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HKUST Programme In Intelligent Building Technology And Management

Learn about structures of the future now

HKUST programme puts focus on construction of intelligent buildings that can help keep overheads down

Jacqueline Tsang – Updated on Jan 12, 2008 – SCMP

Buildings are no longer just large constructions of concrete and steel – the newest and fastest-growing trend in the building services industry is that of the much-touted intelligent building.

“Intelligent buildings will serve as the new standard for building design in future,” said Qiu Hui-he, director of the master’s of science programme in intelligent building technology and management at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

He said the improved waste management, cost maintenance and work efficiency were among the many reasons why more people were looking to these intelligent buildings as the benchmark for future building construction.

The general definition of an intelligent building is one that contains an electronic network which monitors all the lighting and mechanical systems in the structure, thereby controlling costs and reducing energy wastage.

However, Professor Qiu said that while some buildings in Hong Kong, such as the HSBC Central headquarters, The Center and the Cheung Kong Center had some “intelligent” components in their design, a building must satisfy a list of criteria in order to qualify as a fully intelligent building.

“The concept of intelligent buildings began with an eye to human comfort,” said Professor Qiu, “At that time, temperature and lighting were the main concerns.”

He said temperature played a significant role in working efficiency in an office. “It has been shown that 21 degrees Celsius is the optimal temperature for maximum work activity,” he said, explaining that chillier surroundings stimulated people to work faster. “Setting the thermostat to a comfortable 25 degrees, on the other hand, will likely result in overall lethargy in the workplace.”

Intelligent buildings also opt for light emitting diode lighting, and the switch from fluorescent to LED lighting systems benefits residential and office buildings. It is more suitable for applications that go through frequent on-off cycles, making it ideal for home use because it won’t burn out as easily as fluorescent lighting. LED lighting also has a significantly longer life span and emits more light per watt, thereby reducing costs and saving energy.

Other environmentally friendly systems in intelligent buildings include controlling indoor air quality through the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and keeping external toxic emissions to the minimum. In designing these buildings, Professor Qiu said there was high demand for construction materials that were more reusable and less toxic, as companies tried to keep their buildings as “green” as possible.

“Research is also being done on waste classification in residential buildings,” the professor said, “Rather than relying on people to sort their recyclable waste materials, we’re aiming for an automatic system that will classify waste accordingly.”

Space utilisation and cost maintenance are also part of the extensive list of criteria a truly intelligent building must fulfil. “In an intelligent building, the space is utilised to its maximum potential,” Professor Qiu said. “Piping and air-conditioning are more strategically placed to increase usable space.”

As for cutting costs, the professor said intelligent buildings employed systems that had a longer life cycle, as with the switch to LED lighting, thus minimising costs from system repairs and maintenance.

Safety is also a key factor in intelligent building design, and the safety systems in Hong Kong buildings are equipped with fire preventive measures. Intelligent buildings in the US, however, often included anti-terrorism and biological devices to better suit defensive needs.

Professor Qiu said that intelligent buildings did not necessarily have aesthetic appeal like the hi-tech facilities that Hongkongers often expected.

“People often have the misconception that exterior design is an integral part of what it is to be an intelligent building,” he said, explaining that while most intelligent buildings were aesthetically pleasing, he did not consider hi-tech visual appeal to be a necessary feature.

The professor said students taking the intelligent building technology and management programme acquired a multifaceted education through classroom training, independent study and internships.

“We have internal and external faculty members involved in the programme,” Professor Qiu said. “They often bring current or past building projects to class for the students to observe and discuss.” There were also opportunities for learning outside the classroom, and the professor explained how students had six independent study credits that they could allocate according to their interests.

“These are practical projects that can range from the mechanics of LED lighting to the evaluation of energy consumption in Hong Kong. The students may choose as they like, so long as they conduct these studies under faculty supervision.”

HKUST also offers an optional internship programme, and the majority of students who take advantage of this opportunity are from the mainland – they make up 40 per cent of the student population. “Unlike the local students, who presumably have considerable experience from their work in related industries, these mainland students have little to no work experience in their fields, and a large number of them sign up for internships every year,” he said.

Professor Qiu saw infinite potential in the future of intelligent buildings. He said that research was being conducted on the possibility of a building having its own self-diagnostic system.

“With the central network controlling a large number of systems it’s immensely difficult to pinpoint the location of the problem when something goes wrong. A self-diagnosing building would be able to define where the trouble areas are.”

Professor Qiu also suggested that the reality of home networking systems was not too far off.

With the right technology, a resident could remotely control appliances at home with a personal digital assistant, he said, and a simple phone call could turn on the air-conditioning to cool the room before arrival, or even turn on the TV and lighting. Research was also being done on at-home health monitoring at residential buildings, allowing residents to stay updated on their daily health status.

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