Smart Buildings
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Smart Buildings

Technology and the Design of the Built Environment

Ron Bakker

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  1. 160 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Smart Buildings

Technology and the Design of the Built Environment

Ron Bakker

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About This Book

How is technology shaping our built environment and changing the practice of architecture? This book explores how buildings and spaces are designed, built, used, and better understood through technology. A practical guide to technical advances including Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, innovative materials and robotics, Smart Buildings also outlines the opportunities for architecture including improved communication, flexibility, wellbeing, productivity and data collection. Bringing together multidisciplinary contributions and case studies from across the globe, this book provides an inspiring practical guide on how technology can inspire new architectural ideas, improving quality, comfort, health and wellbeing in the built environment

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In the photograph Amazon, the photographer Gursky considers the impact of digital technology on organisation systems. Rather than relying on categorised shelves and visual order, workers in this distribution warehouse in Phoenix, Arizona, navigate the seemingly chaotic shelves with the aid of a digital system that keeps track of every object brought into the facility2
In our hyperconnected world, order in the traditional sense no longer seems to be required. Our digital systems tell us where things are and can lead us there directly, without the need to carry maps and timetables, or to memorise routes and directions. While too much can seem constricting, order is also an important ingredient of our architectural strategies. When designing buildings and cities, architects take stock of the functional requirements and the essential relationships between them and use spatial organisation as a tool to arrange complexity and chaos into peaceful, calm and fathomable patterns and structures. We appreciate the order of elements as an important part of the aesthetic quality of our environment. We find our way around buildings and cities through an understanding of the rational assemblies that were the basis of their design. Strong street grids are easy to navigate and there is a definite appeal to the rhythm and the hierarchy, but often we prefer streets that ‘curve out of sight, leading us on with a tantalising hint of what lies beyond. We like environments that stimulate our curiosity, but also quench it’.1 In a world of Google Maps™ and instant wayfinding, courtesy of our smartphones, how will these firm principles be modified when we no longer need this type of ordered approach to pattern and direction? Will we feel lost, even though we are not? Will we still crave well-organised and recognisable sequences? Will artificial intelligence (AI) help us, documenting and analysing experiential data and producing digitally derived patterns that somehow chime with our personal aesthetic sense? Or maybe the answer lies in biomimicry? We tend to feel good about the materials, textures, smells, colours and patterns we find in nature. Perhaps the observable qualities of our built environments have strayed too far from what we are comfortable with – determined by our evolutionary programming.
New innovations are happening constantly and becoming accustomed to new ways of dealing with our physical environment is an accepted part of modern life. This chapter examines the impact that this swiftly shifting reality has on the design of the built environment, and the architect’s responsibilities to make sense of technological changes on the one hand and to protect our standards of living on the other.


Every so often, in the history of architecture, we have seen periods of intensified progress – of leaps forward into unknown territory. These tend to be caused by discoveries in one or more disciplines outside the sphere of architecture and design, which steer our thinking away from established paths. The beginning of the 20th century was one such period of progress, with the advent of progressive Modernist projects, such as Johannes Duiker’s 1930 Open-Air School, commissioned by the Association for Open-Air Schools for the Healthy Child, an organisation that initially promoted the notion that fresh air and daylight are beneficial to the health and education of sick children, but which later extended this principle to include all children.3 The idea originated in the early 1900s, in Charlottenburg, Germany, and spread to other western European regions and across the Atlantic. Outdoor teaching was quite common in the Netherlands in the 1920s. Duiker’s design combined the novel use of concrete, glass and steel window frames with a plan layout and a sectional approach that allowed fresh air, daylight and sunlight deep into the classrooms, giving teachers the opportunity to teach outside on balconies at any time of the year – in the middle of the city.
The project was banished to the courtyard of a residential block in the emerging Amsterdam South district by the municipal spatial quality committee because its design was not deemed to be ‘in harmony’ with the architecture of Berlage’s masterplan, which was being built at the same time. The resulting configuration is still a shock on a first visit to the project. Within the square courtyard, the building is turned through 45 degrees to allow as much space, air and daylight as possible into the open corner classrooms. The architectural expression of the modern school in its traditionalist context is striking – a composition that still seems odd, but not as strange as the realisation that the Open-Air School was completed before the residential buildings around it.
During the early 21st century, new ideas pop up constantly and an entirely new layer of invention
Students learning outdoors at an Open-Air School in the Netherlands, 1918
The Open-Air School for the Healthy Child, designed by Johannes Duiker, Amsterdam, 1930
is pasted onto the fabric of our buildings and our cities. There is a sense that we are still only at the beginning of a rapid technological transformation. Younger generations already have a very different relationship with their world to that of their parents. They are true digital citizens. They are the first generation to be continuously connected to the rest of the world without remembering a time when they weren’t. They do most of their work and play on a laptop or a tablet, at school, in the library or at home. They do most of their communicating – with their friends, sports clubs, their bank – through their smartphones. They choose software fit for purpose and they have immediate access to virtually every piece of information they could possibly need. They think nothing of going out and finding the data they require, the help they need or the information to understand whatever piques their interest during their widespread and exhaustive chats with the people in their extended community. They have full access to the world of sport, fashion, music and entertainment, and they hone their interests and can source what they want from obscure, limited-edition outlets. They trade second-hand trainers and branded T-shirts with people on the other side of the planet with a swipe of their devices. Their network is vast. They know what is going on in their precise – but wide-ranging – circle of interests and associates through rapid exchanges of huge amounts of data. Their learning is diverse, and they develop mechanisms to discuss and decide what is true and what is not, in ways that gradually diverge from those of their parents.
Their physical environment is leaner; they don’t seem to need much stuff. They have no vinyl record collections. They have no library of books, albums of photographs, stamp collections or boxes full of paperwork. Besides their clothes, everything they possess is on their laptop, on their phone and backed up in the cloud. They travel light and are skilful swimmers in the pool of data surrounding them within their connected environment.
Besides the extensive change to the methods of communication between people and their sources of information, another transformation is taking place. There is an increasingly direct relationship between humans and their immediate physical environment. Through monitoring sensors, devices connected through the internet of things, websites and smartphone applications, various new links have been established between people and the world of objects and systems. In many cases, this optimises our daily activities. For instance, organising movements around London based on real-time public transport information offers us much better travel times than earlier generations, who relied largely on their personal experience to navigate from A to B. It is not impossible, for example, for a DJ to decide, one Friday lunchtime, to play her records in a previously unknown venue, bring her entire repertoire on a laptop, and have 300 revellers dancing by midnight. The idea of pop-up restaurants and exhibitions would not have taken off so easily without our diverse and extensive digital interrelationships.


