“Internet of Things” in Building Design

11Jan15

There are two aspects to be considered when thinking about the application of IoT in building design: one is the design of the building itself, and the second is the tools that are used for the design. Let’s look at the first question. If all buildings in the future will have a network of smart Internet-enabled devices connected with each other and capable of operating without human intervention—as IoT envisions—how will this impact their design? In other words, do we have to design “smart” buildings differently from existing “non-smart” buildings? It would seem so, but it might still be too early to provide a definitive answer, let alone anticipate what the changes might be until IoT gets more pervasive and commonplace.

The fundamentals of architectural design haven’t really changed in decades, and as far as I know, no architectural texts are being re-written yet. But those who design buildings need to be aware that change might be coming. Companies like Dell are already talking about designing architecture for building automation, although at this stage, there are no concrete suggestions or recommendations. Architects themselves, by and large, are not yet talking about how the IoT could change what they do. In the course of my research on this topic, I found only one architect who had addressed the topic—this was a TEDx talk entitled “Designing for the Internet of Things” by Rodolphe el‐Khoury, a practicing architect who also does teaching and research at the University of Toronto. He envisions homes of the future not having a computer but being computers themselves, with every element, fixture, or fabric monitoring and responding to conditions inside and outside the home. While this still gets more into the realm of FM and there are no specific examples of how the building design itself will be different, I found it interesting how the speaker envisaged IoT being applied to the entire fabric of our infrastructure, including buildings, roads, bridges, etc., interconnecting all parts like a “neural network” (Figure 2).


Figure 2
. Slide from Rodolphe el‐Khoury’s TedX presentation envisioning the impact of IoT across all of infrastructure. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcUvg9jcfG8)

If buildings in the IoT era will be designed differently, it seems logical to conclude that the software applications used for designing them will also change. With regard to BIM authoring tools, there would certainly be additional “placeholders” to capture the additional “smart” properties of a building element. Presumably, the BIM application also has to take into account how these smart elements will interact with each other, simulating them digitally as they would behave in real life. So, for example, if a smart beam and a smart column “know” that they have to fit together in a certain way when they are being constructed, the design tool has to take that into account and make sure they come together in the same way in the BIM model.

Another possibility is for elements in a BIM application to have smarts that are not even present in those elements in real life. So, for example, space elements might “know” which other spaces they need to be next to, which spaces they definitely should not be next to, and perhaps even how close or far they need to be from other spaces. When the architect is then designing the building layout, all of these criteria built into the spaces will automatically come into play and help in the creation of an optimal layout. These particular smarts are not physically built into spaces, as they are only required during the design phase. Admittedly, the scenario described here seems to fall more into the realm of expert systems rather than IoT, but ultimately, we are looking at how to design smart buildings in a smarter way, so the exact terminology of the technology might not be that important.

In contrast to BIM authoring tools taking IoT into account while being used by architects and engineers to conceptualize the building design, the case for analysis tools—for lighting, energy, structures, cost, etc.—to do the same seems less ambiguous. If building elements will have smart devices and sensors built into them that will determine their performance, any kind of analysis tool will have to account for that in its calculations. So, for example, a lighting analysis tool will have to take into account the automatic adjustment of shades based on the position of the sun, the automatic turning off and on of indoor lights based on occupancy, and other similar factors while coming up with its estimates. The same is true of an energy analysis tool that will have to account for many of the building’s built-in smarts and self-regulating capabilities in its calculations of heating and cooling loads, thermal comfort, etc.

– See more at: http://www.aecbytes.com/buildingthefuture/2014/InternetofThings.html#sthash.M78Ei4gN.dpuf

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