Automation, digitization, responsiveness—the products used in the design of interior spaces have been getting smarter for two decades, ushering in a new era of collaboration among designers, engineers, manufacturers, and clients.
But the benefits—as well as what determines a product’s “intelligence” in the
first place—have moved past simply being new and cool, making smart products a smart investment for many commercial spaces. Four IIDA Members (two
principal interior designers, a junior designer, and a manufacturer) share their perspectives on how smart products are changing the industry and how they work.
James Kerrigan, IIDA, LEED AP ID + C, design principal at Jacobs, and
member of the IIDA International Board of Directors, oversees interior design
projects for large commercial and corporate spaces. As a full-service firm
with capabilities that range from designing a space to engineering it, Jacobs
employs many smart products that integrate systems management and building
controls, making design projects a more collaborative process that demand
communication within the firm, as well as between the firm and the client.
“The reality is that many strong projects come out of a robust collaborative
process. If anything, the shift toward more collaboration is happening in parallel to
the more standardized use of smart products,” said Kerrigan. “With clients, there’s
also a level of expectation-setting that needs to happen. You have smart products in
the building, and these systems have to be controlled. While products are becom-
ing more user-friendly, you still have to identify what is realistic for your client.”
How much a commercial client wants to invest in this type of technology
will often depend on whether a building is owned or leased, but there are
many factors that drive the decision to use smart products.
“There is an attraction to the longer-term cost of ownership. That’s a
strong contender as to why a client might want smart products,” Kerrigan
explained. “Depending on the client, they sometimes want to be recognized
as innovative in their approach to a number of things, which includes the
systems in the building and their solutions to those things. The conversation
is easier to have when there’s a financial upside, but some clients aren’t just
concerned about what it’s going to cost upfront.”
A key consideration for clients who see the bigger picture is flexibility.
“There are obvious advantages to building systems being more automated:
You’re empowering users to have a greater level of control, it’s a way to
promote energy efficiency, and there’s an advantage when a space needs to
be reworked,” he added. “These systems usually allow for a greater flexibility
and a lower cost to reconfigure. For example, if you change the walls in a
space or move things around, you can change the way the lights switch on
and off to reflect the layout much more effectively and efficiently than you
could in a conventional system.”
For Edwin Beltran, IIDA, Assoc. AIA, design principal in the Columbus office of
NBBJ, and member of the IIDA International Board of Directors, a smart product
is a product that does dual duty. “That includes products that save energy or
minimize the carbon footprint,” he explained. “But, I also think of products that
can prevent the spread of germs as smart. It’s not just about finishing a space;
it’s about helping environments perform optimally by improving the experience
and well-being of the individuals who use the space.”
His primary focus is healthcare design, and he describes his team’s process
for incorporating smart products as fluid.
“Sometimes, the team will start with a product because we know what
the goals of the project are and the product is the first thing that comes to
mind as opposed to the shape of the space or how the space is going to be
articulated,” said Beltran. “Or it might happen vice versa: you might have a
very strong idea or effect that you’re trying to explore and the product happens
to be the right match to achieve the outcome that you’re after.”
According to Beltran, clients are more educated about the smart
products available to them and because of this awareness, designers need
to provide thought leadership and counsel clients on which products should
be used to reach specific goals, as well as what will provide the most return
“In healthcare, because of new laws and the changing delivery landscape,
it’s all about the strategic stewardship of resources,” he added. “Clients are
spending money on products that allow them to deliver the best possible
care. And that approach ultimately leads to cost savings and reduced risks in
the delivery of care, as well as improved patient outcomes. Hospital-acquired
infections can be significantly reduced through an approach that integrates the
use of smart materials along with careful infection control protocol processes.”
As a junior interior designer at Hirsch Bedner Associates, Tara Headley, Assoc.
IIDA, Allied ASID, NEWH, and IIDA Student of the Year in 2015, focuses on
hospitality projects both domestic and international. Smart products, according
to Headley, are on their way to becoming a necessity in design.
By Louisa Fitzgerald
IIDA members offer advice for utilizing technology in projects.
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