Ivan Nokhrin is the CEO of BuiltAPI GmbH. In this article, he discusses how APIs help buildings learn.
Unlike fish, We, as humans, experience and are aware of our environment. And if we think about our environment, we should think about our environment as an artificial or built environment. According to some studies, we spend almost 90% of our time indoors and are indoor species. According to the UN, by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. Our human habitat is an urban environment.
Almost 100 years ago, Buckminster Fuller formulated this problem. He said, “There’s something patently insane about all the typewriters, sleeping with all the beautiful plumbing, in the beautiful office buildings, and all the people sleeping in the slums.” And you would think that over the past 100 years, we have ingested this understanding and made a certain change in our urban environment.
But if you think about the future as it is today, in the 2020s, we are still somewhat in the same situation. When we talk about efficient use of space, it’s not always the desirable use of space. One million people are living in two square kilometers of slum area as compared to 1 million working people occupying 8 million square meters of office area in Helsinki. And 1 million square meters out of that 8 million is empty. So, there’s something that we can do to optimize the situation.
Cities worldwide are growing and adapting to the changing needs of people through gentrification when the new development and buildings are pushing away the previous population of certain districts and are getting repurposed. The Katajanokka Prison in Helsinki has been converted into a very well-known hotel. But repurposing the buildings is only one sort of trend that is happening.
Our social models are changing very rapidly, and the change is accelerating. Modern technologies truly offer new experiences. Today, having a smartphone allows you to make your whole world your office; you can work from almost anywhere. But the office buildings themselves have not changed so much. They changed how they look and feel, but the idea did not change so much. There’s not much change in how we construct new buildings. So, we need to focus on how we help buildings adapt and change to accommodate our changing needs as people.
The six “S” (sharing) layers of buildings
The six layers are Site, Skin, Structure, Service, Space, and Stuff. The distribution of these layers is based on the change cycle that happens to them or the lifespan. The longest lifespan is, of course, the land site that virtually never changes. Then comes the structure of the building. Then comes the skin, or façade, on the front side of the building. Then comes the service layer, all the plumbing, insulation, and ventilation. All the engineering equipment that is installed in the building comes under the space layer. The space layer is also how the walls are aligned and how the space is broken down into rooms, parcels, etc. Then comes the stuff layer, which is furniture and all the different appliances we bring into buildings to operate in, live, work, study, etc.
In this approach, the most interesting is the service layer. In Frank Duffy’s opinion, the service layer of buildings is usually designed to have a lifespan of a few decades. This layer is now being pressured, influenced, and enabled by emerging technologies.
If we look at the service layer today, the energy supply, the lighting controls, fire safety and alarms, video surveillance and monitoring, charging equipment that is used nowadays to charge electric vehicles, plumbing, water supply, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, elevators, escalators, and other hoisting equipment, and access services have become digital first. All these services come together in a building administration system to form a programmable interface for the entire building.
In that sense, we can think of cities as a distributed mesh network of buildings that can communicate. But they can also communicate with people using wearable devices or smartphones passing through the cities, and they communicate with vehicles, drones, etc.
We can conclude that buildings need to embrace API-first technologies to learn faster and better and adapt more agilely to our changing needs. A real estate asset or property can embrace converging technologies, such as blockchain technology, building information modeling technology, or IoT technology, and buildings can adapt these technologies to help people engage in a more satisfying experience inside buildings.