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24 February 2022
Shalini John

How Smart Buildings Will Affect Architectural Design

A truly ‘smart’ building looks ‘smart’ and acts ‘smart’ too. Smart buildings feature a slew of impressive characteristics and are constantly seeking to improve building performance and occupancy comfort innovatively. Automated control systems, energy-efficient processes, green roofs, smart lighting and smart fire retardation/prevention measures must be incorporated into an aesthetically appealing creation. Architects today negotiate these parameters for smart buildings with an impressive degree of flexibility. To create smart buildings, architectural design drafting, modelling and rendering services must be of high quality, accuracy and inclusive of new concepts and direction.

Designing smart buildings requires in-depth knowledge of exactly what a smart building can be and has the potential to be in the future. A smart building is more than automated control systems. The initial site, the building’s structure, its envelope, windows and layouts, also known as ‘fixed attributes’, play a relevant role in the making of a smart building. However, to get back to the automated part of a smart building, some of the automated features include remotely/automatically controlled heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting and security. Integrated design, energy-efficient retrofits, reduced plug loads and energy conservation processes are some of the other characteristics of smart buildings.

Sensors, actuators and microchips are typically used to collect and manage data to enable the functions and services of the smart building. Critical systems of lighting, power meters, water meters, pumps, heating, fire alarms and chiller plants are linked with the use of intelligent software and sensors. Sensor-driven lifts, access systems and shading systems can be fully automated in smart houses.

The key features of smart buildings include:
  • Automated systems
  • Intelligent building management systems
  • Energy-efficient measures
  • Wireless technology
  • Digital infrastructure
  • Adaptive energy systems
  • Networked appliances
  • Data-gathering/monitoring devices
  • Information and communication networks
  • Remote monitoring

Technologies that are interconnected make buildings intelligent and even responsive, leading to improved performance in the building or facility. Facilities are regulated by facility programming.

Specialised facility programmers, engineers, consultants, facility managers, contractors and manufacturers will collaborate with architects to develop a facility program, which is a process that includes owner objectives and preferences and considers aesthetics, budgets, regulations, energy use, maintenance, environmental impact and functionality.

It is now the design team’s responsibility to develop the facility program into a design, assess the design requirements, detail the project design and create construction documents. Smart buildings need innovative and technically experienced designers. Architectural design must adapt to an increasing level of complexity. For each additional building system, a specialist will be required. For instance, a specialist is needed to install solar panels, wind turbines or water reclamation systems.

Another key area of concern in smart buildings is the type of materials used. Designers choose building materials based on ease of construction, aesthetics, durability, regulations and costs. Architectural design objectives with reference to the materials used include trying to prevent condensation, corrosion, stains, moisture retention, bending, rot, fungus, etc.

Smart buildings can frequently be called green buildings also. Green buildings are big on saving energy. The detailed comprehensive data on a building’s energy use and intelligent electrical design services can help reduce electricity and gas consumption.

Architectural Features of Smart Buildings
Green Roofs

Typically a planted or “living” roof, green roofs may have a lawn and plants. These roofs can significantly reduce energy costs and help insulation.

Concrete Block Wall Insulation

The exterior wall of a building is part of the building envelope and thus critical for the protection of the building and the people inside. Concrete exterior walls that are insulated have impressive thermal efficiency, helping to maintain a steady temperature and improved air quality inside the building.

Thermal Control

For occupancy comfort, it is essential to control cooling and heating. This can be achieved through smart thermostat systems and controlled underfloor air flow to each room. Architectural design helps place thermal control fixtures in ideal locations.

Smart Lighting

Installing LED lights is a good start to smart lighting measures. So is daylighting, which refers to using natural light whenever possible. Architectural design would need to consider placement of windows and skylights for optimum use of natural light. Separate ambient and task lighting results in limiting bright or office lighting only to task areas.

Fire Retardant Curtains

Smart fire safety measures include using fire retardant curtains. Fire curtains, or smoke curtains, are polyester-based cloth curtains or curtains using treated fabric specially released when fire/smoke alarms are set off. These heavy curtains block certain rooms, such as lobbies, staircases, and elevators, off from the rest of the building to contain the fire and resulting smoke, keeping people safe from smoke inhalation and heat as they leave the building.

Additional and evolving features of smart buildings include the construction of zero energy buildings, or ZEB, which essentially create sufficient renewable energy for their own needs.

