June 2018

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Creating Empathic People-Centric Buildings

Ken Sinclair
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My last column entitled Humanistic Digital Inclusion has taken us all on the new road to people-centric buildings.

When you start down a new road you see everything differently, meet new people, (like the people in our buildings), are exposed to new ideas which come with new ways of thinking.  Humanistic Digital Inclusion is that new road that winds through our old building-centric thoughts while taking us to the new world of people-centric buildings and how we might achieve the necessary intellect and emotional intelligence in our implementations. We need to empathically understand and share the feelings of the people of our buildings with our evolving digitizations.

My last month's tongue-in-cheek comment, "Our rapid digital transformation of everything has exposed (made transparent) the location, presence, even the mood, and feeling of the occupants (those pesky people!) who are our reason for building and automating in the first place", has re-routed us all to this new road of thought of how we might create empathic people-centric buildings. Please join me on the following global road trip.

This article from Sweden helps provide an endorsement of digital inclusion and direction for action; We are Not in the Business of Smart Building Technology, We are in the Business of Occupant Wellness  Published: May 3rd, 2018 by Memoori provides resource and connection to further discussions.

Sinclair, Dooley, and Memoori will all be speaking at the Nordic Smart Building Conference Helsinki, on June 6th and 7th this year. An event whose program title reads “intelligent technology is for humans, not real estate.”

Intelligent technology is for humans, not real estate. It’s easy to get lost in the digitalisation buzz and forget about the end value. At Nordic Smart Building Convention industry leaders & pioneers give you the human centered & efficient steps to smart digitalisation.

It is very unfortunate that the Recomm IBcon event, THE AGE OF ACCELERATION Navigating Global CRE Technology and Innovation is occurring the same date in the USA as the Nordic event. Be sure to watch this video on how we got to the age of acceleration. If you are unable to join us in Helsinki be sure to take in this event in Las Vegas. This is one of their sessions High-Performance DIGITAL AMENITIES – Tenant/Guest Engagement and Experience Platforms. We are a media sponsor of this event, and I normally attend but this year am engaged in learning more about what inclusion and empathic might mean to people-centric buildings.

This re-imagined engineering Australian marketing piece challenges us while depicting and explaining simply the concepts of the new people-centric road.

Intellectually and emotionally intelligent buildings

In a survey by Management Today magazine, 97 percent of respondents said they regarded their place of work as a symbol of whether or not they were valued by their employer. Yet alarmingly, only 37 percent thought their offices had been designed ‘with people in mind.’

It’s easy for some engineers to get so caught up in technology and digital tools that they forget the humans using them. A historical approach has brought about a misalignment between how traditional engineers view ‘intelligent’ buildings and how owners and occupiers view ‘intelligent’ buildings.

Buildings were never meant to operate in isolation from users; rather in ‘synchronisation’ with them.

For a building to be smart and connected, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s up to the building designers to consider all the complexities involved in designing a human-centred and emotionally intelligent building – and then to design ‘simple’ ones. This means having empathy for the needs, challenges, daily tasks, desires, and long-term goals of the people who use them.

Creating buildings that are both intellectually and emotionally intelligent will be the currency in the future as companies start to realise that their bottom line depends largely on the wellness, happiness, and productivity of their people.


Their website is extremely thought-provoking and well worth a visit.

But to achieve Intellectually and Emotionally Intelligent Buildings we need to understand those people better and what we are doing to them.

In case you missed this article - Maximizing Human Comfort – Why Do HVAC Systems Suck So Much? - Brad White, P.Eng, MASc Principal, SES Consulting Inc. Canada

Most occupants in commercial buildings are dissatisfied with their space temperature and indoor air quality. That statement may not surprise most of us in the HVAC industry, but when you stop to think, it is a rather shocking denunciation of our craft. This dissatisfaction applies equally to both green and conventional buildings. Providing ventilation and space temperature control are the entire reason that HVAC systems exist, but the overwhelming majority of end users aren’t happy with the systems that we’re designing and building.

This follow up article,  Thermal Delight - The Coming Revolution in Personalized Comfort - Brad White, P.Eng, MASc Principal, SES Consulting Inc. Canada

We engineers sometimes get so caught up in HOW to do something we lose sight of WHY we’re trying to do it in the first place. So it was refreshing to listen to the recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast, Thermal Delight, for some new perspectives on comfort in buildings; ideas primarily gleaned from leaders in the fields of architecture and design. I’d encourage everyone to listen to it for themselves as it raises some thought-provoking ideas around comfort in buildings. If you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to about 18:00.

When HVAC and building controls engineers talk about comfort, the discussion primarily revolves around setpoints. The default response to any issue or complaint regarding comfort is “Are we meeting setpoint?”, followed closely by “Do we need to change the setpoint?”. Research would suggest that this approach reveals a poor grasp of the factors that actually go into determining whether or not someone is comfortable in a space. It assumes a very static view of comfort when, in reality, comfort is relative and impacted by a number of factors that are continuously varying. Knowing that it is very easy to see why HVAC systems that depend on static setpoints with limited input from occupants have an extremely low rate of satisfaction. We like different things at different times, and our preferences are shaped by our mood, age, cultural norms, clothing choices, outside conditions, to name a but few of the variables. There are no handy calculations that tell you how to factor these things in, so it’s no wonder that the engineers who design HVAC systems have long focused almost exclusively on variables they can reliably control.

