How architects can control a building's intelligence

In the case of new construction and most building renovations, the architect is the main interface for the building owner. It’s the architect that develops the owner’s facility program and assembles a design team -- both of which are critical to the overall success of the project.

With such a prominent role, the architect heavily influences just how smart the building will be. Surely architects understand that the control, monitoring and automation systems are an essential aspect to a smart building. Those systems are the dynamic components or facet of the building. They are the nervous systems that allow for adjustments in a building’s environment -- as well as its optimal operational performance related to life safety, comfort, security, energy and a healthy atmosphere.

However, architects also understand that it’s not just control systems that comprise a smart building. The “fixed” attributes of the building such as the initial siting, the structure, the envelope, windows and interior layout also play a major part in how smart the building is and how the building will operate.

The best building control systems cannot compensate for the worst building structure and layout. In the same way, the best structure cannot compensate for the worst building control systems. Both are critical in creating a smart and well-designed building. What follows are some of the functions and responsibilities of the architect and how they play a role in designing, constructing and operating a smart building.

Facility Programming

The development of a facility program will be led by the architect in collaboration with specialized facility programmers, engineers, consultants, facility managers, contractors and manufacturers. It’s a creative, iterative process which teases out the owner’s objectives, values and preferences, and identifies the needs and considerations related to aesthetics, economics, regulatory issues, energy, sustainability and functionality. The result is the owner’s unique facility plan that is the foundation and underpinning of the design and construction. (See the classic book Problem Seeking, an architectural programming primer, for more information).

It is this early programming activity where the discussion of automation, advanced technology, smart buildings, building operations and facility management must take place. Without laying out these matters, it will not become an integral part of the building program and traditional or legacy approaches will oftentimes result. Even if the idea of a smart building becomes an afterthought, something possibly identified later in the design process, its consideration may be disruptive -- and its potential diminished because of existing design decisions.

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