Technology’s Case for Sustainability

Technology is not a bad thing, but it’s important to see what can be done without the use of it, as implementing technology can be expensive and challenging. At the end of the day, It’s a tool for sustainability and with innovation only evolving, who knows what’s coming next.
A Case for Technology

In our last discussion, we talked about the importance of thoughtful, sustainable design, which is the process of making strategic and conscious decisions in the design process of architecture, prior to the use or need of technology. While there are plenty of functional opportunities to design without it, this isn’t to say technology is “bad” or shouldn’t be used. As we’ve witnessed the role of modern technology and innovation evolve, we’ve learned, when used correctly, how it can be an agent of change towards a more sustainable future.

Installation using robotics
ETH Zurich (Photograph: NFS Digital Fabrication / Roman Keller)

I spoke with Marina Huissoon, founder of Green Propeller Design, about the use of technology and innovation in the field of architecture that she is most excited about:

I’m interested in pushing the agenda on 3D printing, pre-fabrication, and smart technology. I think these things will make a very big difference to how buildings are going to be made 50 years from today.

Red brick wall

The pre-fabrication of materials makes sense because there’s a huge amount of labour involved in making a building. Bricks, for instance, historically were made so that a single person could stack them one brick at a time. With the machinery we have on site these days, it doesn’t make as much sense to put one brick on another and build a wall. Now, we have bigger bricks. We have concrete panelling that has the facade of bricks. There are so many materials to clad your building with and all of them would be faster than building with bricks. So, even though people like the look of bricks and their familiarity is so comforting, from a sustainability standpoint, it doesn’t really make sense to use them. 

Pre-fabrication building installation

The pre-fabrication of materials and making elements of a building in a modular or panelized fashion has yet to be well explored in Canada. If you look at how buildings have been built in Europe for the last two decades, particularly in Germany and Holland, you see this method of building quite often. They use many industrial processes to put buildings together – it’s very modular all over the place. There is no doubt in my mind that buildings have to go this way.

There are many examples of sustainability that can be applied to the built environment, but one of the greatest, high-tech examples might be the integration of smart buildings. In many office buildings or co-working spaces nowadays you’ll have a computerized technology that learns and adapts to its users. The building and its technology can accommodate the needs of the users, based on the temperature or weather of that day. 

Often, at co-working spaces such as WeWork, the building itself will also be designed to register when you enter and leave the building. Your smartphone acts as your access card and then at the end of the month, you’ll be billed for your building usage. 

There’s all this technology that you can put into buildings that make them responsive to the users. You can stretch that in all kinds of ways. In a big office like Deloitte, for instance, where you’ve got, let’s say, a thousand workers, you could actually have a thousand workers and only 300 desks and everybody could be perfectly satisfied, because out of the thousand workers, 300 only ever show up at once. So by using smart technology, connecting the building to an app, workers are able to specify when they come in, and when they do, there will always be a desk for them. The smart building technology essentially helps optimize how the building is used.

Some buildings go as far as having lights that go beyond the normal function of lighting and actually act as data receptors. Your smartphone then communicates with these lights to send data their way, so the technology can understand how many people are in a room and how to adjust functions such as the ventilation system to accommodate the number of people. From a technology standpoint, the fact that a lightbulb has gone from an incandescent lightbulb to a fluorescent lightbulb to a compact fluorescent lightbulb, from a T12 to a TA to a T5, and then to LED, to a data transferring smartbulb, is quite remarkable. 

The whole technology system that you can put into smart buildings has grown so fast in a couple of decades and will continue to grow, and that is very exciting. We can learn so many lessons from technology and we’ve only just begun learning how to master it as a tool for sustainability. It will be interesting to see how our buildings will continue to evolve alongside technology. This will make a huge difference to how Canadians will live 50 years from now.

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