Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Energy saving IT buildings

Information Technology buildings demand a different style in construction.

MODERN THINK: If information is high-tech business, the buildings that house them have to follow suit. — Pic. above shows a building in Hyderabad's Hi-Tech City.

Information technology has changed the way of life and also the way the office buildings are built. The IT buildings, Call Centres and BPO's differ from the other office buildings for the following reasons:

* The working hours are not fixed and the building may need to function for even 24 hours a day.
* A number of people use the same space at various parts of the day, depending on the type of projects the office handles.
* Electronics rules, and hence also a lot of wiring, subject to frequent changes.
* Monotonous work environment wherein one needs to look at the computer monitor all the time.
* Open work stations, subjected to changes all the time.

Some breakthrough concepts that could help IT offices improve their efficiency and performance.

* Access flooring
* Occupancy sensors
* Airtight commercial constructions
* Spectrally selective glazing
* Bright and trendy colours.

Just as the air conditioning and HVAC ( Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system need a service shaft at the ceiling level, the wiring system also needs to have a provision at the floor level known as Access flooring. Access flooring consists of a steel or aluminium structure that supports removable floor panels. Floor panels consist of steel pan filled with thin cement or wood, secondary structure and floor finish.

Access flooring is used primarily in office buildings for IT, Call Centres, BPOs and commercially rented office spaces and heights may vary from 6 cm (cabling only) to at least 30 cm ( for cabling and ventilation purpose). The increased cost (around Rs.150 / sq.ft) of construction facilities enables easier adaptability to change, making the expenditure, worthwhile.

Access flooring helps save energy by reducing the required fan energy, and permitting displacement ventilation at the floor level. In fact, energy can also be saved in other ways. One could turn off the gadgets manually or use energy efficient devices. Occupancy sensors detect the presence of human activity and turn on or off the electrical lighting or ventilation system. Occupancy sensors are of two types- passive infra-red and ultrasonic. The sensors cost as much as Rs. 2,200 to Rs. 6000 each but the payback on the investment is usually less then two years.

Since space has always been a constraint and vertical growth the ideal choice, the system of construction cannot be traditional as well.

Airtight commercial construction can minimise air leakage and reduce consumption for heating and cooling. As there is no leakage of air in this system, there is no condensation on the envelope of the building and this reduces the repair cost and increases building durability.

There are many other things that contribute to building-energy efficiency and also the automation systems. Spectrally selective glazing, though not very common, is just simply special glass that allow the right amount of light and radiation into the rooms and also helps save the air conditioning cost.

Current trends in office interiors have seen the use of lot of colours to open up the mind and provide a floating imaginative environment that helps in the reduction of mental fatigue. Bright yellow, orange and blue in a limited manner is being used to generate this electric environment.

(The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai)

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