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Smart Buildings

02 August 2011

One important aspect of a ‘connected workplace’ is the provision for Audio Visual equipment, an area of expertise for Chris Fitzsimmons, editor of our sister-publication InAVate. PFM asked Chris to give his perspective on the advance of the ‘smart building’ and the opportunities that lie within

”DESIGNING SMART BUILDINGS will require a complete rethink in how we do things, especially in regards to project management,” wrote Crestron’s Mark Tallent in a recent article on integrated building technologies. “In fact, if we’re aiming for fully integrated technology, we need to go back to the drawing board.”
That’s provocative stuff indeed, but not in my view far wide of the mark. At least not if the AV community is truly to capitalise on the potential that the smart building revolution represents to it.
But, what precisely is that potential? For help, it’s worth returning to one widely accepted definition of what a smart building is. This particular one is included in the course description of the MSc in Intelligent Buildings, from the University of Reading.
“An intelligent building is a dynamic and responsive architecture that provides every occupant with productive, cost effective and environmentally approved conditions through a continuous interaction among its four basic elements: places (fabric; structure; facilities):processes (automation; control; systems): people (services; users) and management (design; construction; performance) and the interrelationship between them.”
The obvious section to pull out of that is processes. Automation, control and systems are all familiar terms to AV, and ones that we understand well. All three of these imply opportunities within a building fabric for purveyors of AV systems to do business. We have expertise in room control and automation – everything from lighting control to blinds. We have knowledge of video distribution and IPTV for digital signage or security monitoring. Some of us even know about energy monitoring technologies and asset management thanks to experience of using tools like Crestron Room View, Extron’s Global Viewer Enterprise or AMX’s Resource Management Suite.
But, we’re already doing that aren’t we? That’s what many integrators and designers work on day-in-day out, designing room control or media distribution systems However, that’s not actually enough. The key concept to grasp in smart buildings is that it’s no longer enough to consider these systems in isolation. The important part of that definition is the last phrase “the inter-relationship between them”. A truly smart building takes information about all of these systems and processes and applies it to its other components.
How about this: the access control system knows you’ve arrived in the building on the ground floor, by the time you arrive at your office door on the fifth floor, the lights in your office are on, your PC has woken from sleep mode, the office diary has been updated to reflect your presence and in fact, since you’ve booked at meeting room for 0930, the projector in that room is already warming up and your presentation is queued up. That’s pretty smart. Conversely, in a hurry to get home you forget to turn off your lights, as you leave the foyer, the system registers your departure and turns them off for you.
Then that night at a cinema, you drop your access card. Some ne’er-do-well picks it up and tries to use it to gain access to your place of employment the next morning, however since the CCTV system uses facial recognition technology it notices the card holder isn’t you, prevents the miscreant from passing the barrier and sends an email to you and the security team.
Another key benefit of, and driver towards, smart building adoption is energy management efficiency. It really is the green agenda that has re-enlivened the intelligent building debate.
Companies don’t have a hope of meeting future environmental legislation if they can’t monitor and report on their energy consumption, let alone work on reducing it. Smart technologies such as room booking, or occupancy monitoring systems mean that lights can be turned off and HVAC turned down automatically when spaces are un-used.
That is the potential of a smart building – a place in which systems which were once separate now co-operate to make the working environment more efficient, and safer.
A wonderful theory, but putting it into practice as Tallent notes is a whole other ball game. In order that these systems communicate with each other, two things have to happen. Firstly the technology has to add up. Until HVAC, AV and building management systems all talk a common language they won’t be able to cooperate.
This situation is almost here. The protocols exist in general terms for systems to talk to each other – it could be made simpler, but if the last few decades have taught us anything it’s that technological challenges will be overcome.
The second requirement for the concept to succeed is for it to be considered at the earliest planning stages of a building. That necessitates a complete change in the structure of design teams, with all disciplines being represented from the very start. For technologies to cooperate, so must technologists. That’s a much greater challenge – we have to change human behaviour. It’s no longer acceptable for electrical engineers, lighting designers, architects, building controls specialists and AV specialists to work in isolation.
How this is most likely achieved is through better use of tools and processes in the design phase. A key new tool for smart building projects will be BIM (Building Information Modelling).
BIM is three-dimensional, real-time, dynamic building modelling software which encompasses building geometry, spatial relationships, geographic information, and quantities and properties of building components.
The model generated informs the design and construction process as well as managing building data during its lifecycle.
The key difference between BIM, and a traditional 3D CAD drawing is that objects with a
BIM model have detailed properties, relationships between them. These could be physical relationships such as attachment points (physical or network), or physical properties such as mass, energy consumption. Any change in one object in the model is reflected in all other related objects.
Multidisciplinary teams collaborating on a shared BIM model will be able to more closely align their systems, and immediately see the design implications of any change to spec or layout.
BIM can actually go further than that – it’s possible to create so-called 4D or even 5D models of buildings. A 4D model adds a time element, enabling the team to plan construction sequences and installation times. 5D factors in cost as well, looking at the impact on installation time and bills of materials for various changes.
However, BIM isn’t simply CAD with knobs on. Even a highly proficient CAD operator will need considerable retraining to operate BIM packages, and the hardware necessary to run them is considerably more powerful than a standard PC work station. For this reason, BIM is a significant investment and not for every one.
But even if your company is not able to invest fully in BIM systems you should be prepared to work with them, and have a grasp of their concepts. AV companies who wish to be involved in smart buildings should be preparing to do business more effectively with major building contractors and looking to understand better their business processes. There’s a massive amount of information out there on smart or intelligent buildings, and InfoComm publishes a great introductory guide to BIM if you want to learn more about that. It can be found here: Smart buildings are coming, in some cases they have already arrived, but soon they will be gone. In ten years time they will no longer be called “smart” or “intelligent” buildings they will simply be buildings and the opportunity to be on the front line of a key new development will have passed you by.

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