Smart buildings provide several long-term benefits for the buildings’ inhabitants and the environment surrounding them. Lower operating and maintenance costs, less environmental impact during construction and operation and a robust resilience to power outages and natural calamities are some of the advantages.

So, what is the ‘smart’ way to design ‘smart’ buildings?

One way that is becoming increasingly popular is to represent the physical and functional characteristics of a building with 3D digital models or Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology, using software such as Revit BIM. Virtual design and construction (VDC) is an integrated approach to manage BIM models generated by the multiple disciplines in a project. Using VDC, any part of the proposed building can be viewed in 3D. Additional information provided includes scheduling, cost and maintenance details. Even energy conditions can be assessed. Project stakeholders can collaborate with ease using the same, updated project information, thus considerably cutting the design process time.

Manufacturers can use VDC to view, analyse and perfect prefabricated parts. With the increasing use of VDC and BIM, even ‘smart cities’ may be developed, featuring improved resource management, restrained budgets and safer surroundings.

Designing smart buildings can also be achieved by using the Internet of things (IoT). The Internet of things is a concept where people, computers and devices are interconnected through a network using technology. This idea helps hone certain processes. An example would be of a smart home where a refrigerator can send messages to your phone about being low on eggs, when you are driving. This can happen when the refrigerator is connected to the Internet. Also, the data regarding the amount of fuel consumed and vehicle maintenance information in a transport company can be generated with connected devices.

Sensors and the data they collect contribute significantly to IoT. Information about a building’s light, temperature and occupancy can be gathered by sensors placed strategically for various devices. Use of water, energy and rooms can be monitored and analysed to make improved choices regarding the use of resources. Switches and actuators can be linked to the IoT for further automation. Lights can be switched off in a room with no one in it. The IoT can interconnect heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) services. Even fine precision sounds can be picked up by a sensor for certain useful functions. For example, a sensor in a washroom can determine how many paper towel sheets are remaining from the sound of its removal. When the number hits a predetermined limit, it will automatically order new paper towels.

This level of intelligence, where almost every aspect of a structure is interconnected, begins to take on the virtually science fiction features of a living, breathing building that can efficiently run itself – which brings us to the possible future.

Could It Be?

Is it conceivable that buildings could change their shape as a response to changes in climate or the way occupants use them? Similar almost to a living system?

Ongoing research by architects may alter the future of architecture with ‘responsive structures’. These structures observe and react to changes in the internal and external environment. The shape of a building may change as a response to varying winds, temperature changes or changing natural light. ‘Actuated tensegrity’ structures, which use a framework of rods and wires in all its walls in conjunction with ‘pneumatic muscles’, may result in building envelopes that can change their shape.

Internally, crowd flow changes could be managed more efficiently or warm air circulated more effectively with a changing building. It may sound very ‘Hogwarts’ moving staircases’-like now, but it may also soon be a reality. Light but robust smart buildings could have their skeletons connected to installed/embedded intelligent systems, thus enabling them to change shape without using too much energy.

To think of the applications, one could imagine a tall building bracing itself from strong winds by distributing the stress intelligently. Snow could be shaken from roofs.

Architects have previously factored in a building’s electricity, heating and cooling parameters when designing the shape of a building. The way a tall space heats up or cools down is different from the same processes in a short space. Embedded with smart technology and covered in energy-generating materials, smart buildings could change their shape to track the sun, provide increased shading or sunlight penetration and generate energy. Such a structure could possibly eradicate any requirement for air conditioning by improving and adapting ventilation throughout the building.

The concept of ultralightweight skyscrapers is under research in Chicago. Wind blows through an exoskeletal, actuated tensegrity superstructure, decreasing the volume of dangerous shaking and swaying. It follows the logic of light, hardy trees that bend with strong winds rather than rigid trees that topple over during the same wind exposure. To control the building’s center of gravity, the building’s frame will also swivel and twist gently in the wind, as it cannot rely on its own weight to keep it in place. If successful, this would enable the construction of taller and more sustainable buildings.

The future seems bright and full of possibilities for the architectural design of smart buildings. While virtual building design helps smart structures scale new heights, the role of architectural design drafting is still relevant to ideate and conceive new concepts, and architects still rely on accurate, prompt and cost-efficient architectural design drafting services to help them present these ‘smart’ ideas.