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Facility Programming

The initial phase of a project is Project Conception or Facility Programming and is sometimes referred to as visioning meetings to lay out how the owner's requirements and objectives can be transformed into a clear or detailed concept or model. Such sessions may address current pain points, review emerging technology and innovations, and evaluate what other building owners have experienced.

The development of a facility program will be led by the architect in collaboration with specialized facility programmers, engineers, consultants, facility managers, contractors and manufacturers. It's a creative iterative process which teases out the owner's real objectives, values, and preferences, and identifies the needs and considerations related to aesthetics, economics, regulatory issues, energy, sustainability, and functionality. The result is the owner's unique facility plan which forms the foundation of the design and construction. (For more on programming see the classic book "Problem Seeking” by HOK, an architectural programming primer).

During this early programming activity the discussion of a smart building, automation, advanced technology, system integration, emerging technology, tenant amenities, building management systems, and analytic software applications takes place. Facilitating such a discussion requires participants able to talk about emerging technologies, results of such deployments at other projects, as well as the financial and operational benefits. Many times site visits to projects that include smart building attributes are educational for owners and their design team. The goal of the project conception meeting should be an openness to innovation and a focus on the facility lifecycle and building performance.

Some potential obstacles during project conception include designers or participants that continue to provide legacy designed systems; designers that have a specification for a system and keep repeatedly using an aged specification. While part of the motivation of designers may simply be their familiarity and positive experience with specific equipment or manufacturers, there is an incentive to reuse specifications and merely change the client name because it takes much less time.

Without focus on the potential use of advanced technology, options for system integration, and consideration of emerging technology and successful deployment of smart building goals in other buildings, it will not become an integral part of the building program. When the idea of a smart building becomes an afterthought, possibly identified later in the design process, its consideration may be disruptive and potential benefits diminished because of existing design decisions and concerns.

There are prominent features of the facility program that will be mandated by government regulations. There will be attributes that will be influenced by third-parties, the most obvious being a green certification program. Assuming the owner is seeking such certification, the guidelines provide necessary benchmarks and parameters for the design, construction, and operation of buildings likely to be in the facility program. Similar to green certification is the Smart Buildings Institute (SBI) and other organizations' certifications which focus on advanced technology, system and data integration and building operations, thus providing a framework and detailed properties for a smart building.

So one role for architects, perhaps their most important role in a smart building, is simply putting advanced technology and smart building operations on the agenda, then explaining the technology and economics to the owner and incorporating the main tenets of this approach in the overall facility program.

Surely architects understand that the control, monitoring, and building automation systems are essential components in the smart building. These systems are the dynamic features or facets of the building; the nervous system allowing for timely or real-time adjustments in the building's environment as well as optimal operational performance related to life safety, comfort, security, energy and an overall healthy atmosphere.

Architects must also understand that it's not just control systems that make up a smart building. The fixed attributes of the building such as the initial siting, the structure, envelope, windows, interior layout, materials, etc. also play a major role in how smart the building is and how well the building will operate. The best building control systems cannot compensate for the worst building construction and layout; in the same way, the best structure cannot overcome the worst building control systems. Both are critical in creating a smart and well-designed building. What follows are some of the functions and responsibilities of the architect and how they play a crucial role in designing, constructing, and operating a smart building.

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