On September 12th, the Club-talk panel discussion at Kultuurikatel as part of the TAB’s additional programme focused on the use of new technologies in architecture. One of the key messages at the panel discussion “Are you still in charge? Smart Technologies have changed the perspective of architecture” was, that the use of new technologies in architecture depends a lot on how different parties can and are able to work together.
Participants in the panel discussion were: Raul Järg (Head of the Estonian Centre of Architecture) as the moderator, Martin Thalfeldt (Professor at TalTech Department of Civil Engineering and Architecture / nZEB Near Zero Energy Research Group), Merylin Rüütli (a founder of the Digital Construction Cluster/CEO at Projekt Kuubis), Jukka Patrikainen (Head of ABB Baltic States) and Jonas Söderström (ABB Regional Sales Manager, Nordic Countries, Electrification / Smart Buildings).
“With the use of new and smart technologies in the design of buildings, the traditional way of having all parties in their own box is no longer successful,” concluded Järg. „You need to get the parties out of the regular box and that requires good teamwork.”
The panel discussion was opened by Katrin Förster who is ABB’s International Key Account Manager for Architects and the initiator of ABB’s Headline Partnership at TAB.
„Smart technologies have changed the perspective of architecture,“ Förster said. „So called Smart Building Automation Solutions are driving forward the positive aspects that digital technologies can have on building design. The solutions available on the market can help cover the ambitious task to create and build sustainable and both eco- and human friendly buildings.“
What followed turned into a peaceful debate rather than an uncompromising panel discussion. There were no great disagreements between the panellists, but rather each other’s talk was supplemented. At the same time, it was interesting that the audience took a rather aggressive position on the topic.
“What most likely can be concluded from this is that there is a considerable gap in the awareness of experts and those who work daily in the field of architecture – new is unknown, although smart technologies are becoming a natural part of modern buildings. Probably the architects still feel uncomfortable with the subject and it is not possible to change it with one exchange of thoughts,“ Järg reckoned.
What is a smart building and why is it important to have one?
First, participants in the panel were asked to define the concept of a smart building. There were quite similar opinions on the subject. Martin Thalfeldt, a researcher on nearly zero energy buildings, naturally highlighted the energy aspect: “A building that meets user needs with minimal energy consumption.”
The rest of the participants rather took the user’s point of view as the basis. Mr Söderström emphasized security, comfort and sustainability, but also the financial aspect. Jukka Patrikainen found that a smart building must last at least 100 years and it must be easy to use.
Then a more fundamental question was raised: why is the existence of a smart building important altogether? The participants kept their initial viewpoints here, too. Patrikainen pointed out that in a smart building, it is possible to observe and change consumption habits. Thalfeldt added that in a smart building, it should be possible to use energy without losses and to mix different types of energy (wind, solar, etc.).
Rüütli added, that at the same time the solution providers need to anticipate the future and predict how people want to use this all.
Cooperation between all parties
The focus was then put on the issues involved with the topic. Rüütli pointed out the idea that was repeated in the discussion – cooperation is the basis of everything. “We need to bring in engineers, architects and other stakeholders from the early stages of building design. Only then can we get the solution that end users need and that they can enjoy,” Rüütli emphasized.
Finally, the role of the architect in the whole process was also covered. Rüütli expressed the view that the key player is still the architect. “The architect has to be like a glue that glues all the parties together. At the same time, good communication between partners is important to create a beautiful end result,” said Rüütli.
Patrikainen added that all parties must be involved in the cooperation without exception. “The chain is always as strong as its weakest link,” said Patrikainen.
But what should be changed to achieve such cooperation?
Rüütli found that first of all, the minds must change – architects need to be more involved in technology events. “The way of thinking and technologies must go hand in hand,” Rüütli said.
Patrikainen added that future trends must be monitored jointly. Söderström emphasized that universities have a big role to play in this regard.
Thalfeldt summed up by reminding what was the starting point: “First and foremost, we have to consider the end consumer; we cannot bypass them in the value chain.”
The discussion continues with the participation of the client
Järg, who was leading the debate, emphasized in conclusion, raising the topic of smart technologies from a new perspective – process, roles and responsibilities. “The reaction of the audience was that the issue needed further discussion,” Järg emphasized.
What is needed now is to engage the client in the discussion, to educate and to inspire him. “The architect is important in this process, but the client plays a crucial role at the top of the pyramid. There was no customer invited to this panel, so there is a great reason and an opportunity to do this in the future,” Järg concluded.
As stated at the outset, using new and smart technologies in building design can no longer cope with the traditional way of having all the parties in their own box. It is necessary to get the parties out of the regular box and this requires good teamwork.
The issue of education was raised as a separate topic. “The questions remain as to how and where competent experts are trained, whether additional training is needed to train building technology systems experts who have been additionally trained in software and technology related knowledge and skills,” Järg revealed.
It was also recognized that the software side of technology is crucial. “Whether or not it corresponds to the actual situation, I honestly do not have enough experience to evaluate. At the same time, it is certain that constant software upgrades are absolutely necessary and natural, and the hardware must enable it. For an architect, this is actually very important, essentially and fundamentally, because if the architect does not control the processes and the use of technology, then the technology will design the house and lead the architects,” Järg found.
In conclusion: the discussion should continue and, according to Järg, the Estonian Centre of Architecture is happy to participate in it and, if necessary, to lead it.