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From Smart to Autonomous: Emerging Technologies in Buildings

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    8 LU AIA credits available

This is a sponsored event by the Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education.

There is tremendous momentum towards utilizing technology in buildings in new ways, enabled by advances in computing power, miniaturization, networking, and necessity. These advances have been developed just in time to meet environmental and societal needs for energy savings / carbon emissions reduction, building operational efficiencies, occupant satisfaction, health & wellness, and increased productivity.

This program addresses advances in building technology, including the application of the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital twins, artificial intelligence and automated occupancy management, and COVID-era innovations such as touchless navigation and pandemic-level air filtration. It is designed to guide participants towards understanding the technology and its application within their projects – all the way to the practical aspects of creating an intelligent building at different levels of complexity, from smart to autonomous. Exercises will allow class members to collaborate on case studies where they can apply the concepts from the lectures to create their own model.

Modern buildings are equipped with a wide variety of sophisticated technology systems that support both the building itself and the purpose of the building. The purpose, of course, is to enable occupants to go about their business and life- which are both becoming more and more digital. This digitalization of nearly every human experience holds great potential to enhance our everyday lives, which are increasingly spent in buildings. We are now realizing that buildings can be designed to include technologies not only to support the systems needed for them to operate, but to foster wellness, ease-of-operation, and a symbiosis with their occupants that is based on the occupants themselves as individuals. This new focus on occupants complements and enhances the traditional emphasis of smart buildings on energy efficiency and maintenance.

With this market demand for intelligent buildings comes the many definitions of this technology that have obscured the purposes. Building AEC teams come into these projects with preconceived notions and a variety of motivations. We find that there are three major categories of these motivations: 1) Altruism/Aspiration: there is a desire to “do the right thing,” to show leadership, or to be a responsible citizen of the community. 2) Mandate, e.g., Government, or Institution: they have been given direction from their administration that they are to pursue certain goals for the building, such as “Zero Net Energy,” and 3) Financial: there is a recognition that there is a Return on Investment from IBT, in a variety of areas, including system optimization through data analytics, efficiencies through automation, and maintenance improvements through fault prediction. Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now a fourth and important motivation: creating buildings that people are confident are healthy.

The process to create an intelligent building needs to be goal-oriented, with a plan for each technical system and each project phase. It is useful to have a guideline for this, and new standards are available to organize the details of each design discipline. One of the useful Standards defines a role on the design team called the Intelligent Building Technology Project Manager, or IBTPM. This is a critical role that is not part of a traditional building design team. The adoption of the use of the Standard by the building owner and the architect assigns authority to implement IBT design decisions to the IBTPM. This provides a single point of contact for all phases of the project, in much the same way as the Sustainability Consultant provides Commissioning services.

This course is developed from the perspective of the IBTPM, who must consider all of the issues, understand the sophistication and interconnectivity of the systems, and guide the AEC team through the planning, design, administration, and commissioning of the building. It is understood that the biggest challenges – and successes - are with the people who finance, design, build, run, occupy and maintain the building. Their agreement on the institution’s will, the desired outcomes, and the implementation plan for the project must be guided and earned.

Connected systems that will be discussed in the course include Building Management, HVAC Building Automation, Lighting, Electrical Load, Physical Security, Audiovisual, Conveyance, Security, and Daylighting Systems, among others. Data collection, analysis and control software will be evaluated, and new advances in Occupancy Management will be considered. Drivers from sustainability and wellness certifications, and new smart building certifications will be reviewed. Financial aspects of IBT projects will be presented, with considerations from stimulus packages and connections to larger programs. Finally, sociotechnical issues related to privacy, security, and occupant participation will be postulated. Join a stimulating instructor team in exploring the future of buildings!

Who Should Attend

Developers, Architects, IT Directors, Builders, Business Development, City Planners, and other Building Stakeholders.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the objectives for making a building intelligent
  • Learn the thought process behind creating an intelligent building
  • Understand how various building technology systems may be intelligently connected
  • Relate occupancy variables to building systems
  • Plan for an intelligent building project using industry certifications and standards
  • Organize design and construction teams to implement an intelligent building
  • Establish metrics for intelligent building financial goals and Benefit-Cost Ratios
  • Consider the sociotechnical issues that affect intelligent building occupants


Joseph Bocchiaro
Principal Consultant, The Sextant Group
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