The move from analog to digital has become the reality of every industry in recent times. Telecom, Radio/TV broadcast, Automobile etc.In other words, almost every industry now process information in bits and bytes.Building Information Modeling (BIM) is currently being used in the building industry to such end.

A building should have a digital version after construction for easy maintenance. Yet, that in itself doesn’t completely make a building ‘Digital’.

For a physical building to be truly digital, there has to be an approach to its fabrication and assembly. There also has to be Technology Systems that digitizes its operation.

STRUCTURE

We would be exploring the structural components of a Smart Home in this write-up.

  • How is the structural makeup of a smart home different from that of a typical building?
  • What are the layers of the various structural components of a Smart Home – the walls, the floors, the roof, the openings etc?
  • How is Technology accommodated and planned for in a Smart Home?
  • What finishes are employed to communicate the fashion behind digital buildings?

A major aim of this write-up is to suggest Structural Topologies with which to make technological integrations in building more efficient.

AESTHETICS

For each of the components, we’ll briefly discuss the finish: materials and color. But more importantly, we’ll discuss the overall aesthetic approach to a Smart Home. These are not meant to be principles, but rather insights into the fashion/trend behind Digital Architecture.

THE SUBSTRUCTURE

The foundation of every endeavor determines its longevity. Thus, the need to pay great attention to the substructure system of a building can never be overemphasized.Typically, a lot of factors contribute to the choice of foundation for a building: soil type, topography, size of building etc.It’s always the duty of specialists and experts to study the soil and advice on the foundation type and details.When it comes to Smart Homes, none of these change.The only difference with the delivery of the substructure for a smart home is the fabrication method.

The components that make up the foundation system are all prefabricated offsite, then assembled onsite.

CONSTRUCTION

The most common types of foundations for residential buildings are the strip, pad, and raft foundation. The choice of which is dependent on the physical and geological attributes of the site. This is normally advised by the structural engineer. However, strip foundation is used in most cases. Typical depth ranges from 600mm to 1200mm. The major components include the footing, the pier, and the slab. These components are all prefabricated in modules offsite. The primary function of the substructure system is to support the superstructure, and safely transmit any form of load to the ground. Thus, extensive tests are performed on the prefabricated components to ensure adequate strength. Analyses of the tensile strength, shear strength, twists, bends and every other form of stress are performed on these components offsite. This is usually performed against a benchmark of the worst load and stress that could take place in the geographical region — say the worst in the past 50 to 100 years.

MATERIALS

The materials used in the fabrication of the substructure for a Smart Home is not different from that of a typical building. The most common material is concrete reinforced in steel. However, such components as the piers could be thinner/lighter than that found in a typical building.

THE VERTICAL ELEMENTS

The breaking of walls on-site has come to seem like a norm.Common Scenarios:
  • The client has requested some modifications to the arrangement of a space.
  • There’s a need to re-route some ELV conduits.
  • A subcontractor has been brought late into the building delivery and needs to run some cable trays to some locations initially unplanned for etc.

The reason the wall is always being broken is that various services in the building have their underlying infrastructure running through it.

How then can walls be designed/layered to enhance technological integrations and servicing?

STRUCTURE

Vertical elements in a smart home include the (structural and non-structural) walls and columns. The layers of the vertical elements include the exterior finish, an insulation layer, the structural core, the conduit layer, and the interior finish respectively.

The fundamental difference between this topology and the typical topology is the conduit layer.

The interior finish covers the conduit layer and is detachable for servicing purposes. The various cable trays and conduits for the technology systems run through the conduit layer. Arranged by signal types and color-coded for easy reference. By implication, the interior finish is modular, irrespective of the material(s). Nonetheless, the core structural layer is prefabricated offsite in relatively light materials, e.g. steel, lightweight concrete etc. to high strength and precision.

FINISH

The finish includes the interior and exterior finishes. For every smart home, there’s an overall theme governing its finish — mostly the exterior finish. This could include a mix of artistic spray finish (or paint) to patterned wood finish, to masonry finish etc. This is informed by the client’s preferences. However, the interior finish, as mentioned earlier is modular and detachable. This could entail painting the cover of the conduit layer, or use of special wallpapers, fabric etc.

