Intelligent buildings study tour featured

Intelligent buildings study tour

Buildings 16 April 2010 | 10.00am

2 – 3 June 2010 Los Angeles

It is the final two days of my trip and I must admit that I am ready to head home. Before leaving LA I visited the Arup office and Morphosis Architects – both of which designed the San Francisco Federal Building.

It has been a fantastic trip and I want to thank all the people I have met for making it such an education. I also want to re-acknowledge the support of the Construction and Property Services Skills Council and the International Specialised Skills Institute in providing the fellowship that started it all.

Over the next few months I will be working on disseminating my findings through presentations and a fellowship report. I’ll keep you posted when information is available.

1 June 2010 Boulder, Colorado

Today I visited the Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, Colorado. I shared with them my study tour findings so far and made some good contacts relating to their work on the Empire State Building.

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Next stop LA, to visit the Arup office and Morphosis (architects for the San Francisco Federal Building).

24 – 27 May 2010 Santa Clara (Connectivity Week)

This week I was in Santa Clara (Silicon Valley) at a conference called Connectivity Week

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The conference was focused on smart buildings and smart grids, and the interfaces between them. It would have been a computer geek’s dream – the opening keynote speaker was Vint Cerf, who was part of the original US military project that decades later resulted in the internet. He now works at Google.

Personally I learnt a lot of useful information and met lots of interesting people (including someone from Ballarat, which is about a 90 minute drive from where I grew up in country Victoria). Topics that will feed into my fellowship report include:

1. Automated fault detection and commissioning. Image (below) from presentation by Brian Thompson of Sensus MI

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2. Active demand management by buildings in a smart grid (and making money from this). Image (below) from presentation by Tom Arnold of Enernoc

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3. Building dashboards. Image (below) from presentation by Jim Sinopoli of Smart Buildings LLC

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4. The role of systems integrators on design and construction teams, and

5. The GSA’s (US Government landlord) current work to develop smart buildings. Image (below) from presentation by Kevin Powell of the GSA

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During the week I also managed to arrange a meeting for next Tuesday with the Rocky Mountain Institute to find out more about their role in the Empire State Building refurbishment, their work in general, and to give them a presentation on my trip. I’m looking forward to meeting them.

This weekend is a long weekend here in the USA, so I am heading to Yosemite National Park for some hiking and climbing (and perhaps running away from bears).

Postscript – the climbing was great and I didn’t see any bears.

19 – 21 May 2010 San Francisco

The past few days I have been in San Francisco, visiting the California Academy of Science, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), University of California Center for the Built Environment (CBE), and San Francisco Federal Building.

On Wednesday I visited the Academy of Science, the Renzo Piano designed LEED rated building. I met with Ari Harding, Director of Building Management Systems for the Academy. He gave me a tour of the Academy, including the green roof and plant spaces.

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We also talked through the various control systems in the building, including the mixed-mode for the public spaces and for the office spaces.

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Ari noted that the system for the public spaces was working particularly well because members of the public were dressed based on outside conditions. In contrast, there had initially been some complaints in the office space where people tend to dress in a more standard way throughout the year. I happened to be at the Academy on “free”day, so the place was swarming with people.

On Thursday I visited LBL and CBE. At LBL I met with Dr Michael Wetter of the Simulation Research Group, who is working on a Building Controls Virtual Test Bed (BCVTB) which is an open-source middleware that facilitates co-simulation using programs such as EnergyPlus, Radiance, Modelica and Simulink. This enables designers to more accurately simulate the performance of complex building systems. He also showed me a website that was using tools such as these to develop training aids for HVAC systems.

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(Image courtesy of Michael Wetter – LBL)

I then went down the hill to the Center for the Built Environment to meet with David Lehrer, an architect and Director of Communications for the Center. We talked about the research that the center does and how this feeds back into the development of the local industry.

