AoT: The Architecture of Things

May 19, 2021

AoT: The Architecture of Things

By Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP

 

I believe the time is right for Architects to reconsider the built environment through the lens of an expanded “Architecture of Things” (AoT). I derive the AoT concept from the digital Internet of Things (IoT), which readers are likely familiar with. Wikipedia describes the IoT as “the network of physical objects—'things’—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet.”

IoT technology applications for the built environment are ubiquitous in smart homes and are seeing rapid application in commercial and institutional buildings, at the same time smart city technologies are under development at the urban scale. The convergence of digital technology advances with the limits on building and public space occupancy during the pandemic have seen virtual (i.e., digital) space dominate attention while physical spaces have dealt with significant setbacks over the past year.

The boundaries may be blurring between the physical and digital worlds in the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution, yet live experiences in physical brick-and-mortar spaces are not going away anytime soon. Architects need to further understand and embrace advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the IoT, 3D printing, and other technologies to take a leading role in the future planning and design of our built environment.

The real estate industry has begun to take a stance to reinvent itself using property technology (Proptech) to become more flexible and technology-driven. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need for change in the industry and exploration of new ways of experiencing and occupying buildings and public space. However, the majority of buildings are still constructed using old labor-intensive methods that evolved slowly compared to other technical industry sectors. The challenge for Architects in the age of smart cities and smart buildings is to apply our architectural design thinking to new technologies as well as traditional building elements to create places and spaces that serve 21 st Century lifestyles. 

Our profession needs to focus on a forward-looking Architecture of Things to organize the design, construction, and operations of the built environment. Examples of AoT elements integral to buildings and sites include the following:

  • Smart City Domains that link environmental, energy, health, safety and security infrastructure with buildings to create resilient and sustainable urban communities.
    Smart Building Systems that personalize occupant experience and transform facility management by employing holistic IoT solutions. Smart buildings will monitor space utilization, offer contactless access, enhance security systems, automate temperature control, optimize energy management, monitor indoor air quality, track equipment maintenance and enable virtual building management.
    High-Performance Building Enclosures that follow passive house design strategies to control energy transfer, offer net-positive building-integrated photovoltaic energy production, and apply smart glass technology to optimize daylighting and solar control.
    Grid-Interactive Buildings that use advanced battery storage systems to offer greater control, efficiency and reliability for building energy. On-site battery packs (e.g., Tesla Powerwall or Powerpack) integrate with renewable solar or wind power generation sources to store energy and allow for peak shaving, load shifting, demand response, and emergency back-up to reinforce overall building and grid resilience.
    Building-Integrated Mobility Systems that connect electric vehicles (EVs), transportation infrastructure, power grids, building energy storage, and renewable energy sources are on the horizon. A new generation of mobility technologies will be integrated with buildings, including Vehicle to Building (V2B) and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) architecture.

Big tech companies and IT systems architects are already championing themselves as designers of a new smart and connected world. If we professional Architects are to retain relevancy and drive thought leadership in the design of the built environment, then now is the time to more fully embrace emerging technologies to expand the lexicon of traditional architecture.

About the Author: Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP is principal of Weston Architecture LLC. He is an architect and advisor with over 35 years of professional experience in the architecture, engineering and construction space. E: rweston@westonarchitecture.com

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