When tomorrow’s architecture is striving to stay in the future

Bornholm’s Green Solution House uses hi-tech sensor analytics to see the Active House Principles in action.

By: Priya Mani

23 Apr 2018

Green Solution House in Bornholm where light, energy, environment and air quality come together in perfect synergy. The building embodies the Active House Principles assuring a very high level of indoor climate comfort to its occupants.

ARRIVING IN BORNHOLM, the idyllic Danish island in the Baltic, one is not left in want for more beaches, fresh air or light. Up until 20 years ago, Bornholm primarily was a fishing economy and has been a low income region with GDP per capita at a level 14% lower than the national average. Business is seasonal, with the sun bringing people to the island and driving the small economy and winters bringing in fish to the waters, keeping the industry alive. As a creative strategy to mitigate this annual yo-yo, efforts have been made in the past decade to develop Bornholm as a destination to see and visit, though not for its sights in the traditional sense- but its sustainability icons. This would mean people trickle in throughout the year and this strategy will yield in the long run.

The Green Solution House is a hotel and Conference Center that was developed with this in mind. The space is presented and used as an example of how a hotel can be run aiming for a zero-waste — zero-impact state. It has been built to meet or perform beyond multiple eco-friendly building codes, Lots of recycled and reclaimed materials, photovoltaic panels integrated in the façade, vertical gardens, visible algae generators that clean wastewater for reuse, carpets and gypsum wall panels that absorb harmful elements from the air, and an indoor climate monitoring system as an app that allows guests to control the light and air in the room while monitoring water and energy consumption. “Having a daylight conference centre is our best selling point”, says Trine Richter, Director, Green Solution House.

In general, if you were to consider the space, its sustainable and efficiency factors are pronounced. You wouldn’t now, or in 10 years from now consider any different. It is built with great rigour to be an Active House. This is a remarkable approach to building design that is seeing rapid adoption amongst the constitution industry and architects. Still the introduction of the human factor in a space will challenge and alter its predetermined factors. Despite the merits of this approach there is now a need to actually quantify the parameters using real world data and not just estimates. Delivering the continued promise of an Active house, needs more rigour & continuous data collection. This is enabled via the use of sensors and data processing software that can cope with real time analytics and streaming data. The use of sensors opens up the possibility to actually look for patterns, analyse historic data and even deliver insights for both planning and remedial measures if required. The deluge of the so called Internet of Things (IoT) is creating unforeseen possibilities in using data to empower the Active house principles with new knowledge.

This approach has been tried out at the Green Solution House as the first of its kind experiment in collaboration with Velux and GXN who have been a Strategy Partner with the GSH to implement the Active House Principles in existing buildings. Their performance driven, modular skylights cover the roofs of the GSH helping optimise daylight and subsequently fresh air, temperature and humidity continuously. Specific parts of the building are designed for disassembly and continuous improvement and thereby fully reflect Green Solution House’ core philosophy of fostering green innovations. The building has been built certified to the standards of the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB). The design is based on the criteria of the Active House vision and inspired by the Cradle to Cradle life cycle concept. The Active House Principles are a set of high environmental standards for daylight, air quality, noise and energy efficiency with an ultimate aim of reducing environmental impact. Architecture aligned with these principles tries to assure that the buildings remain high performance-relevant in an age of ever advancing building standards and sustainability goals. As Kasper Guldager, Partner 3XN, Director GXN puts it, “Green Solution House is designed to stimulate the senses and the comfort of the guests and employees”

So, we have this perfect building, but how do we ensure the performance are upto the Active House golden standard it stands for and what can we do to get there? Beginning in May 2017, Velux approached Copenhagen-based company Leapcraft, to bring in their expertise in deploying sensors to measure and analyse indoor & outdoor climate data. Leapcraft’s deployment covered the spaces like a blanket, harvesting data continuously from over 10 locations in the GSH. They measured air quality, temperature-humidity and noise indoors along with environmental parameters outside since Sept 2017 over fall and winter observing the changes in the space. The sensors covered the transactional relationship of spaces — one that sees how a space uses the environment around it and the people in it to regulate its indoor climate and the other where people visit the space and the environment outside changes thus regulating the indoor climate. The sensors took thousands of measurements, every day and flashed them to Leapcraft’s lab back in Copenhagen.