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On Friday I visited the San Francisco Federal Building. I had read that there had been initially been many occupant complaints about the building, but Gene Gibson of the GSA and the onsite facility manager said that there are relatively few now. The GSA regularly conducts occupant surveys in their buildings, so they are getting feedback on what works and what doesn’t. They noted that the building was a significant change for the government departments who occupy it; they had moved from enclosed air-conditioned offices to open plan naturally ventilated space, which took some adjusting to. The building also has skip-stop lifts – the main lifts stop at every third floor, at sky-lobbies, with daylight stairs up and down.

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I like the building much more in real-life that I thought I would based on photos and renders I had seen. We also talked about how the building was performing and they said that its 2009 EPA Energy Star rating is 95, which from my understanding means that it is in the top 5% of buildings in the USA.

That afternoon I headed down to Santa Cruz to meet with Dan Ackerstein who has been instrumental in the development the various iterations of LEED for existing buildings. We talked about the challenges of developing an existing building rating tool and some of the key issues that should be considered.

This weekend I plan to relax in Santa Cruz. Next week, I will be attending Connectivity Week…

17 May 2010 Syracuse NY

After taking an overnight bus from Toronto, today I was in the upstate New York city of Syracuse.

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There I visited the Syracuse Center of Excellence headquarters building and met with Suresh Santanam, Deputy Executive Director, and Calvin Ahn of Ashley McGraw Architects.

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Suresh and I; Calvin behind the camera

The Center of Excellence (COE) is a collaboration between academic institutes and industrial partners. Suresh described the whole building as a test bed, providing the COE partners with the opportunity to conduct research and test products in an actual building. It reminded me a bit of the brief for the new Melbourne University Architecture building, which was for a living laboratory. Calvin noted providing the flexibility to enable the test bed created a number of architectural and engineering challenges, but I must say that they seem to have been well resolved.

The building has more features than I can describe in this blog, so here is a selection…

There are manual windows and traffic light system to indicate to office occupants when conditions are suitable. There is a Carrier Total Indoor Environment Quality test lab that can be used to test the effect of various indoor environmental conditions on occupants

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Dedicated plant for the Carrier TIEQ lab (above)

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Double glazing on the south (sun-facing) facade with interstitial blinds controlled by the BMS. The corridors on the south side of the building act as thermal buffers between the external conditions and office spaces.

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Removable section of facade for testing facade technologies. Currently they are testing a solar combined heat and power system. Sun-tracking prisms focus the sun onto a PV cell and also evacuated tubes.

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Pipes from the ground source heat pumps exposed with thermometers so that occupants can see and feel the flow and return temperatures.

Next stop, San Francisco…

15 May 2010 Toronto

For the past 4 days I have been in Toronto, taking a course run by the Building Owners and Managers Institute of Canada, which is the education arm of the Building Owners and Managers Association in Canada. I was also fortunate enough to be able to tour the Central Utilities and Cogeneration plant at the Toronto Airport.

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The BOMI course was called Technologies for facilities management and looked at how to make a business case for technologies in buildings, as well as the impact that various buildings technologies can have on the running of a building. The course was facilitated by Bob Bieler of SNC-Lavalin O&M and attended by people in facilities management at a range of companies around the province of Ontario. I learnt a lot from the course, and particularly Bob and the other students. As a designer, it was useful to gain some insight into the FM perspective. The experience will help me to better organise a lot the other information I have gathered and will gather on this trip.

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As I mentioned, on Friday morning I was fortunate to be able to get a tour of the Toronto Airport central utilities and co-generation plant (see this article in Power magazine). There I met John Thompson, Manager of Thermal Energy Systems for the airport, and John Souther, Manager of the co-generation plant. The facility provides the airport with heating, cooling and power when required using a combination of gas-fired combined cycle turbines, gas boilers, vapour compression electric chillers, and also steam driven vapour compression chillers. It was an impressive facility and by co-incidence I was there when the co-generation plant was coming online – fortunately the two Johns warned me in advance when loud noises were about to happen, so I didn’t need a change of underpants.

