Putting a third ‘i’ in building
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Today's built environments are all about performance — and not just building performance.
Yes, on the engineering side, they have to deliver on energy and water conservation, improved indoor air quality, reduced waste, resilience and more. Increasingly, they also are being asked to influence the behaviors of occupants and to safeguard their health and wellness, as well as their privacy and safety.
Designing and constructing environments that meet these varied, and sometimes competing, goals requires a high level of collaboration, monitoring and feedback. To succeed, professionals today must practice the three i's: intelligent, integrated and interdisciplinary.
The shift toward occupant-centered design has introduced a new layer of complexity to design, engineering and construction. In addition to physics and informatics, builders must now take into consideration biology, sociology and psychology. Buildings today are complex ecosystems of engineering, technology, materials and people that interact in ways we still do not completely understand.
Thanks to decades of research, we know a great deal more about the effects of many of the chemical substances found in building materials, furnishings and finishes, lighting, noise, space layouts, nature views and plants. We also have a greater appreciation for how the design of built environments can influence mood, productivity, learning, healing, socialization and choice.
Armed with this information, owners, building and facilities managers, architects and designers, government officials, public interest groups and others are asking that more attention be paid to the welfare and well-being of occupants and for greater accountability. Office furniture designer Teknion recently released a white paper, "The Rise of Ethonomics," in which they advocate for a new approach to urban development, building and design:
"Considering the impact of human systems on natural systems — and the impact of the natural and built environments upon human beings — we can posit that the power of design today is something more than aesthetics, communication or the creation of desirable products. Rather, it must be practiced as a process of integrative thinking — a synthesis of design, technology, science and humanistic principles — set within the context of social, economic and environmental ethics: 'ethonomics.'"
As we look closer at the three I's, integration applies not only to systems, processes and schedules — as set forth in an Integrated Design Process (IDP) — but also to the integration of occupant-centered objectives and outcomes into the initial design thinking and planning.
Achieving this level of integration demands an interdisciplinary approach, inclusive of all the professions, trades and consultants who will be involved in the construction of the building and its interior environments. In its "Interior Design 2015/2016 Outlook and State of the Industry" report, the American Society of Interior Designers reveals a growing trend toward holistic thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration that is transforming the design of built environments.
"The best design solutions to complex problems come from a holistic approach that pulls on expertise across disciplines," the report states.
Setting goals is one thing, achieving them is another. Monitoring building and occupant performance has become increasingly important as owners look for results from their investments in sustainability, adaptability, sociability and other innovations.
Today's buildings have become not only "smarter" through the use of mobile and connected technologies, but they have also become more intelligent in their ability to provide performance data and, in some cases, act on it. Intelligence completes the loop, providing insights that will allow designers and builders to continue to make improvements as they learn more from each project.
Integration, interdisciplinary and intelligence: These three i's will make the difference between high-aspiring buildings and truly high-performance buildings — those that achieve optimal performance levels for occupants as well as systems.
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