This article echoes the problem  The Value of Occupant Comfort:  An old problem, never solved - Matt Ernst, PE, CEM, QCxP, LEED AP Burns & McDonnell USA

I think Tom’s hits on another great point as well. The engineering community doesn’t care about the occupants of the building. They really don’t. Their job is to design a system that meets ASHRAE standards. The reality is that the burden of keeping people comfortable within a building has always been the sole responsibility of the building manager and head building technician. This team does not have the time, training, or tools to properly start and run and occupant engagement campaign. Until occupant satisfaction, and its direct manifestation in bottom line dollars can be transparently shown to both tenant and building management, no one will ever put in the time and effort to quantify occupant comfort/satisfaction on a regular basis.

The flaw of the past 20 years and the reason why the building comfort industry has shown little improvement has nothing to do with the quality of engineering or innovative product development. The problem is a management problem. How can we quantify occupant satisfaction and then actively manage it? The adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” continues to ring true today.

The Smart Building Industry needs to quantify occupant satisfaction and put it in dollars (directly calculated by improved occupant-employee productivity). The industry has never has been able to do this on a building by building, tenant by tenant, or person by person level.

This USA article speaks to  Building Wellness - Today, building owners, operators, occupants, and tenants are all looking for work environments that embrace technology to enable collaborative, healthy and comfortable working experiences. - Marc Petock, Chief Communications Officer, Vice President, Marketing, Lynxspring & Connexx Energy

There’s no question that building wellness can generate value such as savings in personnel costs, reduced sick days, increased productivity, increased building asset value and greater marketability.

While we are beginning to see more information on well-being points and how they are impacting the built environment, we still have some way to go. We are still defining how to achieve building wellness and provide more proof of ROI, data, and metrics to occupants and building owners alike. While more business cases are required to be made, the building wellness movement is gaining momentum.

This is a great Canadian resource was established by Robert Bean in 2004 as a volunteer based not for profit educational resource serving as a technical interpreter and consolidator of academic research done between the building and health sciences.


Watching us sweat is extremely graphical

"As evidence of the importance of radiant heat exchange to the body’s thermal equilibrium, physiologists have discovered that living human skin has extraordinarily high absorptivity and emissivity (0.97), greater than almost any other known substance, matte-black metals included. Consequently, we are highly responsive to changes in mean radiant temperature."
Dr. A. Marsh

We have roughly 166,000 thermal receptors in our skin with most of them sensitive to heat loss.

This graphic shows that developing intellect will be hard

I love this graph Maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions. Hot colors show activated, cool colors deactivated regions. Credit: Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen. Citation/Overview

Empathic Building as a service - Finland

Tieto Empathic Building is a human-centric digital service that focuses on improving employee well-being, happiness and increasing individual performance by solving end-user problems. By automating time-consuming and non-productive tasks of communication and administration,
 it enables and encourages your employees to straight-forward human interaction, collaboration, and co-innovation.

Tieto Empathic Building includes all the necessary tools for developing human-centric workspace design: It gives an instant view on, not only the physical space and supporting technology within, but also work content and issues affecting work culture.

It helps in bridging the gap between building utilization and employee satisfaction – with the selected KPI’s and data to prove it. This, in turn, accelerates the transformation from traditional office-based activity towards intuitive, agile and efficient activity-based working.

Control Solutions, Inc My conclusion is people are complex and how they interact with comfort is even more complex so achieving Empathic People-Centric Buildings will be hard, but that is what the road ahead shows.  We can all start by simply having empathy for the people we are serving. This is not my first column about Human-Centric Building Automation last Oct 11, 2017, I wrote,  Thanks for joining me on my thinking-out-loud journey to better understand new approaches evolving in our industry in the area of human-centric building automation. Also wrote this People-Powered Transformation All of us are engaging in a transformation for the greater good. People-Powered Transformation will occur when and as fast as we allow it, but only when all the people it touches embrace that coming change. Ken Sinclair | Sep 27, 2017, I am sure it will not be my last about the subject.

Below, I quote more from the re-imagined engineering Australians'. interesting the globalization on this new road

People at the centre

It’s about people, not buildings or technology

Buildings of the Future will know how many of the workforce are in the building at any one time and adjust services accordingly. Advancements in monitoring and security, building management system apps, information screens, WiFi, automated elevators, lighting and air conditioning will mean that services are adjusted before the worker even steps out of the Building of the Future elevator. Buildings will ‘self-tune’ on a continual basis.
Yet with the digital age upon us, it’s important to remember that technology is not only about hardware or software, but about people. Among the bits and bytes, let’s not forget the flesh and bones.

We invite you to join us on this journey of discovery as we build (pun intended) our knowledge, understanding, and readiness.


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