Building systems is a term used to describe the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems and components in a building. These can include: heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, lighting, power distribution, telecommunications, potable water piping, sewage and vent, vertical transportation, building automation controls, life safety/fire protection, and others. These systems are often compared to systems and functions of the human body, i.e., circulation system, respiratory system, nervous system, etc. And like the human body, no modern building can exist without these systems to provide a healthy comfortable safe environment in which to live and work.
The purpose of this travel fellowship was to better understand the building systems in Great Britain and Ireland. Since the engineering consulting in the United States marketplace is global, American engineers are required to design for buildings all over the world. Europe has recently proven to be a great source of work in the building systems arena due to the age of facilities and the advancements in energy-saving technologies. Along with indoor environmental quality issues, the most important factor in the retrofit renaissance is the need for cost saving solutions to offset the skyrocketing cost of building energy usage.
The field survey paper is a compilation of interesting sites, which were made available during my trip. Due to the sensitive nature of building systems and the security access required, it is difficult to gain access to mechanical and electrical rooms. Access to the various projects was made possible with the help of SOM London, JB&B, Hilson Moran, ASHRAE, and CIBSE. Due to limited time and the conflicting schedules of my generous hosts, only fourteen of the twenty site visits arranged were possible.
Engineering, Architecture, and Sustainability
Statistics show that more than 36 percent of the primary energy supplies in the United States are used in the buildings we design. Buildings are responsible for 30 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions and a staggering 40 percent of the world’s raw material usage.
Environmental responsibility is now a requirement for any organization. Although the building community has traditionally been slow to act on new ideas, we have made a great effort in this area. Engineering and architecture are recognized as professions that require both technical expertise as well as an understanding of issues outside of property lines. For example, it may be analogous to a residential building designer and contractor who construct a housing addition. The designer draws plans for the new foundation within the property lines. The contractor excavates within the property lines. However, both may fail to see that the building next door relies on the soon-to-be excavated soil to steady its foundation. In the first hours of digging, the adjacent building might collapse. Although it is easy to see the conflict in the previous example, many are not as easily discernable. We must be cognizant of issues outside our client’s scope and take a holistic view of the project and the community.
Sustainability is a term coined specifically for this purpose. Sustainability, by definition, is the ability of a system to sustain itself. The concept is not new. In fact, it is the simplest organizational system known. Use what is indigenous to sustain yourself. Do not deplete the resources of others or rely on outside sources of material and energy. As applied to the construction industry, sustainability means buildings that perform the functions required while minimizing their impact on the world around them. A truly sustainable commercial building is very difficult to imagine simply because buildings require energy to make them, and the people within, comfortable and productive. However, if 100 percent renewable sources like solar energy or biomass are used, it is likely this can be achieved. The future may prove this to be an overwhelming success. Until then, we will rely on techniques that have proven themselves. Technologies like under floor air distribution, photovoltaics, gray water reclamation, cogeneration, geothermal storage, and heat recovery are in use today and covered on the case studies included in the final report.