Intelligent Architecture

Driver-less cars, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence – although these may evoke images of futuristic cities only seen in sci-fi films, they may be our reality sooner than we think. It was recently announced that Sioux Falls may be a tester-ground for 5G internet technology. Senator John Thune believes this will change and propel our economic landscape immensely. He mentioned 4G brought tens of thousands of jobs to the state since it was first introduced, and he believes 5G will be in multiples of that. This would be a game-changer for South Dakota’s economy. To give a very high level explanation of how 5G differs from what we have had:

  • 1G gave us the ability to make mobile phone calls (i.e. cell phones)
  • 2G saved us time by allowing text messages
  • 3G gave us the first smart phones by enabling us to access the internet
  • 4G allowed us to connect and use the hundreds of thousands of apps that have become integral to our society
  • 5G (hypothetically) will allow driverless cars, artificial intelligence, precisions agriculture, and even intelligent architecture.

Admittedly, the potential of 5G is not fully known and will not be until we actually have the ability to test its capabilities. However, there is no question it will change our daily lives in ways we cannot foresee. To me, one of the most pivotal benefits of 5G will be the ability to create truly smart buildings, or intelligent architecture. We have taken baby steps in creating these “smart” buildings with the creation of the Internet of Things (IoT), but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The IoT basically consists of connected appliances (i.e. refrigerators, washers, dryers, thermostats, etc) that can be controlled and monitored via WiFi connection. However, these devices are not completely connected with each other and their usefulness is fairly limited and superficial.

With intelligent architecture, buildings could have the ability to read their own vitals and adjust themselves accordingly by utilizing the data collected by every piece of equipment, appliance, and possibly even the finishes within the building. There are many benefits for this technology, but for sake of time, let’s consider three: environmental, personal comfort, and longevity.

Environmental

Right now, buildings account for roughly 39% of the country’s CO2 emissions. Intelligent architecture would drastically cut down on this number by giving the building itself the ability to automatically analyze and adjust the temperature, humidity, light, even smell to optimize its efficiency and create the most comfortable environment for its inhabitants. Buildings would be able to strategically target specific areas and tailor the conditions of the space based on its particular use, all on their own!

Personal Comfort

What if a hospital building could actually read the vitals of each patient and adjust the conditions of that patient’s individual room to optimize their environment and reduce recovery time? What if the building understood what the optimal temperature, humidity, and light quality was for each occupant in an apartment or office, and was able to adjust? Think of all the time we would save by not getting up to adjust the thermostat after (enter coworker name here) sets it too hot or too cold…According to a study conducted by Cornell University, maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature can save companies up to $2 per hour per employee, which can have a significant effect on the bottom line.

Longevity

If buildings could monitor their own vitals in real-time, they could alert us when anything needs to be looked at or worked on.  We’d know exactly when an air filter, light bulb, plumbing fixture, etc. should be replaced before something goes wrong. The building would be able to read where it’s thermal “weak points” are so we can seal them up, or even alert us if an area of the structure was being overloaded.  Knowing this, we could shift the loads around (assuming they are movable) which would prevent the structure from wearing down prematurely. Intelligent architecture, as opposed to just smart appliances, would allow us to become proactive rather than reactive in the maintenance and upkeep of the whole building, allowing us to address issues before something goes wrong.

Of course, being the first to break into a new technology has its risks, but with great risk comes (the potential for) great reward. Microsoft has doubled down on intelligent architecture and recently partnered with WZMH Architects and a couple of engineering firms to design a prototype to make this sci-fi future a reality. The full article can be found here.

Zenon Radewych, the project lead, paints a vivid picture of what this could look like…

“Imagine that the floor beneath you is modular, a super-smart floor made of tablets…Each unit of the scalable, modular network would contain up to 20 different sensors to live-track various elements of our interior environments, such as humidity, temperature, smell, light, sound, and more. It would then feed that information into an office or home’s ecosystem of smart appliances. This means that a building can become proactive to the needs of its inhabitants, instead of simply reactive.”

Their goal is for this technology to be applicable to any size or type of building, whether that be residential, commercial, medical, etc. Prefabricated, modular units would be connected on site in an effort to help keep construction costs down; a sort of “plug and play” system. That explanation may be a bit simplistic, but you get the idea.

However, there inevitably will be many hurdles we must overcome before intelligent architecture is a reality. As we have seen time and time again, connected devices have an inherent vulnerability to hacking and security. A completely connected building would multiply this risk exponentially, especially if these buildings are also connected with one another. What happens if the building gets a virus, or the system crashes? What if a hospital loses all function? But as they say, for where there’s a will, there’s a way, and for something with this much potential ($$$), I have to imagine somebody has the will.

What are your thoughts on the potentials for intelligent architecture, and how do you think 5G could impact our lives?  Please get those creative juices flowing and share below!

Josh Muckenhirn, AIA is a licensed Architect at ISG in Sioux Falls, SD. He received his M. Arch from NDSU in 2014, ventured further north for 2 years, and has called Sioux Falls home since the summer of 2016.  His claim to fame is (at one point) being able to solve a Rubik’s cube in 32 seconds.

2 Replies to “Intelligent Architecture”

  1. I’ve seen this pop up a few times, and without the time to fully research this, I’m refraining from putting on my tin-foil hat for the time being. Apparently, there are lots of accusations out there about the dangers of 5G beyond the hacking concerns you note in the post. The second option in a quick google search when you type in “5G” is “5G dangers (at least on my end, prior to searching the subject, but who knows how my search results are being affected).” The research thus far has been inconsistent and thus most conclusions are the effects are negligible, but there is at least some limited evidence to show a slight increase in brain tumors with cell phone use even at the 4G level. Perhaps this should be investigated further before a full roll-out of a higher frequency network, before letting it become a big public health experiment. CBS even ran a story in May regarding the growing concerns with 5G: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/5g-network-cell-towers-raise-health-concerns-for-some-residents/
    Like I said – I haven’t jumped on the crazy ship yet, but I don’t think it should be left out of the conversation. If it is a concern, this is troubling for me, because I’m all for technology and connectivity, but not sure at what price – maybe others have some thoughts?

    1. Great point Chase. We (myself included) often get caught up in the hype of technology innovation and end up overlooking the potential risks associated with them. I have heard that cell phones (Bluetooth especially) may increase cancer risks because they are basically throwing waves of radiation direction at our heads. As technology continues to advance and our need to reduce carbon emissions increases, we are going to have to ask ourselves, at what cost is it no longer worth it? We may need to slow down and allow time to fully vet new products and technology before releasing them to the masses. If that does not happen, I can only hope I develop some sort of super power (telekinesis??) from this bombardment of radiation.

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