Dynamic Architecture: Building Management Systems and Interactive Controls

Imagine walking into a corridor that senses your presence and gradually produces light patterns on the wall that mimic your path of movement. Will central management of interior lighting eliminate the need for something as simple as a lightswitch?

With the evolution of building management systems from mere organization of a building’s technical services (electricity, lighting, heating, security) to complex digital sensory systems, the fundamental nature of architecture is shifting.

Central building management systems (BMS), traditionally used to monitor the practical functions of a building, now enable occupants to interact with space in a complex manner.  Visual and tactile experience are played against one another, as the experience of opening a door or flipping a lightswitch is often eliminated through automatic sensors and calibrated systems.  Lighting levels can fluctuate according to preset schedules, adjustments to ambient light at various times of day, or occupancy levels of a commercial interior.
Is this strong sudden emphasis on control systems driven by sustainability factors and the LEED© program, a response to modernism, or acceptance of the digital era?  It depends who you ask.  In the sustainability arena, BMS integration can significantly reduce energy usage.  The energy reduction and optimization of systems is most attractive to owners of large commercial buildings who wish to trim budgets and achieve LEED© certification.  For the conceptual architect or interior designer, control systems offer a chance to choreograph complex building functions and illustrate visual patterns for the occupants.  With sophisticated central management systems, the Corbusian ideal of “building as machine” becomes a delicate balance between an automated shell of a building and transferring control back to the end user of the space.  The scale of the building and the scale of the occupant are negotiated, as occupancy affects HVAC loads through careful calibration by a BMS system.  
Our daily interaction with architects and lighting designers echoes this trend.  In addition to designing lighting systems that integrate at a central control point, we’ve been seeing unprecedented interest in LED dimming control and the ability to set scenes.  For the architecture and interior design community in general, awareness of the capabilities of BMS systems has increased.  And with LED lighting technology sweeping into commercial markets, the interface between the two technologies is just beginning to be explored.