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While in Toronto, I also played tourist and visited the CN tour, which was only a few blocks from my hotel. At 533 m, until recently it held the record of the world’s tallest concrete tower (as distinct from the tallest building – see Wikipedia for a full discussion on tall things). The glass floor that I am lying on in the photo is at 342 metres.

Next stop, the Syracuse Center of Excellence.

12 May 2010 Ottawa

Today I travelled to Ottawa to visit the Continental Automated Buildings Association. CABA is a not-for-profit industry association whose mission is: to advance technology and integrated systems in homes and buildings, create opportunities for their members’ business activities and serve as a preferred global source of information, knowledge and networking for key stakeholders.

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I met with Rawlson O’Neil King to talk about CABA’s activities. I am particularly interested in their Intelligent Buildings Roadmap and the Building Intelligence Quotient (BiQ). The Roadmap is currently undergoing its third iteration. Rawlson gave me a copy of the 2007 version, which provides great insight into barriers and opportunities related to intelligent buildings in North America.

The BiQ is a tool that rates the intelligence of a building based on the features it has. It is designed to complement environmental rating tools such as LEED and Green Star. Building proponents enter data for their building into the system and it is compared against the other similar (geographically, functionally) buildings in the database. I am in the process of reviewing this in detail to see if this can help design teams to select appropriate integration options for their projects.

Rawlson also introduced me briefly to Lise Robitaille, CABA’s director of research, and who has a background in developing education and training courses. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to talk with her today; I will definitely be contacting her to talk further about developing courses for intelligent and integrated buildings.

10 & 11 May 2010 New York City

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The past 2 days I was in New York City, visiting the Arup office, 1 Bryant Park (Bank of America Building), and the Empire State Building. At the Arup office I gave a presentation on my trip so far, and met with Michael Puckett to discuss the work they are doing on existing buildings and David Dubrow who helped design the Syracuse Center of Excellence Headquarters which I am visiting next week. It was great to strengthen links with the New York Arupians and they were also kind enough to let me join their soccer team for an evening.

At 1 Bryant Park I met with Don Winston, Vice President of Technical Services for the Durst Organization, who own the building in partnership with the Bank of America. The LEED Platinum rated building stands amongst other high-rise office buildings in Manhattan. For some great photos of the building, see the project page on Cook+Fox architects webpage.

Don was kind enough to give myself and some colleagues from the Arup NY office a tour of parts of the building. The building has about 186,000 m2 of net lettable area, with the Bank of America being the anchor tenant.

The main focus of the tour was the cogeneration system, which consists of a 4,600 kW gas turbine that provides about 14,000 lb/hr of low pressure steam, supplemented by a duct burner and utility steam. In the summer and shoulder periods, the waste heat is used to meet hot water demand and to run a single effect absorption chiller. Don acknowledged that the single effect chiller is less efficient than double effect, but noted that in this case the increased efficiency was insufficient to justify the cost of providing the higher pressure steam required to run a double effect chiller. The bulk of the cooling is provided by vapour-compression chillers, with 1200 kW of ice storage used to provide cost effective load shifting and also flatten the electrical demand, which helps to make the cogeneration plant more economic.

Throughout the tour, Don emphasised the importance of robust design. He is a strong advocate for good systems that are easy to operate, rather than leading (or bleeding) edge systems that promise greater savings in theory but are more complex to commission and run. For example, the building uses a constant flow primary chilled water circuit through the chillers because of its operational simplicity compared to variable primary flow. Don noted that the energy cost penalty was not significant because the primary loop has a low pressure head.

Don’s emphasis on efficiency through effective operations also extended to the plant spaces. They are spacious and well laid out, but more than that they are well-lit and comfortable spaces to be in. Don noted that a key part of having efficiently running plant was to have happy workers who take pride in their space. The success of this approach for Durst seems to be clear; Don estimated that the building was currently using about 25% less energy than the design energy models predicted.

