CI/SfB 32 (64)
Intelligent Building in South East Asia* is at least as much about developments in intelligent buildings generally as about the South-east Asian scene. For the uk reader not involved with that region, this may be a bonus. As presented here, intelligent buildings in se Asia are behind North American and Western European practice, with little to teach us. So the study can be read as a global state of the art. The reader who wants intelligence about the region will find the study a mixed bag - more on this later.
The study is by staff at architect degw, cost consultant Northcroft and engineer Arup. They worked with a set of sponsoring client organisations, as for the earlier Orbit studies and the 'Intelligent Building in Europe'. The authors focused here on the main urban centres of Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. Their concept of an intelligent building has moved on from the early idea of an automated building, and the subsequent one of a building that is responsive to change. Here it is business-focused, the effective building. An intelligent building 'provides a responsive, effective and supportive environment within which the organisation can achieve its business objectives'.
Two of the main underlying ideas are the need for intelligent-building project teams to have organisational expertise in order to understand the building's business role, and the primacy of facilities management. Having defined the intelligent building as a business machine - a machine for working in - its effectiveness depends crucially on who is enabling its use.
An uphill start
The study begins disappointingly (but does get better). The content of the first three chapters - on the changing nature of business organisations, on it in business and building services, and on facilities management - will be familiar to many. Apart from the earlier studies such as Orbit, there are the recent book on offices by Frank Duffy (aj 15.1.98), the New Environments project carried out with bre (aj 30.7.98) and the degw architectural monograph (aj 6.8.98). You could argue that re-reiteration here is justified in a book with some market in se Asia where these ideas are less part of common currency. But why do the chapters not bring us more up to date? Most of these chapters could have been written five years ago. Perhaps they were; of all the references on organisational studies the latest dates from 1993.
Where is se Asia in all this? For facilities management there is some coverage of a more recent survey, noting developments in Japan and Australia, but not much yet anywhere else. And what of that other plank of intelligent building practice, understanding the nature of the (Asian) organisation? We might expect this to be a substantial part of the study. There is nothing.
Why is this? The authors elsewhere make the questionable assumptions that the se Asian use of it and the practice of facilities management are lagging behind the West, but are otherwise intrinsically no different, Just like the West, but less so. Are they assuming that the Asian culture and practice of business is on the same Western path? Whether this colonialist explanation or some other applies, the absence of the users from the centre of this study significantly devalues it.
Intelligence on Asia
The second part of the study looks mostly for signs that there is a se Asian market for intelligent buildings as we know them in the West.
First is a useful review of current developments in business it and buildings services for intelligent buildings worldwide, with a hint of the East. There is also speculation on how these technologies could develop. For example, where are we on the copper vs fibre cable debate? What are the implications of growing demands for bandwidth? Which servicing approaches could usefully be adopted from the West - such as chilled ceilings and displacement ventilation - and which not - such as relying solely on natural ventilation and thermal mass for cooling areas of high humidity? Did you know that some smoke detectors can distinguish between cigarette and fire smoke? Or about current progress in creating acoustic privacy through anti-sound (generating matching waves that cancel the incident sound waves) in glass?
The following chapter looks at the take-up of computer software and hardware as an indicator of Asian business sophistication and thus of the potential interest in intelligent buildings. There are national data for each country, but they are not disaggregated so as to separate office it applications from it in other sectors such as manufacturing or transport.
Finally in this part, there is a real-estate breakdown by country in se Asia, touching also on Western Europe and North America. Discussing better-specification offices generally rather than intelligent buildings specifically, it focuses on rental levels, capital values, location, market size, quality of the stock and current demand. Inevitably this was written before the current Asian recession. Even before then, though, office stocks had been enjoying highly varying fortunes country-to-country.
The focus of the last part of the study is a set of 15 office buildings - 'intelligent' as judged by local professionals. Site visits, interviews and a questionnaire on key issues provided information on the site, the shell, the skin and the services. Another questionnaire is mentioned, on organisation and work processes.
The presentation does not help here much. Case-by-case treatment is limited to a page with a perspective sketch, typical floor plan and standard basic data. Most of the space is devoted to comparative discussion of the 15 buildings under many headings - aspects of site, shell, skin and services. This is a good intention, but the problem is that the buildings chosen have very little in common except air-conditioning and overglazing. Some are in town, some out of town. Some are densely occupied, some not. They vary between central and distributed cores, low- and high-rise, and their it-readiness. The combinations multiply, but few patterns emerge.
Based on the case studies, Northcroft has developed a cost model for exploring the costs and benefits of upping an office specification to increase its intelligence. A traditional 'non-intelligent building' is compared with a specification that is some sort of average of the 15 and with a Western standard intelligent building. One broad conclusion is that an improvement of around 10 per cent in building operation and maintenance would be needed to pay for the higher specifications. The problem in all this remains of trying to put some numbers on any link between improved productivity and improved building specification.
At the end of the study comes some of the most promising work, an account of degw's work-in-progress on its building rating method for building intelligence. The construction industry is poor at accumulating knowledge systematically. Too rarely do we try to predict building performance, other than the physical, nor assess building effectiveness in use. A rating method, whether degw's, breeam or whatever, offers one focus for accumulating feedback, indicating design priorities and regularly putting that picture to the test.
Illustrated in the box (left) are the issues that make up building intelligence in degw's rating method, It has moved on from site, shell, skin and services to include organisation too. The method works by experts rating a building on each of the issues, say on a scale of 1-9. Agreed weightings can also be used to combine individual scores into an overall building intelligence rating.
You don't quite get the kit here that would allow you to go out and do- it-yourself tomorrow. But the bones are there. The potential applications of this method, and some other building rating methods also discussed, range from agents looking at the potential of property portfolios, to assessing design work in progress, to clients assessing your design, to rating buildings in use.
Overall, this study document is somewhat like a conference proceedings - many authors (here anonymous for each chapter), writing to their own agenda with limited editorial overview. But, given the provenance of this study, there are of course also lots of good bits. Look before you leap.
* Intelligent Buildings in South East Asia. Andrew Harrison, Eric Loe, James Read (editors). E & F N Spon. 183pp. £45.