Typical finish materials are also prefabricated offsite to high precision and assembled afterward.

THE HORIZONTAL ELEMENTS

Horizontal elements in buildings perform mostly structural functions it seems. However, while the vertical elements distribute service infrastructure across floors, horizontal elements distribute these services within the floors. Asides distributing the services, some devices are also mounted on the horizontal elements. These could be beneath (to the ceiling), or above (on the floor).

How then are these horizontal elements layered to ensure efficient distribution and easy servicing?

STRUCTURE

Horizontal elements include the floor, the ceiling, and the roof. Floors could be either ground floor or suspended. We consider the ground floor as part of the substructure. Thus, the horizontal elements referred to here, are the suspended floor/ceiling sandwich.The layers include the upper finish, the insulation layer, the core structural layer, the conduit layer, and the lower finish/ceiling respectively.

Branch conduits stem away from the conduit layer of the vertical elements into the conduit layers of the horizontal elements — to terminate on floor/ceiling-mount devices. For example, wired smoke sensors (ceiling) or floor data boxes (floor).

Despite having lesser conduits running through the horizontal elements, the cables are still separated and color-coded by signal types. The roof performs a structural/protective function. But like the floor/ceiling sandwich hosts some conduits/cables running to ceiling mount equipment.

All these elements are also prefabricated in modules offsite.

FINISH

Client’s preferences inform the choice of finish for the floors. This range from fixed (vitreous) finish to unfixed finish; such as carpet. For the ceiling, the finish includes POP, wood finish etc.

These finishes are typically modular and easily detachable, for servicing purposes.

THE OPENINGS

  • Going by the climatic data of a context, what is the optimal percentage of glazing for each facade?
  • How much natural ventilation, daylight harvesting, and thermal storage can be achieved by optimal placement of windows?
  • If for aesthetic reasons, the optimal percentage of glazing is exceeded, what measures are taken to ensure it doesn’t impact negatively on indoor comfort?

These analyses are traditionally performed with such tools as Mahoney Table, Psychrometric Charts, and Effective Temperature Isoplete.

However, there are lots of software tools that have made these really easy. This range from concept analyses (e.g. Autodesk Insight), to detailed analyses (Autodesk Ecotect, eQuest).

STRUCTURE

Openings include doors, windows, and archways. Like typical buildings, the openings primarily serve the functions of access, lighting, ventilation and climatic control. In the interior of the buildings, the openings greatly inform the spatial arrangements. For smart homes, there is a seamless blend of spaces. Thus, there is a higher level of openings in comparison to a typical building. These openings are rectilinear voids across walls. In terms of layer and materials, there’s no difference between the openings found in a smart home and that of a typical building.

However, such technology systems as access control, burglar alarm systems, and various sensors are typically integrated into the doors and windows.

The actual location of glazing is informed by the climatic analyses. The optimal percentage for tropical region typically range from 25–40% — mostly on the south and north walls.

FINISH

Windows and doors are typically composed of rectilinear glass panels contained within metal frame and mullions. The doors feature a lesser amount of glass. Other factors to bear in mind are the properties of the materials — especially the glass. Such properties as reflectivity, thickness. In addition to the glazing, sun-shading devices are usually introduced to reduce insolation — but sometimes for aesthetic purposes.

THE TRANSPORT COMPONENTS

Such expressionist stairs as found in Apple’s Fifth Avenue retail store tell a complete story of how stairs can transform a space. They are feature elements.Lifts are typically introduced in smart homes from three floors and above.
Functionally, and structurally, there’s no much difference between the transport components found in a typical building and that of a smart home. The entire difference lies in the aesthetic expression. These elements — especially the stairs — are prefabricated to a very high precision.

