Integrating Technology Into Architecture

by Craig Park FSMPS, Assoc. AIA, Principal Consultant, The Sextant Group

Marshal McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” More true today than ever, with the increased use of audiovisual, IT, building energy management, and security technologies in commercial and institutional buildings, McLuhan’s words ring true. As a result, architects and interior designers find they are working earlier and more closely with technology consultants in their designs.
Many firms find that considering technology early in the design process helps inform and improve the resulting building. I had the opportunity to speak with several architects about technology integration in their projects.

Jennifer K. Cordes, AIA, LEED® AP, Principal with SLATERPAULL Architects in Denver, Colorado, comments, “Our clients recognize that information and possibilities lie far beyond the four walls of their project. Today’s buildings have the potential to link people to the outside world in real time. Technology has helped us achieve this goal and thus the technology designers have become an integral part of our design teams. Their knowledge and vision continually help us crystallize our concepts for innovative learning environments.”

Rod Kruse, FAIA LEED® AP, Principal with BNIM in Des Moines, Iowa, adds, “Early and continued identification and coordination of the audiovisual requirements as an integral part of the design process is critical to the ultimate success of the facility and reduces the need for redesigning later in the process.”

Engaging a technology professional to identify, consider and budget technology at the beginning of the project process ensures that the design optimally integrates technology. The savings to the project can be significant. Technology planning itemizes first costs for a responsible minimum investment and provides benchmarks for long-term cost of ownership.

Brad Lukanic AIA, LEED® AP, Principal – Higher Education, with CANNON DESIGN in New York, New York, says, “Technology’s infusion into architecture can no longer be considered an afterthought in planning buildings today. As architects and planners it is imperative we collaborate with our technology partners at the earliest stages of a project to best respond to the changing dynamics of learning, teaching, and exploring.”

John C. Guenther, FAIA, LEED® AP, Architect in St. Louis, Missouri, notes, “Buildings continue to evolve and transform into ever more flexible spaces to handle a range of applications and approaches for a broad range of clients. Rapidly changing media and technology used to transmit information raise issues ranging from sight lines to natural and artificial lighting, from acoustics to material selections, from planning for flexible, adaptable uses and reconfigurations to providing for a supporting, flexible, and user-friendly infrastructure.”

Creating a Technology Vision

Before the project program is developed, clients benefit from “blue sky” visionary thinking of what could be, not just what is. Scheduling a technology visioning session before a project starts can open the eyes of building owners and occupants to new possibilities. While some of these options may not be economically or technically viable, the building design should consider accommodating their future availability. A technology vision focuses on capabilities to improve communication, collaboration and content.

Annette Wiley, AIA, LEED® AP, Associate Principal and Interior Design Discipline Leader at Perkins+Will in Los Angeles, CA, says, “Our clients are looking for increasingly sophisticated solutions for audiovisual systems that drive everything from branding and identity to distance learning, visualization to research labs studying the impact of creativity on brain functions. Achieving all these applications requires early involvement, innovative thinking and collaboration between the audiovisual designer and the architectural design team.”

Emerging technologies are quickly moving from Hollywood’s imagination to the boardroom making early planning more important. Cordes notes, “We have found that close coordination between the architect and technology designer is critical to the success of the project. We start with user group meetings that brainstorm the vision for the building. Once established, our team meets regularly with the technology designer to realize this vision through continuous coordination.”

Kruse adds, “Audiovisual goals and requirements play a significant role in the shaping of the plan and volumetric provision of a facility. Understanding the impact of technology systems is essential during the early phases of design to assure a successful project.”

The Importance of Infrastructure

The best investment any building designer can make to accommodate technology is a robust and flexible infrastructure.

With the advent of sensor technology, it has become credible to plan for a truly “self aware” building. With technology systems controlling everything from projectors to room dimming systems, window shades and HVAC, an intelligent building design can mitigate energy usage while providing the occupants with a simplified and enriched experience and helping achieve sustainability goals.

Cordes notes, “Infrastructure for future technology must be explored. Technology is constantly evolving and the only way to keep up is to ‘imagine’ the possibilities. We have found that a wired infrastructure is required even in the ever-growing ‘wireless’ environment.”

The technology consultant plays a vital role in any architectural project where electronically enabled communication is important. The architectural designer and the consultant collaborate to achieve the architect’s vision for the project.

Adding the client perspective, Jay Bond, AIA, Associate Vice President for Facility Management, California State University, Fullerton, says, “Increasingly, technology systems are an essential part of our learning environments. Early and frequent communication and coordination among the faculty users, architects, engineers, facility managers, campus IT managers, and the consultants is essential if expectations are to be met. The consultant can play a crucial role in ensuring that the right questions get asked at the right time, and that proper answers are provided.”

Lukanic concluded, “Within the higher education landscape, technology is fundamental to learning, the acquisition of knowledge and sharing in collaborative ways among students and faculty alike. Today’s incoming freshmen are fundamentally different from those five and ten years ago in how they engage in learning. Tomorrow’s student and their exposure to rich forms of technology at even younger ages will fundamentally shape the education landscape in new unforeseen ways.”

The Benefits

As many of these architects note, it is critical today for the designers and their technology advisors to work together to create spaces that not only meet the client’s needs and goals, but achieve a high degree of technology integration, improved communication and collaboration and result in an enhanced experience. As technology becomes more of a utility than a specialty, the occupants and users of buildings expect high levels of easy-to-use resources. Integrating technology into architecture is an important step to meeting this goal.

Portions of this were drawn from Meet Your Future Partner by Craig Park, and published in PRO AV magazine. These excerpts appear here with permission. Craig Park FSMPS, Assoc. AIA, is a principal with The Sextant Group, and is based in Omaha, Nebraska. Trained as an architect, Craig has practiced as an AV consultant for more than 25 years.

Americom helps architects to identify, consider and budget technology at the beginning of the design process and ensures that technology is optimally integrated for function and design. Your savings to the project will be significant. Americom can play a vital role in any architectural project where electronically enabled communication is important.

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