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Fostering creativity in the construction industry

M1 Group bridges the gap between the fast-paced technology sector and the construction industry
M1 Real Estate, part of M1 Group, is set out to reverse the dichotomy that has long existed between the real estate and technology sectors in their newest Middle East project; state of the art 10-floors and total 35,000 square meters including 19,000 square meters of gross leasable space, the “M1 Building” is located at the heart of Beirut. 
Conventionally, the real estate industry was based on enduring assets and has evolved at a much slower pace than the ever-advancing technology sector. 
M1, however, has embarked on a trend-setting mission to integrate technology into real estate and provide the most advanced properties for its clients. The company is pursuing these goals while simultaneously introducing green energy technologies to protect the environment and save its clients consumption costs.
In the “M1 Building”, the company incorporated state of the art energy-efficient systems and produced renewable energy while offering an uncompromising architectural design.
“Our approach has revolved around four main axis: to be environment friendly, energy efficient, enhance occupier experience, and deliver state of the art building designs,” said Ziad Dagher, M1 Real Estate chief operating officer. 
M1 has adopted a green building culture that was actively implemented throughout the construction process. Mr. Dagher says that M1’s goal is not to just incorporate technology into their buildings, but to do it according to environment friendly guidelines. 
The “M1 Building” operates under the control of a high performance Building Management System (BMS) that is designed to provide tenants with a modern professional working environment. This system provides around the clock monitoring and controlling of lighting, electrical equipment, mechanical systems, ventilation, treatment of fresh air supply, and the stand by power generator plant. 
The contemporary corporate experience allows tenants to connect and control their office features such as the heating systems and lighting from the moment the security management system detects their entry into the building. At that point an elevator could be automatically sent to the level where the tenant parks their car. 
It is worth mentioning that the 3-pipe system the building is equipped with allows adjacent rooms in the same office to operate independently, catering to each individual’s preferences. 
The building’s sustainability features include low consumption water fixtures, rainwater collection for irrigation, grey water treatment, superior energy-efficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems and lighting, including day light control.
By providing these features to their tenants, the “M1 Building” offers an incomparable, attractive and fresh option for national and multinational companies that wish to set up offices in the region, without compromising on design, technology or space. 

GF: How is smart technology and innovation transforming buildings in general?
ZD: The digital revolution is occurring at a very quick pace. We passed beyond the transformation of our lifestyle because of the availability of information at our fingertips, to reach the so-called “internet of things”. The internet of things, to define it briefly, consists of inserting electronic devices into our everyday physical objects to provide them with connectivity in order send data that will be measured and analyzed. And that is definitely affecting how we design our buildings, and what we incorporate in their specifications. Currently, many parts of buildings can benefit from this technology especially the BMS systems.
GF: Did you face any pushback from contractors to the new way for construction or did they buy into the new way of doing things?
ZD: This change has been mainly driven by the developers who have been dictating what they want in their buildings, and pushed the contractors and consultants to look for solutions in line with their vision. As far as construction is concerned, the change is more related to construction materials and construction technique it is a question that should be addressed to contractors would be more qualified to discuss that aspect.  
GF: So you could say that it has been a top-down approach more or less?
ZD: That is the mostly the case. Because, at the end of the day, the developers are the ones paying for the features they’re asking for.
GF: If you could tell us now more about what you have done within M1 Building in this respect? 
ZD: Typically our approach to building design and management addresses four main dimensions: first, the occupiers experience in our buildings, second, the way the building presents itself and the stature it portrays, third, efficiency in maintenance costs, and fourth, the adherence to environment friendly guidelines and practices. 
As far as occupier’s experience in M1 Building is concerned, this is mostly addressed in  the  design phase. We try to adopt the BCO standards for Class A office Buildings. That is particularly important to institutional tenants who are very sensitive to this. We also implemented certain technologies that enhances the tenants’ experience. Besides, the three pipe VRV system, which can provide individual climate control, we have provided natural ventilation with a capacity higher than the ASHRAE code requirements by 40%. We also reduced the number of floors to increase the floor to ceiling height in our offices. In addition, we implemented technologies that could, for instance, turn the cooling system on as soon as an office tenant enters the parking. 
As to building presentation, we have worked with the building architect, Joe Geitani, to end up with a building with unique features such as the silk screening in the façade that was designed in accordance with the amount of light needed inside the offices. The bridges linking the vertical transportation core to the offices internal areas are also another particular feature of the building.
Third, the efficiency in operating expenses have been carefully studied, and a substantial amount of funds were directed to provide energy saving schemes. For instance: we use SKN glass that reduces 59% of the solar heat while allowing maximum sunlight to pass through; our elevators are equipped with artificial intelligence and low power-consuming engines for smarter use of energy; we also installed led light bulbs throughout the building coupled with daylight sensors and dimmers to automatically adjust light power to the amount of natural light; we also have installed cooling systems that are designed to be power efficient. When added up, such schemes end up with savings that could reach $124,000 a year. On the other hand, photovoltaic panels producing about 55 megawatts-hour of power a year were installed on the roof. We also have low consumption water mixers that reduce the amount of water dispensed and we recycle the grey water and use it for the flush systems. Doing so is saving up to three million liters of water per year, about 47 % of our normal consumption of water. Other power saving schemes include CO detector system in the basement that are triggered when CO levels reaches a certain limit, so the fans are not running 100% of the time. So far this year we have saved one ton of CO2 with our generation of power. Our yearly projection is to save around 30 tons of CO2 a year.
Finally, as far as the environment friendly approach is concerned, we have used whenever possible materials that have a low carbon footprint such  as low-ozone depleting construction materials, low volatile organic compounds, and the Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.  
We have been LEED Gold pre-certified and are awaiting the outcome of the final certification.
GF: Is the return on investment abundant and/or relatively quick when you dedicate extra financial resources to incorporate technology in your buildings? And does the saying “technology leads, money follows” still stand? 
ZD: In Lebanon, we lack the general awareness for the benefits of building technologies; that is especially the case when the economy is suffering from stagnation. Customers become very cost sensitive, and therefore it becomes harder for developers to spend on technologies. What we have witnessed lately is developers making their buildings “technology ready” in order to give their customers the choice to implement them in the future. By having M1 Building fully equipped with such technologies, we have positioned ourselves in a niche market catering to those customers that appreciate such products. While the majority of clients remain merely interested in price and space configuration, there are still some clients that specifically look for the kind of offerings we provide. But it’s definitely not the mass but rather a niche clientele. 
GF: Is M1 therefore catering primarily for foreign rather than local clientele especially with the cultural drive towards sustainability and green energy?
ZD: It caters to the international clientele and the local technology-aware one. However, one thing for sure is that foreign companies are more aware of these requirements than local ones. As far as the local companies are concerned, there is segregation between the large institutions (having their own checklists that sometimes include LEED-certification) and the more entrepreneurial body of SME companies which are more cost sensitive and location driven. 
GF: What has been the learning curve for investing in technology within the real estate sector? What would you implement differently or stress upon in your new buildings?
ZD: First, ones needs to implement technologies that are easily accessible, easily replaceable, well serviced through a support team in the country providing onsite maintenance. That’s an important point. Second, one also needs to sit down with the tenants to study and understand their exact requirements and aspirations. And finally, because our construction suppliers and contractors have been exposed to the larger Gulf market where all kinds of technologies were explored and experimented, they developed the skillset and in-house capabilities to satisfy our latest requirements. Consequently, in terms of learning curve, I think we went through that first difficult stage, and past the inflection point.