On the morning of the 11th I played tourist at the Empire State Building and went to the observation deck on the 86th floor. The most surprising fact I learnt from my recorded tour guide was about the mast at the top. While today it is carries broadcast masts for many New York radio and TV stations, it was originally designed to be used as a docking station for zeppelins. Unfortunately the designers did not anticipate the strong winds and it was deemed unsafe for use. (After the tour I found this image on Flickr)

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After playing tourist, Michael Puckett and I met with Dana Schneider of Jones Lang LaSalle, who is engaged by the ESB as project manager for the energy efficiency upgrades under the capital works programme and to oversee the energy performance contract with Johnson Controls. Dana generously spent time telling us about the process of identifying energy saving opportunities and the status of the implementation. The ESB’s website about their refurbishment program is here

Dana explained that a key strategy in the process was to keep everything that could be kept, rather than replacement. Hence the chillers were refurbished rather than replaced, so to the windows. Overall, 8 initiatives were selected for implementation from a larger list; 5 of these are under an energy performance contract (EPC) with Johnson Controls, while the other 3 are by the Empire State Building. The 5 under the EPC are: chiller retrofit, installation of insulation behind under-window radiators, refurbishing the windows, upgrading of the BMS system, and tenant sub-metering. The other 3 are: upgrading the constant volume air handling units to variable volume, installation of demand-controlled ventilation, and upgrading of lighting in base-building areas.

At least one tenant has whole-heartedly embraced the new direction for the building, with Skanska occupying a LEED platinum fitout on the 32nd floor (architect’s images and description here; Skansa case study)

Next stop Ottawa…

6 May 2010 Amsterdam

Today I visited the Arup office in Amsterdam and the Westraven Building in Utrecht. At the Arup office I met many of my colleagues and gave them a presentation of my trip so far. We had good discussion about the work the Melbourne and Amsterdam offices are doing and opportunities to share information relating to Revit, energy and daylight optimisation, and the affect of the internal environment of hospital rooms on patients. We talked about ways of providing feedback to building users and they told me about the concept of emotional feedback – little robots that use facial expressions to convey emotions (Link 1 and Link 2). Not sure if any of the research projects have looked specifically at using them in relation to building use, but I think if I had a freaky robotic cat staring at me all day I would change my behaviour!

After the presentation, a number of us drove south to Utrecht to the Westraven Building.

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Here we met Robert Philipi, one of the design engineers on the project.

This is the home of the Rijkswaterstaat, which is roughly the equivalent of a government Department of Infrastructure in Australia. In the Netherlands they are responsible for highways and canals, amongst other things, and the building is ideally situated where a major highway crosses a major canal.

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(Photo courtesy of Cepezed Architects and Robert Philipi)

The current building is a refurbishment of a 1970s office tower and expansion at the lower levels. The lower levels use a modular “finger” design that references elements seen in Dutch canals, and again fitting with the department the building houses.

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(Photo courtesy of Cepezed Architects and Robert Philipi)

These fingers are covered with light-weight structure to create large light-filled atria and a winter garden.

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These atria also create buffers between the external and internal climates

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(Photo courtesy of Cepezed Architects and Robert Philipi)

Heating and cooling are provided via activated slabs and air is supplied via an underfloor system. Users have a certain amount of control over their space, with +/- 2 deg C on the supply air temperature, the lighting (including colour temperature) and control blinds and shading via an integrated remote control in each space.They can also open local ventilation (see pop-out panels on previous photo).

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The facade uses two different strategies to moderate the external conditions. On the north, the main issues are strong winds and noise from the near-by highway. On the West, South and East, the issues are strong winds and solar gain. The wind and solar gain are mitigated using teflon-coated veils (shown here with its spring-mounted bracket). The teflon coating makes the veil self-cleaning when it rains.

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Two things which most struck me about the building were how light it was and how good the acoustics were. The interior finishes use lots of white, polished aluminium and timber, which combined with large windows, provide a very well-light space. My first impression was that I was walking into the building version of an iPod (think old-school, rather than the newer ones).

