25 October 2010

Automated, adaptive and dynamic buildings – Intelligent sustainable architecture for the future?

With the ‘zero carbon’ plan on the horizon, it is becoming increasingly obvious that in the future we are going to have to take greater control over the operation and behavior of the built environment. While we can expect buildings to be built to higher environmental standards, the everyday operation of these buildings in order to justify this improvement in material, build and design quality will become just as important.

Keifer Technic showroom - Intelligent facade

 So the idea of man and building working in unison is ideal as a concept, but can it really work in practice? Can the layman (not just the architect) be trusted with the responsibility of having to understand the multiple (and complex) factors that go into building design, operation and time specific environmental responses to create an ideal sustainable environment?

...Or could automated adaptive technologies be intrinsic to the design and operation of future buildings?

Adaptive technology is nothing new; for years cars have been designed with automatic rain sensors, that trigger windscreen wipers when water is detected, or lighting monitors which would automatically flick the lights on when required. It seems though when it comes to the design of buildings, advancements have not been made and the potential benefits of such applied sciences have been overlooked.

Imagine a building that is always at it’s optimum, regardless of the external conditions, time of day or season of the year? For example, on a component scale, a composite wall whereby the u-value has the ability to change depending on the internal conditioning requirements? Or, Solar tracking, where the permeable and glazed elements of a building adjust and position themselves to follow the sunpath throughout the day and providing optimum natural lighting to inhabitants. Is it even far fetched to suggest that the whole building could be alive - designed to move, reconfigure and re-align itself almost like a living organism?

Mitchell Joachim's Extracellular 'living' wall.
There are already buildings which have been designed to adapt to the environment and specific conditions of a given time, however – the programming is manual and responsibility is left with the user to monitor and control – assuming they will understand how, when and what needs to be done to optimize the configuration. This is where the problem lies and a poorly managed environmental system can be detrimental to performance or, in some cases worse than no system at all.

So could automated, dynamic building technology help us deal with the issues we face in the future, without the requirement of a degree in environmental studies?


  1. Its nice to see dialogue that isn't driven by aesthetics. It's definitely all very interesting - but in terms of the practicalities and economics, how viable a solution is this?

  2. Isn't it simply about offering an alternative solution to a problem? I suppose it depends upon the project, but It would be interesting to begin to explore this approach - or at least look at where this could eventually lead?

    Obviously there are two extremes - the first; simple automation which is already achievable (see Keifer Technic showroom above) - and then the opposite, theoretical extreme; a kind-of technobiology (is that a word?). Imagine intelligent building components being grown as living organs in a lab? There would be no need for mechanics, digital programming, wires or central systems, the component (or organ) would have its genetics structured in order to react accordingly to light, temperature or environmental changes?

    It may be a way off, but is it so difficult to imagine?

  3. Rachel Armstrong has been looking as, using Troy's terminology, technobiology, especially to do with Venice. Worth tracking down her work (she posts on Twitter under @livingarchitect and posts interesting links)