4. July 2023

Part One: “Misbehavior” in the building and the methods of system thinking

From: Smart office buildings – curse or blessing? Human needs and “smartification”

“Understanding human needs is certainly not a classic discipline in building technology. Without wanting to generalize: Many an old hand in building automation has told me about “user misbehavior.” Accordingly, individual behavior is regarded as a disturbance of the control programs. In the best case, this view leads to a desire for clarification on the part of the “professional”: “The technology works this way, but you as the user are expected to behave in this or that way! Wishes and needs underlying the (mis)behavior are only acknowledged superficially at most. The consequences are conflicts, as the expected or calculated energy efficiency of the building is not achieved and the comfort suffers.” (imho)

The measurable effects of unconsidered human behavior in terms of energy efficiency and comfort can be studied very well with the method of robustness analysis (part 3 of this article series). To understand the underlying human needs, on the other hand, the method of system thinking is a very suitable approach.

System thinking and the understanding of behavior, needs and overall interconnections.

Nowadays, users of buildings are perceived by the construction industry less as a “problem” and more as customers. For example, some real estate development companies are creating user journeys not only in terms of marketing, but also in terms of interaction with and in the building. User journeys, however, are only a first step toward design that puts people first. Without a deeper understanding of behavior, needs, and overall interconnections, many reasons for dissatisfaction remain undiscovered.

The aim of a cooperation between the SBIF and students of the study program “System Thinking” at the HTW Berlin was to promote and distribute this deep understanding in order to lay the foundations for an improved development of buildings and building services engineering. The HTW describes system thinking as follows: “[System thinking] provides an approach for the analysis as well as the optimizing processing of decision-making and problem-solving processes […]. The degree program in this area of specialization enables students to work on so-called “wicked problems” and to develop complex systems such as product systems, processes, sets of rules, and components. The method of system thinking is used to analyze conditions, identify dynamic linkages, and teach principles and processes. In doing so, system thinking also serves to promote empathy in order to be able to recognize and formulate overall interconnections and issues.” (Systemdesign HTW-Berlin)

As part of the cooperation, the students accompanied and interviewed several people at the Schindler Campus in Berlin during their daily work.

A first insight of expectations, responsibility and communication

One insight that the students gained with Schindler employees concerns expectations, responsibility, and communication:

It is expected that the “smart” technology has everything under control and operates the building in an energy-optimized way. All this is done fully automatically, without manual intervention and with maximum comfort.

Thus, the responsibility for energy efficiency lies with the technology or in the development departments and with the operating staff of the building. However, since the technology itself does not (and cannot) know the individual and day-dependent needs of the users, it is not possible to ensure the optimum desired comfort on a permanent basis. A well-functioning efficiency-comfort optimization therefore requires a cooperation between technology and humans, which is why a certain kind of interaction and two-way communication is inevitable. The usual adjustment and override options do not have a feedback channel that provides feedback to the person operating them, and are thus insufficient. There is a lack of suitable solutions that inform the users about the effects of their actions. In the following articles of our series, we will apply this knowledge to some examples.