The GSH was outfitted with standard thermostat regulators and energy meters -the mandatory ones -modern and digital. But they are still dependant on the human factor for action. They might tell you when its too warm, too cold, or consuming too much energy. But nothing more. On a cold winter day, it might not be wrong to ask “Is it too warm today? We might need to open the skylights for a bit to let some fresh air in.”

Vinay Venkatraman, CEO Leapcraft says, “Our ambition is to enhance the well-being by empowering people with data and quantifying the built enviroment in real-time”

The standard meters are not yet clever enough to let the indoor climate self regulate as they do not have the wisdom of collated data from the entire space affected by nature that surrounds it and humans who inhabit it. Leapcraft carefully chose the locations for their deployment as the multiple-sensor nodes had to collect as much data as possible so that it could be stitched together to show the big picture.

"GSH Roof" The roofs at the GSH are an interesting patchwork of skylights thoughtfully positioned to make the most of the travelling sun. Flat stretches of the roof are living roofs covered in mossy growth for better energy performance of the building.

“We visited the space to understand how it works through the rhythm of the day and designed a layout that best worked keeping in mind the live, green environment at the GSH, the unsteady human head count that was expected to flow through the space in the weeks following the peak tourist season and the differences in the height of each space within the GSH. This was an important factor as double ceilings affect air quality in small spaces.” says Vinay Venkatraman.

System Architecture From Green Solution House to Leapcraft’s Lab — harvesting data, robust and reliable cloud infrastructure, data analysis and custom builds for visualisations deliver a human-readable sensemaking of sensors.

Quantifying an Active House brings together varied sensors arranged to work synchronously. But complexity shows up when you begin to see multiple data trends streaming continuously for the same space. While one might think it needs a good measure of common sense, that is not it. Deep diving into data science yields some startling findings — ones that question the given and the granted. Leapcraft’s Lab continuously monitors the data on the dashboard custom built for GSH to look for patterns. These patterns have to be vetted against the Active House guidelines and the EN15251:2007 code at all times to look for anomalies and unprecedented events. During the period of approximately 120 days, an average of 15,700 events per device was received in total. That approximates to a total of 1,050 events per day for all boxes. Individually, that is an average of 130 events per day, per device, deployed during the testing period. The system actually measures an increase magnitude, the state changing process might not be seen. Instead, the result of a process are seen in the data. It is of interest to also see the process of change in an environment in addition to understanding the result of such a change.

“Different locations could have different impacts on the sensor value due to the localised indoor climate features. These indoor climate features would include drafts, temperature islands and wireless dead zones. Thus, the deployments require careful thought and planning to outfit the space. Such patterns of impact on the sensors would therefore require planning on sensor deployment in large scale scenarios and advanced pre-analysis requirements. In addition practical constraints like availability of power sockets, sunlight exposure, mounting options etc need to be considered.” says Vignesh Krishnamurthy, Data Science Lead at Leapcraft.

The foyer at the GSH, like any similar space in hotels, is the recipient of large crowds for small intervals of time. During the period of arrival, doors open and shut frequently or remain open for longer stretches and this causes a flurry of data activity. Fresh cool air gushes in, causing a momentary drop in CO2 levels and indoor temperature. But larger crowds indoors also means more respiratory activity leading to more CO2 emissions. Noise levels rise, often with echoes due to the ceiling height. Winter has its own role to play. Indoor heating is a steady element that is affected by this coupled activity. More glass in the construction helps in the few hours of daylight but it also means more light in the long hours of winter darkness.

