After 10 years honing his commercial real estate expertise, most recently for five years at industry titan Tishman Speyer, Riggs Kubiak, 31, knows how much data is available on the vast built environment. He served in both acquisitions and asset management for the company with one of the most comprehensive real estate platforms available, and eventually became its global head of sustainability.
But what still surprises him, in an age when consumer review sites, Google, and online commerce start-ups provide endless streams of information, is how little impact the Internet has on organizing the many types of information available on buildings.
“I’ve always been focused on the advancement of the Internet and watched how the consumer Internet has changed industries,” he says. “I was always surprised it didn’t affect real estate more.”
Honest Buildings (honestbuildings.com), the website Kubiak developed this past summer to address the building-information gap, bears the imprint of its co-founders, who are Internet start-up veterans. Part Yelp, part LinkedIn, and cross-bred with a commercial real estate database, it is “an aggregated platform to connect a bunch of disparate pieces of information in the built environment,” he says.
The site combines aggregated building data with images, renderings, and information contributed by owners, service providers, and residents in a platform built on Google Maps and Microsoft mapping technology.
“The built environment has historically been a very closed book,” Kubiak says. “We see it [Honest Buildings] as a resource for everyone who spends time in buildings about what’s happening within their building.”
Service providers—architects, sustainability consultants, retrofit contractors—can get the word out about their most innovative and successful projects by creating a portfolio on the site and sharing it through links, email, and social media. Building owners and managers, meanwhile, can use the site to market their buildings, scope out the competition, and find partners for their next project.
“Owners and managers need to connect with architects to see their services,” Kubiak says. “There’s no outlet out there for them to connect today. We wanted owners and managers to get information more quickly and just be a catalyst for this to happen.”
The site encourages building occupants to provide ratings and reviews of the buildings where they work and spend time. (A mobile app targeted for release in 2012 will allow users to photograph buildings or communicate with owners on their smartphones.) Businesses searching for space can use the site’s data to find the best building in their neighborhood, but owners can also use the feedback to enhance their own offerings—and find service providers with the most innovative portfolios to make it happen.
“As people are growing more comfortable around utilizing social media, you can use it in a variety of ways, whether connecting with people in condos or office buildings, or bringing transparency to the multi-trillion-dollar built environment,” Kubiak says.
Following the beta release of Honest Buildings, Kubiak’s team has focused on seeding the platform with data and content from pros. The site has worked with the USGBC and the EPA to index every building with LEED or Energy Star certification. With 10 billion square feet of building space already populating the site, users can log on and find tight clusters of LEED-registered buildings in many cities. And Honest Buildings employs a proprietary and patent-pending data-collection methodology to collect data through New York City’s energy benchmarking law and partnerships with other organizations, including the agencies that run the equivalent of LEED in Europe and Australia—a feature that should rapidly grow the building count.
Kubiak says that Honest Buildings could serve as a driver of innovation. “When displayed in a transparent manner, it [the information] can foster a sense of competition in the market,” he says. “Other owners or managers will say, ‘How can I bring my project to match the market?’ ” Kubiak envisions the website hosting innovation challenges that spotlight the most groundbreaking projects in a variety of verticals.
By highlighting best practices and case studies, Honest Buildings could become a catalyst for swifter and more productive partnerships. The built environment will speed up in the future, Kubiak predicts. “Transactions and ideas will be shared more quickly than they are today,” he says. “I’m hopeful that this creates ideas and concepts that keep pushing architecture further.”