Shared responsibility for faster development of new technology

New technology must be tested. Otherwise, it will not reach the market. But there are few who dare to test and take responsibility for the extensive system effects that can be the result of today's innovative building techniques – which sometimes mean that entire buildings are interconnected.

The LIL Chronicle – smart buildings in a social context

May 2019

People have lived in spaces protected by roofs, walls and floors for quite some time. Excavations from the Denisova cave indicate that it has been inhabited for around 200,000 years, and that the Denisovans and the Neanderthals lived in the cave simultaneously for around 100,000 years. Co-living with your relatives is apparently something that works, it is "well proven". Time passed, people moved from caves to self-made homes in wood, stone, clay, etc., a so-called ”radical change” or innovation, where man no longer had to rely on formations created by nature.

Innovation in the construction sector occurs as stepwise reconfigurations of subsystems, but sometimes the effect of many systems coincides and there is a radical change. The water radiator system was widely introduced in the early 1900s, and became the dominant heating system in buildings in Sweden the whole last century, so even now. However, gradual reconfigurations of individual systems such as windows, insulation, and heat exchange systems have led to a radical change; we can now build without a water heating system and instead have preheated inlet air. We can dispense with a complete technical system and make resource-efficient, more sustainable and cheaper buildings where every square meter can be furnished and the temperature can be adjusted in real time. We have achieved radical change.

So why are not everyone building with preheated inlet air instead of water radiators? There are many reasons, such as lock-in effects, information shortage and lack of competence at all stages from clients and consultants to contractors and management. Moreover, the system has not been tested for 100,000 years as the co-living experiment in the Denisova cave.

In order for technology to be proposed and used according to current industry agreements (AB, ABT and ABK), the technology in question is required to be professional to use, otherwise the advocate of the technology is responsible for any errors, consequential errors and time extensions. In the buildings we now need to build in order to meet the climate- and energy goals, systems must be interconnected, and even entire buildings must be interconnected. Not many dare be responsible for system effects from so many innovative systems, no matter how environmentally committed one may be. How then does technology become professional to use or advocate?

Professionalism can be interpreted as the use of the latest technology to save resources and reduce emissions, but it can also be interpreted as the use of established, well-proven technologies which, however, can be expected to be less effective. Professionalism can be interpreted as performing life-cycle analysis of the building as a system, but it can also be interpreted as calculating the direct costs of implementing a specific action. There has now been a shift from the more traditional professionalism (in the construction sector historically linked to the guild) where there was a strong collegial authority legitimized by science, education and professional identity, to an organizational professionalism based on bureaucratic organizational principles and rational legal authority. The organizational professionalism is based on centralized decision-making and assessment, written rules and standardization of processes and methods.

But, how should a central decision maker be able to stamp new technology as professional to use if it is not first tested? And who dares to try if one is held accountable for all possible system effects?

The answer is of course that we do it together. We test technology in systems in real buildings. We follow, measure and adjust; we live, study, work and develop in and together with these buildings. It may sound simple, and the fact is that it's pretty simple (though it requires a lot of commitment, and coffee, but we do have plenty of that). Together, we can make new technology well-proven and professional to use in the course of years instead of decades and thus minimize unnecessary use of resources linked to the construction and use of buildings.

Belongs to: KTH Live-In Lab
Last changed: May 28, 2019