Technological innovation in smart buildings: the city of the future
Intelligence in buildings for some time has no longer been science, but rather part of reality. Thanks to the development and application of technology, new buildings now optimise their resources and make life easier for us.
Have you ever wondered how many hours we spend inside a building? Offices, shopping centres, houses ... We generally spend 70% of our time living or doing work indoors, according to several studies; precisely the way in which we interact with buildings has repercussions in that more and more buildings are built to imitate or anticipate human behaviour, and they do so looking for efficiency in the materials used in their construction, from the creation of nicer spaces to the installation of strong security systems.
In the field of architecture, the greatest challenge on the horizon is the growth of the population in urban centres, for as international organisations such as the UN say, about 2.5 billion people will be concentrated in cities by 2050. The consequences of this high population density will be the complex job of managing resources and available space, hence the need to build vertically to gain square metres.
The skyscrapers will in this sense be the kings of urban profiles, a trend that is already seen in the financial and residential areas of many developed countries or with high densities of population and scarce surface like Manhattan in New York, Sao Paulo in Brazil and Tokyo in Japan.
The challenge? To use technology to build 100% smart buildings that guarantee four fundamental pillars: connectivity, eco-efficiency, usability and, most importantly, security. We analyse each of these parameters.
Do you know the "internet of things"? This is allowing buildings to be built that are capable of managing the automation of movements, energy efficiency or which anticipate patterns of our daily behaviour through a centralized brain. This system gathers our movements in the cloud and acts to optimise the building's resources.
For example, with the internet of things you can monitor parameters such as CO2 concentration, temperature, access control to the building, the location of people in different spaces and even forecast their needs. Many buildings already have lifts that pick us up at the entrance or on the indicated floor at a certain time, turn off the lights in empty rooms or even have the food ready in the cafeteria at the time we want.
The construction of energy-efficient buildings whose ecological footprint is as small as possible is closely linked to connectivity. To give an idea of this, buildings located in developed countries account for 40% of total energy consumption and produce 20% of CO2 emissions, hence the need to reduce this environmental impact.
How? By using intelligent ventilation sensors that clean the air of harmful particles, materials with reinforced insulation systems, energy self-supply methods with the installation of solar panels, more points for the entry of natural light, cooling systems, use of rainwater in large tanks or the storage of kinetic energy through footsteps on smart floors or lifts to generate electric power.
Accessibility and usability
The buildings of the future (and also of the present) must guarantee the inclusion of all people, with their physical or mental needs. Regardless of their design, the most important thing is that they should be integrating, which includes fundamental aspects such as adapted bathrooms, broad lifts, ramps and unimpeded accesses at heights such as steps, and advanced systems for people with sensory disabilities such as speech recognition, loudspeakers and even braille systems.
To this usability, wireless technology is added through the everywhere display that facilitates the connectivity of our mobile devices in any place.
"The buildings of the future must guarantee the inclusion of all people"
Security: Materials, fire and cyber security
But if there is one fundamental aspect in any architectural project of this size, it is security and in Spain this is governed by the Building Technical Code. Even historic buildings can benefit from new technologies to shield themselves from the potential dangers of this new digital age, such as cybersecurity or more traditional threats such as fires or floods. The design must therefore not be at odds with the guarantees of security for the people who use them.
Fire defence systems. The challenge for the experts is to develop increasingly safe buildings that comply with the three basic standards in the event of this assumption being triggered: compartmentalisation, suppression and evacuation.
The main obstacle is that the greater height of buildings means that putting out a fire by conventional means and their accessibility are complex tasks, which is why experts are already working on areas of prevention such as:
- Compartmentalisation through the creation of thick walls with fire-resistant linings and even the use of flame retardant materials in pipes or elevators that can contain the propagation up to 96% and which are already being applied in buildings such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Likewise, refuge floors are being created that allow the fire to be contained for longer and with openings to the outside to facilitate evacuation.
- Suppression is guaranteed by the installation of water tanks with more than 100,000 litres in key areas of the building such as those in the Torre Allianz in Madrid or the Torre Agbar in Barcelona. These are complemented by the traditional sprinkler systems for each square metre that are triggered at temperatures of 60º and smoke detectors situated less than 10 metres apart.
Companies such as Siemens, for instance, include suction detectors that constantly collect air samples in localised areas and are capable of detecting minimum smoke particles that would immediately activate the alarm or extinguishing systems.
- Finally there would be the evacuation, the most risky step because the time factor and human behaviour respond to unpredictable patterns. However, the design of the building is crucial for this to be done successfully.
Some new buildings already include the mentioned refuge floors, heliports, and at least two independent staircases, and even, contrary to traditional protocols, lifts could be used, provided they are fireproof.
The issue of cybersecurity is probably the next fundamental issue in the safety of technologically smart buildings. The fact of including the integrated Physical Security Information Management system facilitates the assembly of all security devices in a single system, which would include aspects such CCTV, perimeter intrusion by sensors, geo-positioning radar, biometric technology for fingerprint access control, activation of fire-fighting systems ...
In addition, by means of the energy source decentralisation system, in the event of a power outage or failure of transport or water, these new giants can have energy autonomy for at least 24 hours.
Finally, and although it may seem obvious, the way we dress inside and outside a building is essential when creating a space with minimum security guarantees. The experts work on the use of materials and infrastructures better prepared for changing scenarios and with capacity to withstand the conditions of buildings of such height, such as winds, temperature ...
In this sense, reinforced concrete and pre-tensile steel are still the materials most widely used in these buildings, but other substitutes such as cross-laminated wood are beginning to emerge.
Technology is therefore already a fundamental ally in the application of constructed buildings that are to be updated in these basic pillars to become safe and intelligent spaces.
But in addition, new smart building projects must include new technologies as essential conditions to make cities safer, more efficient and more aware of the environment.