From buildings to batteries

Arch Tech – May 11th, 2018

By Ben van Berkel
We are living in the age of the iPhone, yet the architecture and construction industries are still in the Walkman phase.

Architecture is slow. Technology is incredibly fast. Looking at a Tesla car, you can find tens or even hundreds of sensors being used to provide security, comfort levels, self-driving and all kinds of new functionalities. Comparing this with a regular building, you could count the sensors on one hand. It begs the question: why in our buildings and cities are we so slow in adopting new technologies?

With UNSense we want to fully integrate innovative technology into buildings and interiors, in order to improve the user’s experiences. I belief that technological innovations (like ubiquitous sensors and connectivity) bring new possibilities for buildings to impact positively on people’s daily lives. Investigations show that we spend close to 70 percent of our life time indoors. Creating truly adaptive buildings is our most effective way of improving wellbeing for people.

With tech innovations, buildings will start reacting to people’s needs in the near future. From the inside, interiors will need to be designed for flexibility to be used across many different functionalities: working, living, leisure.


From the outside, it’s a different story. Façades offer great opportunities to become intelligent urban interfaces. Right now, façade design is approached mostly in terms of energy saving and efficiency. Façades are designed to optimise heat, light, ventilation and sound within a building. But what if they became digitally enhanced? They could react and truly adapt to the presence of people inside the building. If façades could collect information from their immediate environment, they could give information back to the individual users in real time, creating a personalised interior – offering the possibility to regulate fresh air, natural light and acoustics according to their wishes. Beyond that, what if facades could go beyond reducing energy use, and produce energy. Buildings could transform into pure power plants.

In collaboration with a consortium of partners, we have designed the Solar Brick, a PV module that combines high performance with a highly aesthetic appearance, applicable as a cladding material for the facade or the entire envelope of a building. This enables the application of solar panels not only as a rooftop coverage, but on a much larger urban scale, transforming all types of buildings into batteries. Instead of being large scale energy consumers, buildings and cities become rechargeable and truly self-sufficient.