Using smart building technology to create healthier learning environments

Some US states and parts of Europe have already been using smart technology to measure their energy use and efficiency, streamline building maintenance, carry out automated head counts and control HVAC systems

One small silver lining from the disruption of the past 18 months is that it’s turned the spotlight onto the spaces we occupy, from office blocks to campuses, forcing us to contemplate how they could be made safer, healthier and better for the environment. Cleaner air through sophisticated ventilation systems and crowd management to reduce unnecessary contact are two obvious responses to COVID-19 that are being floated in countries around the world, but these advances are also giving way to other potential ways to improve our learning spaces and increase the wellbeing of students and staff.

How smart building technology is already changing the game

Until recently, smart building technology has only largely been leveraged in corporate offices or private residences. It’s only in the past five-to-10 years that the true potential of smart technology has started to be realised in terms of health and wellbeing, not just convenience. For instance, some schools in the US and parts of Europe have already been using smart technology to measure their energy use and efficiency, streamline building maintenance, carry out automated head counts and control HVAC systems. These technologies are now beginning to play a pivotal role in ensuring that buildings remain healthy spaces to work and learn, diminishing the risk of catching everything from the common cold to COVID-19. For instance, smart management systems tend to have sensors on board that can monitor and control humidity, temperature and indoor air quality, whilst also checking on the level of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in the air. According to Deloitte, data collected from these sensors can even be used to determine which areas in a building might need the most cleaning. It’s the perfect marriage of convenience, efficiency and wellbeing.

Broadening the scope of smart tech

This technology isn’t necessarily new, but its deployment is still relatively uncommon. Perhaps that’s because there’s a perception that installing this kind of technology would require some level of upheaval, or that it’s only really something that new builds can take advantage of. The truth is, this technology is readily available, and the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for adoption. It’s part of what many in the industry are seeing as a ‘smart building revolution’ that’s been picking up steam for some time, with property owners investing heavily in smart tech to turn their buildings into connected hubs that behave more like living organisms than inanimate spaces. The Internet of Things (IoT) means that more and more devices are able to connect and ‘talk’ with one another, allowing buildings to effectively come to life and run themselves in a way that’s most beneficial to their occupants which, in this case, would be students, teachers and other staff members. Educational spaces should be open, inspiring and engaging for all who use them. From nurseries and primary schools through to colleges and universities, the buildings in which we choose to teach, learn, play and socialise should be welcoming, comfortable and designed with wellbeing and productivity at their core. This is what smart technology allows.

The truth is, this technology is readily available, and the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for adoption

Balancing daylight with dynamic solar shading

Take the management of natural daylight using automated solar shading as an example; a recent study focused on students in educational buildings throughout the US, assessing the overall impact of natural light, ventilation, air quality, acoustics and scenery. They found that things like screen glare, reflections and direct heat from the sun during the summer months had a direct impact on student performance throughout the day. Dynamic solar shading that can be automated based on the building’s orientation and the position of the sun in the sky can make classrooms and halls far more comfortable, without requiring any manual input from teachers or other staff members. Factoring these smart shading solutions into the early stages of building development, or even retrofitting them to existing buildings, is an excellent way to future-proof a school, college or university, ensuring it remains a comfortable, attractive and sustainable proposition for decades to come.

The ongoing impact of the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of smart building technology and democratised it even further. Whatever lies in store for education, smart technology will play a key role in ensuring that our schools and universities are safe places in which to teach and learn.


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