The acoustics were great in that there weren’t the echoes or reverberations that I have heard in some buildings in Australia that also have large atria and lots of hard surfaces. At Westraven, acoustic panels are discretely located in office spaces (integrated with the lighting and fire protection) and as vertical elements at low level in the atria. Overall, this was a very impressive building.

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5 May 2010 Wembley stadium

Today I toured Wembley stadium before heading off to the Netherlands.

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At Wembley I met Mohan Raje and Chris Rogers who both work for Honeywell and are in facility management at the stadium. They very kindly showed me the stadium control room, gave me an overview of the BMS, and a tour of the stadium.

The control room was one of the best facility management areas I have seen so far. Often the FM and the BMS computer gets the smallest office in the darkest, most remote corner of the building. At Wembley, it is more like an air traffic control centre.

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From this room, operators can monitor all the systems in the stadium, including HVAC, security cameras, access control, fire detection and protection, HV and LV power and load shedding, and pedestrian numbers and movement (escalators and lifts). All computer terminals can access all information, but only the master terminal for each system can alter settings.

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The stadium is all about the numbers, it has: 90,000 seats, 17,600km of cabling, 30,000 hard and soft points in the BMS, 6500 fire/smoke detectors, 200 security cameras, 6500 PA speakers, 168 water meters, 129 electricity meters, 11 gas meters, … the list goes on.

The stadium itself is equally impressive. Being only an intermittent soccer fan, I probably didn’t get as excited about the history and aura of the stadium as others might. Being a nerdy engineer though, I was still impressed. The stadium has the largest water storage tanks I have ever seen in a building – the following shows me in front of one of the tanks.

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These tanks are two of four located in the stadium. The stadium also has some of the neatest cable reticulation I have ever seen. I know, I’m a nerd.

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When I was there, the pitch had recently been re-laid. Apparently this has happened many times since the stadium opened. I did see an example of integration between landscaping and services; apparently the English sun is not strong enough to make the grass grow, so they wheel out a machine to provide artificial growing light.

Next stop the Netherlands…

04 May 2010 Cork

Last night I flew from Cornwall to Cork, after managing two things which I thought were impossible: getting sunburnt and seeing a (dead) snake in the UK. Today I was in the lovely town of Cork, Ireland. In the morning I was hosted by Donal Browne and Paul Stack of University College Cork (UCC). Donal is ex-Arup and is now a researcher at USS. Paul is working on an EU funded research project called Information and Communication Technology for Sustainable and Optimised Building Operation (known as ITOBO). They showed me around the UCC Environmental Research Institute (ERI) building, which is mixed mode building with solar hot water and underfloor heating.

The ERI building is a living laboratory, and one lesson learnt is that underfloor heating can be inflexible in terms of zoning. A number of the internal partition walls have been moved since the underfloor system was installed, meaning that now the room layouts no longer match the heating zones.

The ITOBO research project was interesting to learn about. They have been installing a number of wireless temperature (dry-bulb and radiant), humidity, light and occupancy sensors around the building to better understand how it is being used and how it is performing. Some lessons learnt from the research so far have been that the battery life of wireless sensors needs to carefully considered, along with the data sampling rate. One of the more complex sensors was using up the battery in 2 weeks. They are also investigating ways to present data for analysis by the building manager.

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In the afternoon, I met up with John Burgess, Associate Director in the building services group at the Arup Cork Office. He showed me around two UCC buildings he designed the mechanical services for – the Boole Library and the Glucksman Gallery.

The Boole Library is named after George Boole, inventor of Boolean algebra which is the basis of computers, and who was a professor at UCC during the 1800s.

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The building uses mixed-mode ventilation in 3 modes: natural ventilation, fan-driven free cooling, and air-conditioning. These modes are controlled by a sophisticated control logic to ensure that temperature, humidity and ventilation rate (based on CO2 levels) are appropriate.

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The system also checks that the windows are not open when it is raining. This control logic was detailed as part of the tender documentation. Cooling is provided by vapour-compression and absorption chillers – the absorptions is fed by a central steam main that is generated by the campus CHP plant.

