “Behind every great building is a facility manager who knows how to make sure vintage marble is preserved or that a room containing millions of dollars of art is properly maintained—carefully and unobtrusively, with respect for the property’s unique history.”

Maintaining a contemporary landmark

Rising 1,016 feet over London, The Shard is the tallest office building in Western Europe and one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. From a facility management perspective, the building is also among the most complex – it is a vertical city housing offices, a 5 star hotel, private residences, restaurants, bars, services and, of course, a public viewing platform.

A team of eight staff members and approximately 200 outsourced professionals is charged with keeping the building performing at the top of its game. Among these are Occupier Relations staff who ensure that each tenant receives efficient first class treatment.

The experience begins before visitors even enter the building. Exterior maintenance challenges include keeping the 11,000 panes of glass and glass canopies as spotless as possible and ensuring outside walkways remain smooth and well-lit.

Entering through one of 11 manned entrances, visitors are greeted by security guards who approach their role like helpful hotel staff, rather than authority figures. Smooth, seamless check-in is their goal. Thoughtful wayfinding helps guests reach the correct one of 36 elevators in the building for their visit.

Office users ascend to the second-floor reception area, where the building management team ensures that multi-lingual reception staff is on hand to greet international visitors.

“With office tenants such as Arma Partners, Campari, Duff & Phelps and Tiffany & Co., first and second impressions are everything,” says Neil Prime, Lead Director, London Office Markets, JLL. “The office tenants understand the value of this iconic location for their brand in order to attract high caliber employees and create a favorable impression on clients, but that premium must be supported by flawless and unobtrusive facility management.”

Protecting cultural treasures

It’s not all about skyscrapers. World-class museums and other cultural institutions present another kind of challenge. When the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, U.S., wanted to install new lighting to help save energy it wasn’t just a case of changing the lightbulbs. The new LED lights had to illuminate the featured artworks correctly to ensure the artists’ message were clearly conveyed.

Like many high profile museums, the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMMI) houses a collection of international art treasures from the 20th and 21st centuries—all requiring a highly controlled environment to protect delicate paints and materials.

On a day-to-day basis, the property management team monitor the equipment necessary to maintain the atmospheric conditions for preserving the artwork; coordinate with museum staff for preparation of new displays; and offer support for private and community events that will take place at the Museum. With large visitor numbers, PAMMI requires close attention to public safety, and extra-high security is needed to protect valuable art.

For the property managers, facilities managers and building engineers working in historic buildings – or those that house valuable objects – it’s all in a day’s work. And while their presence may not be noticed by the stream of visitors flowing in and out of these buildings each day, they certainly play a vital role behind the scenes.

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