Sustainable intelligent buildings for people: A review

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Intelligent buildings need to be sustainable (i.e. sustain their performance for future generations), healthy and technologically up to date; meet regulatory demands; meet the needs of the occupants; and be flexible and adaptable enough to deal with change. Buildings will contain a variety of systems devised by many people, and yet the relationship between buildings and people can only work satisfactorily if there is integration between the supply- and demand-side stakeholders as well as between the occupants, the systems and the building. To achieve this, systems thinking is essential in planning, design and management, together with the ability to create and innovate while remaining practical (see Glossary). The ultimate objective should be simplicity rather than complexity. This requires not only technical ability but also the powers of interpretation, imagination and even intuition. Building Regulations can stifle creativity but are necessary to set a minimum level of expectation and obey health and safety requirements. However, we should aim at designing well above these conditions. After all, buildings form our architectural landscape and they, and the environment they generate, should uplift the soul and the spirit of those people within them as well as those who pass by them.

The creation of shared visions, effective teams, clear structures and robust processes ensures that the intelligent building being constructed will demonstrate the purpose for which it was conceived. Times are changing as technology and society evolve, so there needs to be a long-term outlook by the team. Key innovation issues for intelligent buildings include sustainability (energy, water, waste and pollution), the use of information and communication technology, robotics, embedded sensor technology, smart-materials technology including nanotechnology, health in the workplace and social change.

Smart materials in facades, for example, will provide sophisticated forms of feedback and high levels of control besides regulating thermal transmission. Eventually by coating and embedding materials with nanoparticles we will be able to specify material properties much more easily. Self-healing materials will revolutionize facades in the future. Pelletier and Bose (2010) describe how a concrete matrix embedded with capsules of sodium silicate healing agent can repair cracks by the sodium silicate from the ruptured capsules interacting with the calcium hydroxide in the concrete to form a gel that seals the cracks.

However, innovation must be an enabler rather than an end in itself. Passive environmental design is equally important so that the energy demands are minimized by using natural means such as mass, orientation and building form to capture sunlight, fresh air and rain water.

The intelligent buildings control markets are strong worldwide even after the gloomy economic period of 2009. The largest markets are in the USA, Asia, Middle East and Europe but some smaller countries are showing rapid growth. BSRIA Member e-News August 2009 shows that Scandinavia, Germany and Qatar spend most per capita on sophisticated intelligent controls. The increasing demand for sustainable, healthy and low-carbon intelligent buildings seems likely to sustain this dynamic market. Building management systems (BMSs) provide control and interoperability between the various systems servicing the building. Innovations such as internet-based, common, open communication standards and protocols increasingly make it more important to integrate the systems within intelligent buildings. This in turn will require an extended range of professional expertise that could force a cultural change.

A key driver is the sustainability agenda. This article is about the actions and trends that are necessary to achieve a sustainable intelligent building. Such buildings need intelligent infrastructures and serve communities that demand new master planning approaches, and these will feature in a later special issue.

Keywords: human values; integration; intelligent buildings; sustainability; systems thinking

Document Type: Review Article


Publication date: April 1, 2011

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