With an increasing focus on advancing technologies in architecture, personal interaction is often forgotten when designing a building's moveable elements. But with software solutions and material rethinks addressing these potential performance problems, architects seem to be realising that designs are only as intelligent as their users
The office that The Architects' Journal and AJ Focus work in is not a great example of intelligent use of daylight. Blinds on one side of the building (not our side! ), installed to deal with glare on sunny days, are kept permanently down, meaning that the lights need to be on all the time. This is neither good for our fuel bills and carbon-dioxide contribution, nor for our morale, but it is an indication of how solutions can be as dependent on the intelligence - or not - of building users as they are on the technology involved.
Helen Elias, in this month's cladding and curtain walling theme (pages 11-22), explains that any moveable elements on the exterior of a building will add to the cost of operation and maintenance. For this reason, many clients may prefer to be cautious and go for the 'conventional' solution of the fixed brise-soleil - now virtually a cliché on our commercial buildings.
In the past, the benefits of different solutions would have included at least a measure of inspired guesswork, but now IT tools are available not just for the building services engineer but also for the architect. For example, a company called IES produces a piece of software called Virtual Environment that makes it possible to model the behaviour of a building so that you can measure solar gain and also the occurrence of glare. By an iterative process, it is therefore possible to design these out as far as possible.
Postgraduate students at the University of Edinburgh are studying and evaluating one of the latest developments from shading specialist Levolux. This is a system of glass louvres with prismatic glass in them that is designed to deflect the light. It will be used in conjunction with the company's system of fi xed aluminium louvres on the Alexander Graham Bell Building, designed by Hurd Rolland. Some of the engineering research students who will occupy the building will carry out the evaluation.
When brises-soleil were first introduced, they were almost universally aluminium and grey but as their adoption spread, architects were keen to experiment with different materials and approaches. Timber is becoming increasingly favoured, perhaps to reflect a 'green' aesthetic. Treated fabric is also becoming popular for a less hard-edged approach. On some buildings, the shading takes an even more defining role as, for example, at Foster's Stirling-shortlisted Bexley Business Academy, where the blinds wrap the building in a protective coating at night.
On the Diamond Synchrotron building in Oxford, louvres from Levolux will define the curve of the doughnut-shaped building.
Architects wanting to control the appearance of their buildings need to remember that once there are movable parts, these are likely to be subjected to human control and this can diminish the regularity of the building's appearance. When this happens with external shutters, it can be a way of deliberately articulating the building, as for instance with Sean Godsell's houses in Australia or the University of Coimbra dormitory by Aires Mateus. But often the effect can be less fortunate.
In an attempt to limit this, Levolux has developed roller blinds that can only stop at pre-determined points. They could benefit the AJ's own offices. This is one area where the architect must consider carefully the interaction between equipment and user if the result is not to be detrimental in both aesthetic and performance terms.