The Glucksman gallery has won a host of architectural and engineering awards and looks amazing (my photo doesn’t do it justice).

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Unfortunately it was damaged recently in massive floods that affected much of Cork. The basement plant room was completely submerged and the flood water went about 1 m above the ground floor level. So when I was there, John was checking on the repair works to the basement plant. Much of the plant had to be replaced and all the pipework cleaned and repainted. When it is operating, the building uses a heat pump between cold and hot water buffer tanks. If the cold tank gets too cold when the system is trying to satisfy heating demand, or the hot tank too hot when the system is trying to satisfy the cooling demand, then water from the near-by river Lee is used via a heat exchanger to moderate the temperature in the buffer vessels.

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Both of these buildings were fantastic examples of what can be achieved with good design.

01 May 2010 Eden Project, Cornwall UK

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Thanks to the Icelandic volcano gods, my departure was delayed until 29th April. This meant that I had to modify my plans slightly. I was no longer able to do the KNX training course at the BRE or go to the University of Reading. Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. I was able to reschedule my visit to Wembley stadium and extend my time in the USA. I will now be attending the Connectivity Week conference in Silicon Valley, visiting the Arup office in LA, and hopefully squeezing in a visit to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Today I am in Cornwall and have just visited the Eden Project; the world’s largest greenhouse so I’m told. It looks stunning, it has engaging educational displays, wildlife, and fun interactive displays.

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The building is an interesting example of integration of services and facade – the ETFE bubbles of the biomes are kept inflated by air flowing through tubes.

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There was one of the best examples of disguising building services. (above)

The tropical biome is a good study in adaptive thermal comfort. (below)

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The site is overtly educational. It will be interesting to contrast how the Eden project delivers its messages to building users with the other buildings I will be visiting.

16 April 2010 The tour begins…

On Saturday, after about 7 months of organising, I will be heading off on a 5 week fellowship study tour, sponsored by the International Specialised Skills Institute and Construction and Property Services Industry Skills Council . My task is to understand what skills and training would help the Australian construction and property services industry to more effectively deliver and operate buildings with integrated controls. By this I mean active systems within a building that rely on input from multiple disciplines, such as mixed-mode ventilation, co- and tri- generation, active façade systems, buildings that actively manage electrical demand etc.

My motivation for this study is that buildings are becoming more sophisticated due to increasing demand for high performing buildings and rapid developments in technology, however they are not always performing to their potential. I feel that there is scope to help the industry through targeted training, and in talking to people I have realised that this view is shared by many people throughout the supply chain.

Over the next 5 weeks I will be doing the following:

In the UK

o KNX controls training course at the Building Research Establishment

o Site tour of Wembley Stadium with Honeywell

o Engineering Intelligence into Buildings course at the University of Reading (

o Site visit to the Eden Project (

o Arup London Office (

In Ireland

o Visit to University College Cork to find out more about their current research projects on integrate controls (

o Tour the Glucksman Gallery ( and visit the Arup Cork office

In the Netherlands

o Visit Arup Amsterdam office (

o Tour the Westraven building (

In New York City

o Visit the Arup New York office (

o Tour the Empire State Building ( and

o Tours of green high-rise buildings – 1 Bryant Park (Bank of America Building and 4 Times Square (Conde Nast Building

In Canada

o Visit the Continental Automated Buildings Association (

o Technologies for Facilities Management course with the Building Owners and Managers Institute Canada (

In Syracuse (New York State)

o Tour the Syracuse Center of Excellence (

In San Francisco

o Visit Arup San Francisco office (

o Tour San Francisco Federal Building (

o Tour California Academy of Sciences (

Check back again soon for words, photos and movies of my trip.

Gerard Healey

“I work as a mechanical engineer and ESD specialist, but my passion is about how technology works in its physical and social context. I am increasingly interested in how building design can encourage more sustainable behaviour in occupants.”

View all posts by: Gerard Healey