Foyer Foyers are generally susceptible to sudden gushes of people, air and light. The deployment of sensors across such a space needs very thoughtful consideration and deep insight into indoor climate behavioural patterns.

The Conference Hall on the other hand is a smaller space and receives a different flow of factors. People habit the space for long, contonuous periods of time and then it remains vacant, unused for similar periods of time. The room has walls ensuring a room insulated from light and more regulated with temperature.

Conference Hall The Conference Hall at GSH offers a more confined space to measure with lesser whimsical trends and data that was more aligned to the hypothesis in spite of the human factor.

As with any research project, the data scientists at Leapcraft set out with a hypothesis on how the space should perform based on the Active House principles and the known variables that seasonal change might cause. The sensors unbiasedly beamed data into the new year and in more ways than one, corroborated the hypothesises that were made. The multiple graphs generated for the same space show co-related cycles but insight lies in the unique trends that these cycles carry.

The Active House principles had ensured the GSH was performing at various levels. It stands up as a strong benchmark for active space monitoring. Such frameworks help in creating an universal benchmark for the regulations to be tracked and maintained. However, the introduction of sensorised spaces allows for the development of specific benchmarking tools for spaces that are utilised differently — thus the Active House framework could benefit from revisions to take advantage of a live data-enabled setting. Much of this has been captured as revised approach in the comfort economy manifesto authored by Leapcraft — link

The GSH was built to adhere to a certain body of principles but time brings in new technologies that enable us to see the same space with more wisdom. With more sensor enabled data, comes better insight that will better inform how we can introduce smart, self regulating features to static building fixtures. For spaces, hyperlocal data is key to healthy indoor climate. A couple of hours of stale air deeply affects concentration levels for people using it. A space like the GSH positions itself as great destination for conferences, team building workshops and innovation sessions. Concentration and people engagement is paramount. It can be a big differentiator when choosing a location.

“It establishes that the building design does live up to its proposed standards and we are able to show its impact on indoor climate and energy consumption. We hope to see continued data flowing over the next 6 months into the summer period of 2018. This will complete the data in terms of seasonality and usage of the building over a full year and across a wide variety of external climate influence. Leapcraft hopes to use this data to build future solutions that enable architects, construction companies and budding owners to collaborate from design phase to living phase i.e make the Active House and life long process and not a one time affair.” says Vinay Venkatraman.

The past and present of our times has been regulated by codifying intangible values of best practices. The regulations are tight, enforced by rigorous fine tuning of processes and material standards- yet, they come with updates making buildings instantly redundant or in need to match up. But at the very foundation of these codified regulations is the trust that they ensure performance. Whether they do stand up to the test of time and the human factor has been hard to tell so far.

The future of this is in deploying a family of sensors and continuously harvesting data from them to see if the buildings perform to the standards they have been coded for. When advancing scientific knowledge on built spaces and their effect on humans and maturing technologies alter or change the standards, the sensors can cope with the new performance standards as they are supported by robust data mining that accomodates this dynamic performance milestone. Leapcraft hopes to see the emergence of new products, services and design approaches based on the factual use of data as a creative tool, a key ingredient in the end to end building life cycle management. Though much work needs to be done in terms of integration to automation and building management systems, feedback into other process in the operation of the building etc, they believe this approach to design and constant validation using data will deliver the promise of sustainable buildings and healthier living in the near future.

And all this data mining and insight delivers fascinating ways to see the space quantified. There is a take away for all concerned — For GSH, the data is valid proof of the indoor life quality it promises to offer; for people choosing to visit, they can see this data, live on an app or on a dashboard when they arrive.

For the authors of the Active House Principles, this is a key feedback in the loop that keeps the certification valid and relevant and for the collaborators of the built space this longitudinal data goes on to see the performance of their products across seasons and time.

Image credits Velux, Green Solution House, GXN Architects. Illustration by Leapcraft.

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