Today, commercial and residential buildings use a variety of systems with various degrees of sophistication. Examples of these systems are:

  • Fire and safety systems
  • Security, access control, and AV systems
  • Elevators systems
  • Lighting, HVAC, utilities and energy management systems
  • IT & communications systems
  • Occupancy management systems
  • Preventive and corrective maintenance management systems

Naturally, the evolution of buildings design, construction and management tends to be shaped by the evolution of technologies that underpin these systems. It is therefore worth spending some time studying the case of “Intelligent Buildings”, the bellwethers of building design, construction and management technologies.

Intelligent Buildings: origins and evolution of the concept

The concept of Intelligent Buildings originated in the 1970’s when manufacturers sought to improve the performance of their production facilities through the adoption of automatic, electronic systems.

However, it is the United Technology Building Systems (UTBS) Corporation in the US which coined the term Intelligent Buildings in 1981. It then went on to turn it into a reality in 1983 with the inauguration of the City Place Building in Hartford, Connecticut [1]. The intelligence stemmed from a number of enhancements: first, the incorporation of electronic systems helped UTBS Corporation operate remotely air-conditioning equipment, elevators, and fire-prevention devices. Second, the integration of IT and communication systems, which facilitated communication and office automation. Services included discounts on long distance telephone calls, word processing, electronic data transmission, use of microcomputers, and data access [2].

In the 1990s the concept of Intelligent Buildings was enriched with the notion of responsiveness [3]: different devices would adjust automatically depending on environmental conditions. For example, shading devices would sense the direction of sunlight and adjust the angle automatically.

In the 2000s, technological, societal, design and engineering trends tilted the focus towards a more user-centric and eco-friendly view. Intelligent Buildings incorporated thinking on ergonomics, user efficiency, energy efficiency and sustainability.

Today the concept of Intelligent Buildings is decidedly more holistic: it emphasizes the inter-connectedness of systems (see table below) to “support the use of the accommodation by the building’s users, enable the efficient operation of the building and enable reconfiguration of the space in response to changing use.” [4]. This ambitious goal requires an infrastructure and communication protocols which disparate systems can piggy back to interact with one another. The widespread adoption of IP-based networking drastically simplifies the process, and opens up integration opportunities which would have been un-economical until recently. The table below lists some of the systems affected.

Figure 1. Systems which may be integrated in Intelligent Buildings [4].

20160412_intelligent-buildings_part1-1Two observations stem from the above chronology:

A building can be conceived as a system that integrates an increasing number of sub-systems to improve its economic, social and environmental performance.

As the purposes that a building serves expand, so does its openness and interoperability with systems that were once unrelated to its core functions.

In future posts we will discuss the importance and the consequences of this evolution.


[1] So, A.T.P., Chan, W.L. (1999). Intelligent Building Systems. Springer Science and Business Media, New York.

[2] Wen, S.L., Hsiao, C.P., Chen, C.T. Intelligent Buildings. Sustainable built environment, Vol. 1., Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS).

[3] Chung Yim Yiu (2008). Intelligent building maintenance — A novel discipline, Journal of Building Appraisal, 3, 305–317.

[4] The Institution of Engineering and Technology. Intelligent Buildings: Understanding and managing risks.