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Office 3.0: Personalised Cooling System: Responsive Architecture

The smart cities movement is being shaped by innovators such as Italian architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati, whose founder, Carlo Ratti is also director of MIT Senseable City Lab. He has transformed Agnelli Foundation headquarters into the office space of the future by integrating an innovative personalised temperature and lighting control system that follows occupants throughout the building. This pilot project dubbed "Office 3.0" monitors and synchronizes energy usage and human occupancy to cater to the user's needs, creating a more sustainable and responsive environment that promises to finally put an end to "thermostat wars".

Author: Siphilele Magagula

Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

In their 2014 design forecast, architecture and interior design giant Gensler predicted that the "Coworking space, with its informal and collaborative ethos, will scale up. 'Smart' environments will take hold." This prediction is holding true as firms like Carlo Ratti Associati are at the forefront of the smart city movement, developing responsive technologies like the lighting, heating and cooling systems that are set to transform the current user experience of architectural space.

Office 3.0: Responsive Multidisciplinary Approach To Heating & Cooling Systems

When tasked with redesigning the Agnelli Foundation's Cultural Institute headquarters in Turin, Italy, Carlo Ratti Associati sought to update not only the aesthetics of the century old building, but the the culture and the sheer essence of the experience of the space. The now office space's lighting, heating and cooling system harmonizes energy usage and human occupancy within the building to allow for personalized temperature and lighting to suit the needs of the individual user, using Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

The firm collaborated with Siemens Italy in order to realize this concept. Hundreds of sensors were installed to monitor various sets of data which feed the Building Management System (BMS) with information regarding the environmental aspects of the building (temperature, carbon dioxide levels, etc) as well as the social aspects of the space (availability of meeting rooms and location of the building's occupants) - a digital "big brother" system of sorts which "sees all" and uses that data to help occupants customize their lighting and temperature to suit their needs as well as better coordinate meetings. All this is available at the touch of a button, as the BMS is controlled through a smartphone App, which is currently in Beta. Once desired temperature and lighting are set on the App, a 'thermal bubble' follows occupants throughout the building as the temperature units (which are installed in the office space's false ceilings) are activated when human presence is detected. No unnecessary energy is spent as when occupants leave said space the units return to a default 'standby mode' - making this system not only responsive to human needs but also environmentally friendly. It could reduce energy consumption by 40% - groundbreaking for the building industry, which contributes to so much energy waste.

Diagram showing the energy distribution throughout the building based on occupancy | Image courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

This project serves as a culmination of Carlo Ratti's previous human centered heating and cooling system projects - one of them being the Cloud Cast installation, which was also a ceiling mounted mechanism with sensors that dispelled "clouds" of water vapour when an individual walked beneath. This was designed for cities with harsh temperatures such as Dubai, where it was showcased.

Cloud Cast Installation - Dubai | Image courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

The personalized heating technology integrated in Office 3.0 is based on Carlo Ratti's Low Warming installation that was presented at the 2014 Venice Biennale, which, similar to the Cast Cloud relied on motion tracking systems to give off customized temperature to occupants - through ceiling mounted infrared elements that enabled individual thermal 'clouds' to follow occupants through space.

Low Warming Installation - 2014 Venice Biennale | Image courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

How Responsive Architecture & Design Influences Interaction & Creativity

On the subject of the future of office space design and responsive architecture, founder of Carlo Ratti Associati and director of MIT's Senseable City Lab, Carlo Ratti questions:“As work has become increasingly digital, why should we bother to go into the office?” He believes the answer is simply - human interaction, and that by integrating digital technologies within static space, better relationships can be forged between people sharing the space, and with the space itself. This multidisciplinary approach to heating and cooling systems could bring about a new version of a "camp fire" - which presents unique opportunities for interactions as people can share their "heat clouds" - fostering meaningful collaboration. The shift here is in that we humans are known to gather around a fire, whereas with this technology - the fire gathers around us.

The integration of responsive technology in architecture gives the user a more connected and enjoyable experience of space as the responsive nature of the space creates the opportunity to transform various aspects of the environment - allowing users freedom to personalize their experience, therefore fostering creativity and efficiency.

Images courtesy of Beppe Giardino via Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

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