Building Integration- A puzzle for all designers

In theory, it is possible to design buildings made of independent components. The components are configured in isolation, where each part has an autonomous role. For every function performed in a building, there is an individualized product to choose from. 

However, most architects denounce this design approach in isolation. This method lacks the harmony and practicality of this fragmented method. Architects take the contrasting approach which is to start with considerate ideas about a holistic design of a building. The question lies in how inclusive is this whole idea, and what kind of thinking is required to resolve the problems arising through the process. 

It is where integration comes into play—providing an explicit context for selecting and combining building components in purposeful and intentional ways. 

Integration has three distinct goals- Components share space, their arrangement requires aesthetical resolve, and they have to work together without any competition. These goals are categorised as physical, visual and performance integration. The following sections serve as a brief overview of how these goals are attained.

Physical Integration

Building components share the same space and volume of the building; they need to accommodate each other. Overlaying the pieces together in the drawing offers an effective way to think about how complicated these networks are as a whole. For Instance, superimposing structure and HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning) layers, makes us realise the problems say if a large duct is passing under a beam. It points out if the reflected ceiling plan and the furniture layout are complementing the lighting fixture placement.

Physical integration is fundamentally about how components and systems share space, how they fit together.

Another example to illustrate physical integration is a section of the building. It helps to study it as segregated volumes. Say, dividing the sectional drawing into zones, the structural zone, the HVAC Zone. These segregated volumes prevent “interference” between systems by providing adequate space for each remote system. Meshing the systems together, say, by running the ducts between light fixtures, requires careful physical integration. Seamlessly unifying the system is the art of integration.

Visual Integration

Visually expressive components of a building create one single complete image. Colour, size, shape, texture and location are the factors that when manipulated helps achieve the desired effect. How they share a cumulative image is decided through visual integration. 

It is often coupled with an opportunity for combining technical requirement with aesthesis, leading to visual harmony. 

Lighting, Air conditioning, plumbing fixtures, are the elements that will make their presence felt and seen. Their integration is a required inclusion to the visual imagery of the building; it is futile to ignore them. The designers should incorporate these elements in their design and they shouldn’t become an afterthought, thus have to find ways to satisfy the visual and functional objective of the design. 

Performance Integration

Performance integration is about the shared functions of the building, like physical integration is about the shared space and visual integration is about the shared image. This is about pairing up different functions into one. A load-bearing wall is both an envelope and structure. It unifies the functions into a singular element, instead of a load-bearing frame made of columns and beams and an exterior wall.

This approach is cost-saving and reduces complexity. Performance integration is overlapping the functions even without combining the pieces. It is referred to as “shared mandates.” When designers add sun spacers to the project, to act as a passive solar heating method, this space can also function as a balcony.

Technological Integration 

Architecture design requires an apt selection, configuration and combination of architectural technologies. Design synthesis and technology are interwoven in architecture that they are difficult to tell apart. Design, for argument’s sake, is an activity toward architectural goals. Technology, on the other hand, is a guiding path through the realm of possibilities within which design is realized. Controversially, Integration is an all-inclusive term. Integration is about bringing the building components together in an understanding way and highlighting the synergy of the parts without compromising the integrity of the pieces. It seems like an overwhelming discussion of the theory of everything. Thus, it needs to focus on specificities. 

BIM integration helps bring together the different aspects of the project through effective communication. It builds a visual picture to validate the design for constructability. This integrated approach also estimates the project costs and times. The seamless collaboration between teams is an added advantage. The BIM model considers the entire lifecycle of a facility from design to operations, along with all the required information. 

Team Integration

Architects have an exclusive role, for no other profession’s scope as wide as that of architects. Neither artist, scientist, engineer, nor craftsman, the architect is simultaneously a little of each and something different altogether. The designer’s job entails diverse broad concerns such as marketing, code compliance, budgeting, building climatology, human behaviour, ergonomics, cultural history, urban planning, and so forth. No wonder it has been said that architecture is the jack of all professions. Architects are responsible to bring everything together in a resolved aesthetical final product. Based on knowledge alone, architecture is perhaps the ultimate profession of integration. 

Complex buildings need teamwork, collaboration and coordination. The architects are responsible as the team leader. As the individual functions become more function, the architects rely upon the inputs from allied professions. The hierarchal organization with the architect at the top has evolved into a deeply interwoven network of information feedback and shared decisions.

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