Smart home, intelligent building, networking… these catchwords haunt us in the media. Manufacturers, energy providers and even the telecommunication sector spend millions on TV advertising to fire every potential house owner or builder with enthusiasm for the necessity of smartphone fingertip building control. And if you then research the benefits on the Internet you encounter the catchwords comfort and convenience, safety and security and energy saving – of course without any specific figures.
Each and every building measure costs money. A lot of money. This is why there are sophisticated and field-tested procedures to structure and organize this process, for instance HOAI 1-9 (schedule of services and fees for architects and engineers).
These organize the building process into nine phases – from basic requirements up to and including site supervision. Phase 1, Basic Requirements, is particularly interesting for building automation, including measures and considerations which come before the actual planning phase, especially talks with the future user/owner of the building. Although the HOAI is constantly undergoing further development, it has not yet internalized the potential and necessity of intelligent buildings. Intelligent buildings are not simply static structures made of concrete but are developing increasingly into highly dynamic building systems.
But what »high dynamics« a real building actually need? And what are the ultimate benefits for the user? At present the attitude prevails that the more you include the better the result. So buildings are being equipped with more and more networked technology which is simply imposed on the user. The result is that we are already speaking of »life in a madhouse« and doubt is being cast on all the technological developments. But this is not how it works. How then?
People invest in buildings – and, as a rule, for the people who are going to live and work in them. So what would be more appropriate than putting people at the centre of attention and trying to fulfil their needs? For even the HOAI itself speaks of »Consultants for all performance requirements of a building« and requirements follow on from needs. But what are people’s needs? And which of them can be met through building technology and building automation?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
In 1943 Abraham Maslow, the American social psychologist, introduced his concept of human needs which is made up of five stages. At the lowest level are physiological needs such as food, drink, and sleep, everything which is necessary for basic survival. The second level relates to safety such as saving money, building up supplies, installing alarm systems … Then follow the social needs. This deals with the human striving for relationships, friendship and communication.
The first three levels are elementary; it is only levels four and five which are devoted to the individual needs of each person himself. This is why level four is called individual needs. This deals with what each individual wants from others: respect, esteem and prestige. Anyone who wishes to satisfy his needs in this respect always needs others and a universally accepted system of values.
This has to do with attention and recognition. Right at the top of the pyramid of needs is self-actualization. This includes individual systems of values – what is of importance to each individual in particular.
However, a lot of what we do can satisfy needs at different levels. A stamp collector devotes himself entirely to his hobby and collects in private. When doing this he is at the level of self-actualization. However, he then communicates intensively with other collectors and meets them at exchange markets. Thus he satisfies his social needs. If he then can call especially rare and expensive stamps his own, he receives recognition and prestige.
Maslow in the Context of Building Automation
But which levels of needs are met by building automation? Food, clothing, air, pleasant temperatures – these have all been there for a long time. We do not need building automation to satisfy these needs. Of course there were many things which were not optimally regulated and certainly not efficient. Then the next level comes into play – the need for safety and security, energy saving, efficiency – all this belongs to this level. And building automation can achieve much more at this level. Networked fire detectors, automatic lights, access control systems, escape route and emergency exit signs, networking with emergency control centres – the potential is unlimited. Needs for safety and security can be met optimally through building automation.
Social needs, exchange with others, communication. How does this take place nowadays? People meet personally, telephone each other or speak virtually in »social media« fora or blogs. Building automation cannot really provide anything essential here. Of course, a personal meeting can take place in a pleasant environment thanks to building automation (lighting mood, air quality, pleasant temperature). And for virtual interaction an IP network and Internet access is required. But all this is available completely independent of building automation.
The two upper levels in the Maslow pyramid of needs – individual needs and self-actualization – are the most interesting in the context of building automation. Systems of values underlie both levels. Individual needs are based on a currently accepted and valid system of values. If the need for esteem and prestige is to be satisfied, then the appropriate values have to be taken into account. But what do these values look like? What characterizes a modern building? The word »modern« means nothing other than making use of a universally accepted system of values.
Bauhaus design, energy efficiency, sustainability, zero energy buildings, networking, smart homes – all these are metaphors of a system of values under Western influence. If in our mind’s eye we transfer the opportunities offered by building automation to this system of values, then it becomes clear that it is only with networked building automation that these needs for esteem can be met. The top level of the pyramid, self-actualization, is also based on a system of values; here, however, it is the individual system of values of each single person. An investment is made because the user wants this. Because he enjoys it. Because he identifies with the building. So it follows that technophiles are more likely to become enthusiastic about the many possibilities offered by building automation. And another thing is important. Unlike the three lower levels of the pyramid there is no »enough« when it comes to the two upper levels of needs. As long as the appropriate means are available extremely complex solutions can be realized.
Why building automation?
What sense does building automation make? It enables and optimizes the fulfilment of needs in the Maslow categories of safety, esteem and self-actualization. The fashioner of the building, the architect, is therefore well-advised to carefully identify the levels of needs and to integrate these in his design process. Since, as a rule, the necessary knowhow is not available to the architect, this task becomes that of the building systems designer. Building automation does not however stand alone but must always be seen in the context of all the technical installations in the building. And these must be in harmony with the architecture and the whole building structure. Therefore a good building can only develop in close cooperation between the user, the architect and the building systems designer. For it is only when building technology and building automation are in perfect harmony with the architecture and the needs of the user that a situation develops which is to the satisfaction of all those involved.
This article originally appeared on Dial.de