Resilient building for suitable and reliable indoor air quality: What will it take to achieve it?

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, August 2021, Volume 4, #121

[Cite as: Fadeyi M (2021). Resilient building for suitable and reliable indoor air quality: What will it take to achieve it? Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, August 2021, Volume 4, #121.]

Consistent delivery of safety and security is the purpose of designing, constructing, and managing, i.e., maintaining and operating, a building to be resilient. How to measure the success of this purpose? The measurement criteria lie in what resilience means. So, what is resilience? After critical thinking and reflection, I came up with a definition for resilience.

Resilience means controlling response to stress and stressor and its source to maintain the suitability and reliability needed to provide value or being in its pursuit. The operating word here is control. If there is no control, resilience cannot happen.

The reason for the purpose is to avoid the physiological, psychological, social, and economic problems that a non-resilient building could cause to humans occupying the building. The higher the risk of these problems occurring to building occupants, the lower the resilience level of a building. Thus, the control to reduce the risk of the problems occurring is essential to achieving a resilient building.

What does a building need to do the control required for resilience? Firstly, understanding what control means is required. Control is the power to prevent, correct, change or dictate the course of an event. The criteria for determining the success of control adopted lie in the definition of resilience stated above. 

A resilient building needs building systems to be designed to have the physical characteristics and capability, and system architecture for the required control. Effectively design would also mean designing for effective construction or installation and management of building systems to achieve the required control.

The ability to generate or gain, retain, improve, transfer, and apply experience (or knowledge) should be built into the building systems’ physical characteristics and capability and the system architecture to enhance the delivery of the required control. Experience (or knowledge), “Exp” is the product of a current event (Evtc) and the lesson learnt (Lc) from it, i.e., Expc = Evtc x Lc.

Event is the occurrence of a situation that increases or reduces risk. Building systems should be designed, constructed or installed, and managed to sense events and learn from them for experience to occur. Having gone through an event does mean a building has experience of the event. If a lesson is not learnt, there would be no experience (or knowledge) for the building.  

The level of the lesson learnt determines the level of the experience (Expc). Lesson learnt is a ratio of experience (or knowledge) from an event to the event (Evtc), i.e., Lc = Expc/Evtc. The higher the ratio, the higher the lesson learnt. The quality of the ultimate lesson learnt from the current event (Luc) is determined by the quality of reflection done, i.e., Luc = R.

Reflection is used to put together the lesson learnt from the current event (Lc) with lessons learnt from past events, i.e., (Lp= Lp1 + Lp2 + Lp3 + ….. + Lpn), to enhance the quality of ultimate lesson learnt from the current event, i.e., Luc = R = Lc + Lp. Therefore, Expuc= Evtc x Luc if reflection is considered, and Expc= Evtc x Lc if reflection is not considered.

A tool is needed to produce Lc and was used to produce Lp before reflection put them together to determine the ultimate lesson learnt from the current event (Luc). Lp is a formal Luc. The tool is critical thinking. Critical thinking is used to analyse event that is occurring or has occurred to generate lessons learnt.

When critical thinking is used to analyse a perceived future event, a lesson is learnt. The combination of the event and the ultimate lesson learnt formed experience (or knowledge) for preventive control measures. Thus, Expuf = Evtf x Luf if reflection is considered. In this case, Luf = R = Lc + Lp + Lf. The generated or gained experience (or knowledge) can be applied, improved, retained, and transferred for future control, i.e., preventive control measures.

The analysis by critical thinking should be done in the context of a defined purpose, success determinants of the purpose achievement, reasons for the purpose, and reasons that guide the methods adopted for achieving the defined purpose and its success determinants. Critical thinking analyses the advantages and disadvantages of every situation and decisions made to examine the risk of an unwanted situation. Critical analysis strives to understand the meaning of every term or issue involved to enhance the quality of analysis of the event occurring, has occurred, or will occur.    

Thus, critical thinking and reflection are essential to achieving effective control. Can a building do critical thinking or reflect? Yes, it is possible. A building can do critical and reflective thinking with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI). Humans use natural intelligence for critical thinking and reflection. The speed of wireless technology adopted will determine the speed at which the experience (or knowledge) is generated and used to inform control needed to make a building resilient.

Building professionals will need to work together with experts in AI at applied research and practice levels to develop AI solutions that can be used to increase building intelligence for enhanced value delivery required of a resilient building. A resilient building should optimise the usefulness it provides from invested resources. The usefulness lies in the performance a building provides.

The performance mandates of a building include qualities relating to indoor air, thermal, acoustic, lighting or visual, spatial, and building integrity, i.e., resilient nature of a building. The focus of this article is on indoor air quality and building resilience.

