Students design, construct tool to show building energy use
Published August 23, 2012
Sometimes walls really can talk. With the help of architecture students, one of NDSU’s oldest buildings, Renaissance Hall, truly communicates with its occupants.
The students designed and constructed a building dashboard. Similar to a dashboard in a car, it’s an electronic interface that provides several bits of real-time information to assess the building’s performance. The Renaissance Hall dashboard, displayed on a two-sided kiosk on the ground-floor lobby, graphically communicates floor-by-floor energy usage information related to heating and cooling, outlet usage and lighting.
Architecture student Gabriela Baierle, who worked on the dashboard, said one function is to monitor the energy usage of the 1903 agricultural warehouse turned NDSU facility. But it is also important to present the information in a way that is understandable to the building occupants. “It also raises awareness as to how we use our buildings and how much impact on the environment comes from us,” she said.
Peter Atwood, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in architecture and assumed a major role with the project, said the dashboard is about developing a better relationship with the building so occupants can feel it is a place they belong. “This is one of the most important goals of architecture,” he said.
The original proposal for the dashboard was titled “Technology for Feedback,” and was created by several NDSU faculty and staff, including David Crutchfield, Bakr Aly Ahmed, Ben Bernard, Mike Christenson, Sumathy Krishnan and Malini Srivastava.
Many students helped make the project a reality after the proposal was approved. Atwood, Baierle, Nic Lippert, Tyler Pritchard, Malini Foobalan and Andrew Budke all played critical roles in the dashboard’s development. This included organizing a student design/build competition to select the physical design of the dashboard kiosk and its graphical interface.
The project started in summer 2011 and will be ongoing, as students can continue to customize its graphics and add new features. This summer students developed a documentation manual, outlining the dashboard’s creation.
“I learned a lot about technology and building systems, but most importantly, I made an effort to learn how people, from visitors to faculty, would interact and learn from the interface we designed,” Baierle said.
Atwood said he became more familiar with how a project flows from start to finish, and identifying what works and what doesn’t. “I also learned a lot about both how a building's energy use and performance can be monitored and the potential benefits of displaying this information to occupants.”
Crutchfield said depending on the users’ response to the information, it may result in reduced utility expenditures for the university over time. “Similar installations at other campuses throughout the country and world have provoked behavioral changes in occupants resulting in reductions in overall energy consumption,” he said.
Atwood and Baierle would like to see building dashboards eventually implanted throughout campus. But for now, they hope students, faculty, staff and visitors will better understand Renaissance Hall.
Atwood said the purpose of the dashboard runs deeper than a green or cost-saving measure. “Ultimately I hope they gain a better relationship to the building they occupy, in whatever form that relationship might be,” he said. “It’s an attempt to reconnect people with buildings they occupy so they might feel a more profound idea of a specific space and place while they move throughout their lives.”