Smart buildings are increasing in popularity and are the future of construction and real estate.
They can be compared to complex organisms whose networks have all been interlinked, thanks to the most recent information technology, which aims to make them more positively active. Very often they will integrate technologies which go beyond simple automatic lighting or even the configuration of HVAC networks (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning). Indeed, they are destined to greater things, such as advanced energy efficiency control in real time, or the optimisation of comfort and access etc. To achieve this, the integrated networks are connected to various elements of the building, sometimes in different ways, and sometimes by systems which are not necessarily physical. In the case of highly advanced smart building, the systems with which the building is equipped are connected with the help of an external network (such as the Internet) and can therefore be controlled from a distance. Most of the leading-edge solutions in intelligent construction are devoid of any architectural prestige, but still successfully show how digital conception can influence a project’s environmental, structural or energy profile. Five examples of existing smart buildings have been selected in order to demonstrate these different aspects.
1 – NASA sustainable development base in Moffett Field, California
This crescent-shaped building boasts intelligent control technology, inspired by the air safety programme of the agency which supplies, most notably, air flight controls. This technology has been used to control different zones of the building and to provide real-time data on the flows through the structure. William McDonough Partners, known for their unique approach to permanent recycling technologies, has used mainly renewable, recyclable or recycled materials in the building’s conception. Many other devices and technologies have been implemented in this building in order to optimise its energy aspect.
2 – Algenhaus
Hamburg is home to the first building in the world to be fitted with a full façade of bio-reactors. This building, positively packed with innovations, features a façade which both insulates and produces energy. Indeed, algae are grown inside it, which produces biogas. The biogas can be used as a fuel or for heating purposes. It can also be stored and transformed by a motor, to be converted into electricity or heat. There are many other uses for biogas.
The working principle is as follows: the algae are suspended in a thin sheet of water held by two sheets of glass, and are continuously fed by a water circuit containing nutrients and CO2. With the help of the sun’s light, the algae photosynthesise and multiply in a regular cycle. Once harvested, separated and transferred to a technical chamber in a thick pulp (biomass), they are then used to produce the biogas in question (methane).
3 – Bahrain World Trade Center
The Bahrain World Trade Center is a modern take on traditional wind turbine towers, used most notably to harness the offshore winds in the Arabian Gulf. The shape of this smart building channels the airflow through three turbines, each 3 metres in diameter, which are supported by walkways linking the two 240m towers. The turbines generate between approximately 11 and 15% of the buildings’ energy needs.
4 – ZCB Mansion, Hong Kong
This is the first ‘zero carbon’ building; the ZCB Mansion combines passive design features with high energy efficiency active systems such as HVLS fans (high-volume, low-speed), a chilled beam air-conditioning system, and intelligent control systems that can reduce energy needs by 25%. The building’s energy production is currently sufficient for its own needs, but it is now looking to go beyond carbon neutrality by producing electricity in a much higher quantity. The customised BEPAD system (Building Environmental Performance Assessment Dashboard) displays data in real time and evaluates the building’s environmental performance, providing information on general energy consumption, water usage, room occupancy, indoor air quality, etc. These are controlled by the BMS (Building Management System) which gathers data from 2,800 detection points located throughout the entire structure.
5 – Al-Bahr, Abu Dhabi
Fitted with a dynamic shading system intended to reduce the building’s solar gain by 50%, the Al Bahr Towers push the limits of dynamic design. The façade is equipped with a system inspired by traditional mashrabiya, but which is in this instance computerised in order to adapt to changing weather conditions. The mashrabiya is a forced natural ventilation device, often used in the traditional architecture of Arab countries. The surface reduction caused by the lattice-work of the mashrabiya speeds up the flow of wind. The wind is then brought into contact with wet surfaces, basins or dishes filled with water, which spread cool air throughout the inside of the building.