Continuing ed

Oct 08, 2018

Of all the things I can think of to recommend to fellow professionals, the top one is this: Never stop learning.

We’ve had some sensational AIA lunch and learn sessions in the office recently, demonstrating to me how quickly advances in technology are changing the way we build things. A recent session presented by a large global glass manufacturer opened my eyes to the advancement of glass manufacturing and the extent of options we have as we specify glazing systems, both for energy conservation, quality, and quantity of light and heat coming through the glass.

I’m currently exploring some additional new glazing systems that, in a double-glazed wall, allow the inside surface of the first glass panel to incorporate thin-film photo-voltaic, making the skin of a building a generator of electricity. At the same time, the inside surface of the second panel incorporates either a photo-chromic coating like that on eye glasses that turn dark when exposed to direct sunlight, or an electro-chromic coating, allowing the glass to turn dark with an electric charge, dramatically changing the type of window covering – drapes, blinds, roller-shades – required for sun control or privacy.

On another front, the advancements in low-voltage lighting are dramatic, with manufacturers making 12-volt DC fixtures (same power supply coming from photo-voltaic panels), allowing the wiring to be the same as computer cables, eliminating the need for conduit or electrical inspections for initial installation or modifications. Along with power supply and control systems, the lamps themselves have been dramatically improved to allow greater color tunability. In other words, the color temperature of the light can adjust during the day to emulate outdoor lighting conditions, or in the case of one application I’m investigating, to be used for indoor farming where the light can be tuned to the color temperature that will allow specific fruits and vegetable to grow optimally.

One company I’m working with has developed LED streetlights, with very low energy requirements. That company is doing an installation in South America between two towns that are 22 kilometers apart. Photo-voltaic panels are affixed to the top of every fifth light standard which are linked together with low voltage cable to a battery supply, allowing the batteries to be charged during daylight hours for night-time illumination. The cables can also include the ability to distribute Wi-Fi signals to become a data transmission line.

Another important step has been taken to further improve water and waste recycling systems. We’ve been working on the development of a recycling system for our project here in Reno, a high desert climate where water is a scarce resource and evaporation is high from cooling towers and irrigation. We’ll use 50 percent less water in our project compared to hooking each user to a water meter. We’ll use the recycled water for flushing toilets, irrigation, and cooling towers. Stanford University has developed a new nano-technology filter system that can make the water potable, which is too expensive with current systems. While this is not required for all recycled water uses, we’d like to try it in our project if and when it is commercially available.

Construction technologies are evolving rapidly. It is our duty as practicing professionals in architecture, interior design, and engineering, to keep abreast of new products and innovative systems that are coming available on an almost daily basis. If you’ve made some interesting discoveries lately that you feel your fellow professionals would benefit from, please forward them to me, and I’ll add them to a future article to help us all keep up with our rapidly evolving world.

Never stop learning!

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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