Technology is just one part of a broader solution for smart buildings, says ANIL HIRA, Regional Director, BuroHappold Engineering.
India´s current push for smart cities is, no doubt, a quickly evolving aspect of the built environment that offers huge potential to mitigate at least some of the impact our society has on our planet now and in a future increasingly focused on urban living. The term ´smart buildings´ is restrictive in describing and tackling the major challenges that need to be addressed and this position is reinforced by the focus given to technology as the answer to all ills. Moving forward, the potential for smart buildings should encompass a wider set of considerations such as health, well-being, comfort, productivity, building design and operation, interaction with users, and environmental responsibility. Our primary push over the past two decades on the design of a smart built environment has focused on minimising the carbon footprint by implementing the strategy of being lean, clean and green. However, at Buro Happold, we acknowledge the label stuck to this field and do recognise that technology will play a significant role going forward, albeit as just one part of a broader solution.
Technology and design
The continuing reduction in microprocessor costs and size has made it possible to migrate intelligence into increasingly smaller devices; it is now possible for a device to have its own on-board intelligence and support communication with surrounding devices in building management systems (BMS). This ultimately allows machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the opportunity relating to the Internet of Things (IOT). Challenges still remain though; a deep knowledge of buildings (both technology employed and needs of users) must inform the design of system architecture and software applications. In addition to BMS, building information modelling (BIM) has been introduced sporadically over the past decade and is now a key design process feature. Originally introduced to support design and construction efficiency, and the reduction of construction costs for building structures and mechanical, electrical and plumbing plants and networks, BIM is now being used as a basis to support specialist simulation analysis such as people movement and occupancy, microclimate and carbon reduction.
Technology will be important moving forward and we use the term integrated building management system (iBMS) for an integrated intelligent system in a building that will reduce carbon emissions and control performance automatically. In addition, it will present actionable information to users that enables them to interact with the building in the most energy-efficient and productive manner. Apart from technology, there will also be a need to recognise the importance of building design in the smart building context. A high-performance building facade should be at the heart of a well-designed, low-energy building and there is a common acceptance in sophisticated markets that spending more on the building envelope reaps greater benefits than spending on building services systems. Integrating this opportunity with BIM modelling in conjunction with geospatial databases like GIS (geographic information systems), real-time sensor and social networks, it begins to highlight that traditional approaches to design, construction and operation will evolve to become more fluid and adaptive relative to the environment and users and support overall carbon reduction during the lifecycle of the building.
A key ingredient of future smart buildings will be users and their behaviour. There are many examples of buildings that don´t quite work; some fail because they´re too busy and uncomfortable, others because they´re dead and lack vibrancy. Smart buildings should aim to make citizens smarter via technology and should cover both the top-down and bottom-up approaches. We all have the opportunity to be human sensors who can problem-solve and socially innovate (if desirable) when armed with a smartphone that links to an integrated information and communication platform. If, however, those that live and work within the building cannot trust and engage with the smart solutions proposed, the potential benefits will never be realised.
The smart building movement has to link with wider opportunities to create maximum potential, namely ramping up the opportunity to initiate smart districts and smart cities. A smart building should not be introverted and focus only within the building or plot demise; it should have the additional ability to share knowledge and experiences via the IOT and/or a city operating platform with other buildings and infrastructure within the city. This has its own considerations, not least regarding governance, business and economic planning, data privacy and security, managing resources and the environment, ICT, infrastructure and citizen engagement.
Buro Happold was the principal consultant for the master-planning of the 2012 London Olympic Precinct, including the design of the main stadium. The design of this spectacular venue and its vast surroundings embraces most of the philosophies outlined in this brief note.
"Smart buildings should aim to make citizens smarter via technology and should cover both the top-down and bottom-up approaches."