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How Smart Systems are Shaping the Future of Building Design

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If you’re a gardener, you know that every plant has its optimal growing conditions. A set of variables that maximize the plants’ potential for growth. As amateur gardeners, we try to achieve these growing conditions as much as we can, but it takes a high-tech solution to maintain them over time in order to constantly achieve high yields. It’s the same for humans.  

Architects and building designers have taken this notion on board and developed the ideology known as building intelligence (BI). However, BI isn’t just about maintaining the right environment for human users. BI plays a wider role in maintaining the right conditions for the building itself and the external environment. 

Changing Face of BI

Ever since BI emerged as a construction concept in the 1980s, its very definition has been difficult to establish. One of the original definitions released by the Intelligent Buildings Institute was “[a building] which provides a productive and cost-effective environment through optimization of four basic elements: structure, systems, services and management, and the interrelationship between them.” 

Almost 40 years later, and this definition still rings true. It has been modified since,  with additions, amendments and caveats from BREEAM (1990), LEED (2000) and lately, Building Internet of Things (BIoT), which adds, “the overlaying of an IP network, connecting all the building services monitoring, analyzing and controlling [the building] without the intervention of humans,” to the list of footnotes.

Human Interaction

The effects of BI on the inhabitants of a building are obvious. Systems automatically control temperature, humidity, and lighting. The changes occur in real-time thanks to thousands of sensors around the building to provide the perfect environment for inhabitants.

As BI-focused buildings are designed to maximize human comfort, this specific performance metric is being fulfilled with as little human interaction as possible.

Intelligent elevators use a floor grouping system that directs users to specific elevators and expedites their journey while minimizing energy usage. Self-opening doors subtly yet quickly direct users toward their final destinations, while keeping the disruption to the internal environment to a minimum. 

However, as we enter the next decade, will the term ‘human interaction’ become an oxymoron within the BI environment? As BI-focused buildings are designed to maximize human comfort, this specific performance metric is being fulfilled with as little human interaction as possible. So, is human comfort still the raison d’être of BI?

Optimizing the Building’s Environment

Construction is not getting cheaper. In fact, in Canada, it is the reverse—payroll remains the largest cost in our skilled labour-restricted industry. Modern-day edifices need to be built right-first-time, built for the long haul, and built to minimize their day-to-day financial, physical and environmental costs.

BI systems have revolutionized this concept by tracking thousands of KPIs multiple times per second. Maintenance criteria ensure that consumables are replaced at exactly the right time so that building systems remain in operation for as long as possible. 

Maintenance tracking is no longer the responsibility of caretakers. Building management employees are [virtually] given a daily maintenance schedule by their BI systems. In fact, by becoming updatable and scalable, BI systems themselves are no longer limited by time or capacity.

Carbon Footprint

Reducing daily costs is only a small part of BI’s role in reducing the carbon footprint, though. Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) buildings are a highly energy efficient building that produces on-site, or procures, enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet building operations energy consumption annually, according to Architecture2030.org.

Undoubtedly, solar power is the go-to renewable energy. However, rooftop space is at a premium for traditional solar panel systems.

In layman’s terms, modern-day buildings must produce—or procure—some of the clean energy they consume. Undoubtedly, solar power is the go-to renewable energy. However, rooftop space is at a premium for traditional solar panel systems. Maybe the emergence of solar windows can position solar power as the renewable energy to meet this new Zero Net Carbon standard?

 Managing a BI Project

Imagine a project manager on a traditional job site. Their PM skills need to be on-point to ensure that the walls are built before the windows, and the windows are installed before the blinds. Now, imagine those windows could relay real-time information to an IP system controlling the blinds, the HVAC system and the automatic doors. You would have to be a PM on steroids!

Turnkey project management solutions like those from Procore Technologies allow construction professionals to manage the extreme complexities of these IT-heavy projects both onsite and remotely.

Nurturing the Next Generation of Buildings

It’s anyone’s guess what the future will hold for BI or what BI will have in store for the future? Maybe, it’ll focus on component manufacturing or modular construction? The journey of materials from raw substrates to finished components is still a relatively unexplored area. Or maybe environmental issues will be next up? Will buildings begin to incorporate more 3R materials, or is the reduction of volatile chemicals the next big thing? 

For now, the future of BI raises more questions than answers.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBookswebinars, and case studies you may enjoy:

Immersive Reality

Track & Verify for Design Management

Urban One Study

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