Air pollutants and poor environmental factors are the stressors, and they have associated sources. The stress, which could be poor health or discomfort, has poor work, activities, and learning performance implications. The stressors cause stress. The achievement of a resilient building starts with the control of the sources of stressors to a building.

The logic is this, controlled sources of stressors will lead to controlled stressors. Controlled stressors will lead to controlled stress. When sources of stressors cannot inherently be controlled, then controlling the stressors to control stress becomes the next appropriate strategy.

Sources of indoor air pollutants could be from the outdoor and indoor environment, humans and other living things, and building systems. Climate change has further increased the negative effects the outdoor environment, as a source of air pollutants, has on the indoor environment.

According to the report on indoor environmental issues in disaster resilience by Persily and Emmerich (2015), climate change causes the following events that cause the outdoor environment to be a source of air pollutants in the indoor environment. These events include heat waves, storms causing power failure, floods, and wildfires.

They reported the effects of these events. Heat waves cause high indoor temperature and outdoor air pollution. Storms cause power failure that resulted in a lack of ventilation, increasing the resident time of air pollutants in the indoor environment.

Building systems will be unable to control the stressors due to the non-availability of power. The non-availability of power can also lead to emissions of dangerous air pollutants. Portable generators, candles, kerosene lamps, lanterns, and other alternative light sources for the indoor environment emit carbon monoxides, VOCs, and particulate matters.

Floods create high moisture conditions and wet indoor surfaces that facilitate microbial growth in the indoor environment. Wildfires generate particulate matter and chemical air pollutants. 

Persily and Emmerich (2015) also reported that human activities, such as war, terrorist activities, unlawful or non-environmental conscious relationships with wildlife animals, etc., can lead to airborne releases of chemical, biological, or radiological agents. Earthquakes and industrial accidents can also lead to the generations of these agents.

Human activities in the indoor environment or outside of a building can also lead to emissions of air pollutants found in indoor environments. Poor design and use of building systems can also lead to the emission of indoor air pollutants. Building systems include building envelope; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP); structural; and interior systems. Interior systems include furniture and movable equipment or items.

Building and its systems should be designed, constructed, and managed to prevent or reduce the impact of the outdoor environment on the indoor environment. The emissions of air pollutants or poor environmental conditions by building systems should be minimised as much as possible.

For air pollutants that found their way into or generated in the indoor environment, buildings should be designed, constructed, and maintained to control their concentrations to healthy levels that would not cause stress to humans. More discussion on the control of indoor sources of air pollutants and emitted air pollutants can be found in Article 119 of this journal. You may also read the referenced Corsi et al. (2021) paper to learn more about making buildings, particularly schools, resilient to provide healthy indoor air.

When addressing or discussing resilient buildings for indoor air quality, the focus is usually centred around designing building systems with physical characteristics and capability and system architecture for the required control. Design for construction or installation, and management of the building systems to achieve the required control is also rightfully addressed

However, very little focus is placed on buildings’ ability to think critically and reflectively and how the thinking takes place to learn and have the experience (knowledge) needed to be resilient to enhance indoor air value delivery. Such understanding will be useful for building professionals and professionals with AI expertise. I wrote this article to emphasise the importance of the thinking tinker buildings aided by AI for suitable and reliable indoor air value delivery.

Reliability is the extent to which the suitability of IAQ value delivery is provided at any point during building usage. Careful thoughts and planning should go into how the system architecture for AI will deliver the suitable and reliable intelligent control of the stressors and associated sources and the stress they caused. The use of a renewable source of electricity for a suitable and reliable supply of electricity to the building systems and for the AI to work is essential, especially for countries with irregular electricity supply.

AI can enhance the intelligence required by making a building have experience (knowledge) to know what, why, when, how, how much, where, who, and for whom or whose to control for indoor air value delivery. AI can be used to reduce unnecessary resources invested in diagnosing IAQ problems and solving them suitably and reliably.

IAQ problem is defined as the gap between the level of IAQ value delivered and the higher level of IAQ value expected or newly set to be delivered. When the delivered level of IAQ value is below the expected value, which is higher, it is a “caused problem”. It is a “created problem” when compared with a newly set higher level after the expected level is already met or exceeded. A “created problem” is good and should always be practiced. It is born from the need to continuously improve the practice.

I will conclude this article with a request. Reflect on industry practice, the challenges faced, and how the practice can be improved to deliver a resilient building for suitable and reliable indoor air value delivery. Your idea may be useful one day when shared and adopted.

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