STRUCTURE

  • There are no monolithic stairs in smart homes. The reason is simple — the various parts are prefabricated and assembled on-site. There’s rarely any technological infrastructure (e.g. cabling) running through stairs. However, in some instances, space underneath could be utilized either for equipment or shelving.
  • Lifts in smart homes serve the same function as those found in a typical building. Nonetheless, there’s a higher level of automation systems integration. Most importantly, however, the automation systems are integrated with the other technology systems within the entire facility. The users are provided a control interface — managed by an Access Control System — with which to control the lifts.

Digital signage is also a common feature of transport components in a smart home. Their uses range from communication to entertainment.

FINISH

Stairs found in smart homes are mostly a mix of (lightweight) metal structure and glass. However, they could also be concrete or wood finished, depending on the client’s preferences. The lift enclosure is usually finished with glass. In some instances, they could be finished with sprayed graffiti, on some abstract or digital theme. It could as well be finished with some strong fabric — it’s all an outcome of the client’s preferences.

THE UTILITY SPACES

For a typical building, we’re already used to dedicating some spaces around the house to the utility: M&E Equipment, ELV Headend, Electricals etc.
  • If we have conduit layers in the walls and floors, do we still need as much utility spaces?
  • From a holistic viewpoint, what are the various considerations before choosing the locations of utility spaces within a smart home?
  • What factors determine the size and number of utility spaces in a smart home?

PLACEMENT

The most fundamental consideration when locating a utility space is the distance to the output devices. The closer it is to devices, the shorter the cable length. This, in turn, preserves signal integrity. The second consideration is the type of equipment to be located in the space. It is common practice to place the distributions boards and power panels within one or two utility rooms provided by the Architect. However, with a holistic approach to building design, the smaller units can be easily distributed across the house. This is achieved by placing them in the conduit layer of the wall or floor. We’ll then be left with the big units — floor-standing units for example. These are the only units that would be found in the utility rooms of a holistic smart building. The smaller units have been concealed off.

METRICS

The size and the number of utility spaces are directly proportional to the size and number of the distribution units. This, in turn, is determined by the quantity of the output devices, and the distribution technology employed. With a holistic approach to building design, every professional indicates their respective/combined distribution units — as well as their possible locations. This way the Architect can integrate realistic metrics of the utility spaces into the design. Also, everyone is able to see early enough possible constraints to the placement of their units. This not only encourages an Integrated Approach to Building Delivery but equally behooves the Architect to be technology-savvy.

THE AESTHETIC EXPRESSION

The three Principles of Architecture have been defined as Function, Structure, and Aesthetics. Analyzing this further, it becomes harder to differentiate between Structure and Aesthetics. This is because every age/civilization build a system of aesthetic representation around a structural expression. So you might want to ask:

  • What are the aesthetic features of a smart home?
  • What architectural movement does a digital building belong to?
  • Is Digital Architecture a movement on its own?

THE STYLE

The Architectural Style of Smart Homes can be nicknamed “Ortho-Digital”.

  • Firstly, the expression emphasizes their technological advancement. This is achieved by the use of ‘digital theme’ color combinations, spray-finish, and in some instances, graffiti on the walls.
  • Secondly, the structural expression employs simple rectilinear forms. To this end, smart homes can be classified as postmodern. This is because they are not confined to a five-rule set, like the strict modern architecture. The features they share with modern architecture are the use of simple forms, minimal ornamentation, free-flowing plan, and structural grids. Not necessarily pilotis, row window or roof garden.

VARIATIONS

The style described does not imply that a classical-looking home cannot be a smart home. In reality, youthful clients/users tend towards the digital postmodern theme, while the geriatrics tend towards a more reserved and non-oriental theme. In the end, making a building look digital is not the aim. Instead, the aim is to use technology to solve the end users’ needs. The aim is to produce sustainable, efficient and comfortable homes for the users. Thus, the real qualifier for the smartness of a home is its adherence to the tenets of Smart Building Technology. This has been discussed in a previous write-up.

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  1. BIM Software Training
  2. BIM Execution Planning
  3. Enterprise Integrations – e.g. BIM 360 Design Suite

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Place your request here.