Skip to content

PropTech at work

Transforming an aging property into a modern smart building

By Michelle Rieve, Russell Beckelhimer, and Jessica Emmanuel
Photo: Nicholas Waring

Innovations in property technology (PropTech) are changing how real estate assets are positioned and viewed in the market. New applications of technological breakthroughs can be a game-changer for tenants looking to transform their workplace—particularly in the post-COVID-19 world. Companies are increasingly demanding a smart, connected office space that can drive greater workplace productivity, ensure maximum health and safety for occupants, and attract younger workers.

Smart building technologies are more than just a single application. They are a collection of integrated systems that are flexible, scalable, and resilient, which allows them to adapt over time and change along with the evolving needs of owners and tenants.

While new buildings have the luxury of starting from scratch, owners of older properties are challenged with integrating new PropTech and making their existing assets stand out. District Center, a 1990s-era office building in Washington D.C., is a shining example of how to provide a cutting-edge, connected office environment in an aging property that can successfully compete with the newest smart buildings in today’s market.


Originally built in two phases, District Center is an 820,114-square-foot commercial office building at 555 12th Street Northwest in Washington D.C.’s East End, less than a mile from the White House. When the new owners purchased the asset in 2014, there was a long list of needed capital improvements—everything from HVAC and lighting controls to modern energy-metering methods and a new security system. Instead of approaching the upgrades traditionally, with like-for-like systems, the owners opted to proceed with a focus on the future. The owners wanted to use technology to make their property stand out in a competitive market.

The owners wanted to differentiate District Center by utilizing technology and enabling a new suite of digital amenities for their tenants.
They understood that an office building is more than just a place where people come to work; it’s a tool to improve employee productivity, engagement, innovation, and business performance. They wanted to differentiate District Center by utilizing technology and enabling a new suite of digital amenities for their tenants.


The main challenge was implementing the smart building technology infrastructure needed to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in compliance with Washington D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment Regulations. They also needed to leverage PropTech to create a superior tenant experience, increase engagement and retention, and improve the property’s marketability.

As expected, incorporating a high-tech amenities package into a 20-plus-year-old building presented unique challenges. A smart building must have systems that can communicate with one another, and they need to speak a common language so that they can share information and enable new sequences and new intelligence—a much simpler goal to achieve within new construction than in upgrading an older building.

A strategic approach

For this project to be successful, it was imperative to

  • Partner with a technology consultant to develop use-case scenarios and upgrades to infrastructure and capabilities
  • Educate building tenants on the use of the applications to encourage buy-in and increase daily technology use
  • Promote smart building capabilities to prospective tenants

For a large-scale smart building implementation to work properly, a robust, converged communications network infrastructure must be in place for the Internet of Things (IoT) devices to communicate responsively with each other. At District Center, a fiber-optic backbone with network ports on every floor was installed to allow these devices to easily connect to the system, providing tenants the opportunity to take advantage of the base building converged network and fully employ all building services.

Implementing an IoT platform further allows frictionless automation by bringing all systems into a single platform and providing a centralized data repository. Such systems include, but are not limited to, reservation systems, visitor management systems, security systems, parking systems, building management systems, and building security.

Through the addition of the distributed antenna system and wireless infrastructure, District Center can also provide the necessary means for tenants and the building’s IoT devices to communicate without any additional infrastructure.

Tenant experience

Consistently looking to improve the workplace with new tools, District Center’s smart building technology is available to everyone. The smart building infrastructure gives tenants the option to control lighting and temperature in their spaces, reserve rooms, prepare for presentations, raise and lower blinds, order food, track transportation options, and much more, all through something as easy to use as an app on their smartphone or wall-mounted screens throughout the building.

The digital signage displayed upon entering the property provides information including weather, train schedules, and ride-share availability, and similar signage outside individual office suites shows which conference rooms are available or booked, both now and in the future.

Lighting and HVAC

The lighting and HVAC systems have Bluetooth and beacon sensors that detect the presence of humans. Built into the lighting system are more than 1,000 multisensors powered by the IoT. True to their name, these multisensors perform multiple functions, tracking occupancy levels for code compliance, checking natural and artificial light levels, and measuring temperature and air quality. Each multisensor has a Bluetooth beacon for location-based assistance through a smartphone app, helping users find key services and amenities at the building, much like the apps used in many major retail stores to help customers find a product on the shelves.

A secure IP facility network then connects all building systems and provides advanced features only available when HVAC, lighting, access control, and video surveillance systems are all integrated and sharing data.


The smart building platform at District Center is adaptable and scalable, allowing new technologies and systems to be added as needs evolve. In fact, the level of systems integration employed at District Center represents some of the highest attained in a multi-tenant property. As the asset’s demand for PropTech grows, the operational intelligence gained from the integrated systems can eventually be leveraged to create processes that can in turn enable the full functionality of a smart building.

District Center’s multisensors gather vast amounts of data, but not all of it is relevant to all the different groups that use the building. For example, tenants need information that helps with their work, while operators and owners need analytics about building operations and maintenance.

COVID-19 response

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the building owner added more health and safety precautions, such as a touchless check-in system using QR readers at the front desk, fitness center, and sky lounge; elevator cab air purifiers; and escalator handrail sanitizers.


District Center has proven to be a beacon of how technology can offer next-generation digital amenities to benefit office environments.

Since its completion, the PropTech overhaul has improved efficiency systems at District Center, facilitated easy reporting of sustainability and energy metrics, and enhanced tenant experience, convenience, and productivity.

Some notable sustainability benefits include a 42.1% reduction in electricity consumption between 2017 and 2019, and total energy savings of 71.6% since 2017, earning District Center LEED Gold recertification in 2021, with a current ENERGY STAR® score of 95. Those improvements have kept the property in full compliance with the new Department of Energy and Environment Regulations, currently sitting in the top 2.4% in energy consumption among all such compliant buildings within the capital.

But the ability to utilize new applications of property technology to monitor occupancy and space conditions and adjust connected smart infrastructure to improve energy consumption isn’t the end goal in and of itself. How have these efficiency improvements translated to the tenant experience? In the three years following the project’s completion, District Center saw a 19% increase in tenant retention and a 16% increase in new leases.

In addition, the building was recognized in January of 2020 by the Better Buildings Challenge as a showcase project, and, in 2019, District Center won the Unified Project of the Year award from Distech, a company focused on energy management solutions in the built environment. Presented every two years, the award singles out the commercial building project that most effectively leverages both connected lighting technology and intelligent building solutions.

Today, District Center stands as a great example of how smart building technology can offer digital amenities to provide a healthier and more productive office environment for tenants and property management teams, all while maximizing energy efficiency and long-term sustainability. It demonstrates the amazing capabilities of a connected building and the many possibilities for increasing value.

Journal of Property Management

Michelle Rieve is vice president, group manager with the Markets Group of JLL in Washington D.C. She is responsible for client development, financial management and performance, operational oversight, and capital projects for District Center.
Jessica Emmanuel

Jessica Emmanuel is a senior general manager within JLL’s Mid-Atlantic Property Management team and is in charge of managing the daily operations of District Center.

Russell Beckelhimer

Russell Beckelhimer is a senior chief engineer in JLL’s Mid-Atlantic Property Management Team with nearly 25 years of experience. As part of the company’s Engineering Leadership Team, he supports the region’s on-site teams in delivering the JLL Engineering Platform.

Similar Posts

Promoting property management in the UAE

IREM welcomes new members and looks to expand presence in...

Insurance turmoil

Optimizing risk management to provide more control over cost and...

Beyond the bill

Transformative utility expense management for property managers