Some buildings are smarter than others

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What's the ideal construction strategy for a sustainable future? John Coutts explores the rising potential of intelligent buildings.

Officially known as 30 St Mary Axe, London, Sir Norman Foster's landmark tower for Swiss Re may be better known as the 'Gherkin' because of its eye-catching profile, but it's also a landmark in terms of sustainability. The Gherkin is one of the most energy-efficient high-rise buildings in Europe and is designed to use half the power of a conventional tall office block. It's sometimes described as an 'intelligent building' for this reason.

The expression 'intelligent building' first emerged some 20 years ago and is now widely used, but what does it really mean? In the case of 30 St Mary Axe, the concept of sustainability is closely linked with building intelligence. Consulting engineers Hilson Moran Partnership Ltd worked extensively on the design and the firm played a major role in the development of the building's energy-saving intelligent facade.

'30 St Mary Axe is intelligent from the point of view that it has a building management system that not only controls the systems within the building, but also controls the function of the facade,' says Matthew Kitson, director of building performance with Hilson Moran. 'What you tend to find is that most large high-rise commercial buildings, certainly in London, are predominantly in 'cooling' mode all year round. Typically, air-conditioned buildings are sealed all the time and the building management system just controls those systems - but this goes one step further.'

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