In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab writes:
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society. 4
Schwab’s book was published in January 2016, but already we are no longer ‘on the brink’. Our world is currently experiencing many of the transitions described and, while we don’t yet know how things will work out, we do understand that there is no way back.
Our world economy is now largely driven by innovation, which has overtaken manufacturing and finance to account for 50% of the United States’ GDP – the biggest economy on the planet.5
Although innovation is a critical contributor to productivity growth, as a concept in economics it is often poorly understood. For example, it is important to distinguish between transient and radical innovation. Radical innovation alters the economic system wholesale by changing production processes.6 This is what we see around us. It is widely believed that we are currently in the midst of a radical technological innovation shock.7
Seven general sectors of technology are distinguishable, and in each of these we have recently seen radical innovations:
  1. the internet – which has given us, among other things, mobile applications, the internet of things, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and crowd-teaching
  2. information and data processing – including huge advances in the development of microprocessors and quantum computing
  3. automation – advanced robotics, AI and machine learning, human–machine interfaces and automated decision-making processes
  4. transport and mobility – driverless cars, drones, vehicles powered by new energies, intelligent transport networks
  5. energy – shale oil and gas, storage and management of electrical power (batteries, hydrogen), new energies (solar, hydro, biomass, wind, geothermal, wave and tidal), as well as more sophisticated ways of saving energy
  6. life sciences – biochemistry, healthcare, genetics, immunology, oncology, neuro-biology, bio-informatics
  7. smart materials – nano-technology, graphene, composite materials, soft matter materials, recycling.
Our era of innovation can be characterised by three distinct stages,8 detailed below, which are sequential but overlap quite substantially.


The first stage lasted from 1990 to 2005, during which time we saw many inventions in all seven main sectors of technology. The internet was perhaps the most far-reaching advancement, bringing about various new means of communication and allowing unprecedented access to knowledge, but we have witnessed entirely new ideas and directions in most fields.


Our current period (2005–2025) is witness to massive disruption in established professions and markets, caused by commercialisation of the various inventions. Entrepreneurial start-ups scaled up and some of them developed into mammoth companies in Silicon Valley, which in turn gobbled up smaller inventive businesses in a spiralling escalation of some of the most vigorous growth we have ever experienced. Initially, this process was most prevalent in the US, but other regions of the world are following this pattern.


The next period (2025–2040) will see a convergence between aspects of each of the seven categories, a fusion of technologies that will blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres9 – disrupting almost every industry in every country. Some of these interesting couplings can only be imagined. It is hard not to be intrigued by the huge potential for solving some of the practical shortcomings of reality that we have not yet conquered. Consider the following scenarios:
  • We can expect to be able to download a digital file of our conscience – digital technology meets neuroscience. If our personal inner world can be mapped and stored, will we live forever?
  • Innovative entrepreneurs will collaborate to provide services in unforeseen ways – manufactured meat delivered by drone at a swipe of a smartphone.
  • A young Singaporean designer has created a pair of spectacles, not to improv...

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