The past, present and future of building services

Emilia Targonska

Emilia Targonska

By Emilia Targonska

I am often asked what inspired me to become an engineer. It was watching my father working in his office. I remember, when I was a child, being fascinated by the enormous drafting table which is nowhere to be found in the building services office nowadays. As a student of building services engineering I greatly appreciated the effort and skills required to create even the simplest engineering drawing by hand. It made me realise how much has changed in the way engineers work and appreciate the huge changes which my father has witnessed over his 36 year career as a building services engineer.

Most certainly one of the greatest changes over the last few decades has been in tools used by engineers. Whilst working on my dissertation I asked my father about the way he worked on his thesis over 40 years ago. He explained how he used log tables for calculations and drew everything by hand using T-squares, triangles and pens. His typewritten dissertation, along with a set of 2D drawings, represents hours spent by the drafting table. In contrast I used advanced simulation tools like IES software to create a 3D model of a building and assess its energy and thermal performance with a click of a mouse, all without having to carry out complex calculations. The final result was far beyond what would have been possible all those years ago. Today mechanical drawing is almost obsolete. Moreover BIM allows creating more than just 2D or 3D models, but objects that have intelligence, geometry and data which can be used by architects, engineers and constructors to work more collaboratively on their designs.

Technology has also changed how engineers collaborate. From the moment we walk into the office, we are a part of a team which can extend across continents and its success strongly depends on communication within it. 40 years ago when my father was starting his career, engineers had to rely on landlines, telegrams and the postal service making collaboration very time consuming. The way we work has completely changed. With cloud computing and video calls engineers are able to collaborate and design virtually combining expertise from team members all over the world.

Interestingly, technology is also pushing the boundaries of what is expected by clients and thus our work. To stay ahead of the competition and acquire a client we are expected to showcase the understating of the latest technology. Fortunately, nowadays engineers can more easily broaden their knowledge by attending seminars or conferences, which can often be done online even from remote destinations.

Moreover technological progress is also changing how people interact with our designs. Rapid development of everyday technologies like smart phones and tablets continually increases their expectations also regarding their home or office environment and ways to control it. Mobile devices can now be used to set room temperature or lighting profiles to individual preferences. Soon we will be able to do the same by simply tapping our wrist using apps on new smart watches.

The clever use of the newest technology can surely help us attract a client but the challenge I see for the future is not to let the technology overshadow our expertise. We need to make sure that designers have the in-depth understanding of the tools used and their outcomes. I think that quote by sir Norman Foster sums it up best: “The pencil and computer are, if left to their own devices, equally dumb and only as good as the person driving them”. I strongly believe that investment and training of young engineers is the future of our profession and the key to successfully utilising constantly developing technology. After all, it is not the advances in technology that are pushing the boundaries of engineering design it is the people who use them.

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One Comment

  1. Very good words, Emilia, especially the last paragraph about the importance of people. Not enough people appreciate the excitement and interest in engineering, science and designing the built environment. We also tend to forget that we are designing for people yet we rarely ask the occupants of our buildings what they think of them. A company’s greatest asset is often its employees.

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