Article - July 99
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Intelligent Buildings Simply Explained

by Donald A.Coggan

This article offers a summarized, simplified explanation of intelligent buildings for either the newcomer to the industry or someone already in the industry but specializing in one particular aspect of it.

Donald A. Coggan, Ingénieur-Engineer consults in the related fields of building automation, telecommunications, lifesafety, workplace automation, and mechanical and electrical engineering.

Article Abstract

In the early l980s, trade magazines began running stories on "intelligent buildings." Publications concerned with mechanical systems did articles on automation systems making buildings more energy-efficient. Magazines serving the communications industry told how advanced telecommunications systems have made buildings more efficient and therefore more intelligent. As a result of extensive press coverage and supplier advertising, there has been growing pressure on owner/developers to build intelligent buildings. The intelligent buildings are said to be more attractive and easier to lease. Existing buildings, lacking the attractive features of the newer, more intelligent ones may lose tenants to their more intelligent competitors.

This article offers a summarized, simplified explanation of intelligent buildings for either the newcomer to the industry or someone already in the industry but specializing in one particular aspect of it.

Historical Context

The November, 1985 issue of Engineering Digest carried an article showing how steel framing and cellular steel flooring have contributed to building intelligence. Fortune, Forbes, and Business Week have all carried extensive articles on the intelligent building business.

This situation begged the question of what to do with the older, less intelligent existing buildings. In New York, the Rockefeller Center created its own telecommunications corporation to implement a sophisticated shared telecommunications system in all of its 19 buildings.

The ORBIT study carried out by the Harbinger Group of Connecticut showed that many existing buildings in North America lacked the "intelligence" to effectively handle the information technology systems used by the businesses that are tenants in buildings.

Perhaps because the industry is not yet out of its adolescence, there is not really a standard definition of an intelligent building. One developer once said that it's "a building that is fully leased." It follows then that any feature helping to lease the building fully could be considered intelligent. In the context of today's high technology needs, the features themselves would be high technology features.

One definition, which resulted from the International Symposium May 28 and 29, 1985 in Toronto is as follows: "an intelligent building combines innovations, technological or not, with skillful management, to maximize return on investment."

With this definition in mind, one can discern a means of coming up with a simple explanation of intelligent buildings. The basis of the explanation is the simple comparison of features of the "dumb" building with features now being employed in today's intelligent buildings.

 Reliable Controls High Technology

The high technology concept of intelligent buildings was introduced in the United States in the early 1980s. Although no formal definition exists, intelligent buildings use electronics extensively and are high-technology related. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC had a committee dealing with "electronically-enhanced" buildings. In recognition of the electronic aspects of an intelligent building, we can divide the operation into four categories:

The ultimate dream in the design of an intelligent building is to integrate the four operating areas into one single computerized system. All the hardware and software would be furnished by a single supplier who would use compatible equipment and common CPUs and trunk wiring. Such integration is far from being realized; however, several manufacturers are presently capable of supplying all four categories mentioned, all as part of a single contract.

The concept of the intelligent building is well advanced in the United States compared to the rest of the world for the following reasons:

Energy Efficiency

Intelligence with respect to energy in an intelligent building consists of the reduction of energy use to the bare minimum. Computerized systems are used extensively. Such systems go by many names: Building Automation System (BAS), Energy Management System (EMS), Energy Management and Control System (EMCS), Central Control and Monitoring System (CCMS) and Facilities Management System (FMS). Some strategies used to reduce energy consumption in intelligent buildings are:

Lifesafety Systems

Intelligence with respect to lifesafety in an intelligent building consists of the use of high technology to maximize the performance of fire alarm and security systems while at the same time minimizing costs. Lifesafety factors involved in intelligent buildings are:

Telecommunications Systems

Intelligence with respect to telecommunications in an intelligent building consists of the offering to tenants of many sophisticated telecom features at a considerably reduced cost due to the fact that the equipment is shared by many users. Some of the telecom features involved in intelligent buildings are:

Workplace Automation

Intelligence with respect to workplace automation in an intelligent building consists of the use of high-tech office automation systems to render the operation of a company more efficient. This can be done at a reduced cost to tenants by virtue of the equipment being shared. Some of the factors involved in workplace automation in intelligent buildings are:

Typical Services

Typical services that can be offered are:

Message Center: The message center is a back-up telephone switchboard for tenants. It answers all tenants' telephones and is connected to printers conveniently located in or near the offices of tenants for immediate delivery of messages. When a telephone line is busy or doesn't answer after four rings, the message center answers the call automatically. The terminal and the center display the name of the person whose phone is ringing so that the operator can answer the call courteously and accurately. The caller's company, telephone number, brief message, time of call, and the operator's name are then recorded and immediately printed in the recipient's office.

Word Processing: Word processing includes the electronic creation, revision, storage, retrieval, and transmission of correspondence documents. With pick-up and delivery service, 24-hour document turnaround during business hours and premium one-hour turnaround, a word processing service offers convenience and economy.

Computer-Assisted Design: With computer-assisted design, the owner has accurate and easy-to-read drawings that can be used to reduce the cost of carrying out any sort of modification whether it be architectural, structural, mechanical, or electrical.

Teleconferencing: Teleconferencing is an alternative to expensive travel budgets and can be made available to the owner's tenants.

Electronic Mail: Through electronic mail, instantaneous communications can be established worldwide on a system designed to reduce cycle time and produce savings to the tenants.

Computer Services: The owner can provide computer services offering hardware and software to its tenants at a discount.

The intelligent building is clearly the building of the future. With proper marketing, such buildings will lease up more easily, and at higher rates too, by virtue of the services offered. Intelligent building owners will gain, often at the expense of other building owners.

The S4 Group
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