ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Within the envelopes of commercial and residential buildings rests the promise of major, new energy efficiencies in the built environment, according to University of Michigan researchers.

A team of University of Michigan architects, engineers, and materials and environmental scientists will start this fall on a two-year collaborative project called Integrated Responsive Building Envelopes (IRBE). Together they will explore the potential of intelligent building envelopes that are capable of monitoring weather, daylight, and occupant use to manage heating, cooling, and lighting in dynamic ways in order to increase energy efficiency and reduce impact on the environment.

Jerome Lynch, a principal investigator on the project and an associate professor in the departments of civil and environmental engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, said, “We are working to mitigate the total energy consumption of buildings and their environmental impact, while enhancing their comfort and aesthetic appeal.”

The IRBE project focuses on advanced building materials with embedded sensing and control devices that respond to shifting exterior conditions and occupants’ preferences. These include walls that can store, heat, cool, and transmit a comfortable supply of air as temperatures fluctuate throughout the day.

“We’re looking to provide hybrid building systems that are intelligent and responsive, by taking advantage of multi-functional materials that change their performance characteristics in response to various climatic conditions,” said Geoffrey Thün, also a principal investigator on the project and an associate professor of architecture.

“The goal here is to make building envelopes with the dexterity to be more energy efficient and provide more user satisfaction while responding to seasonal and diurnal variations.”

The IRBE team will examine a range of materials and assemblies that can be utilized for the envelope. The team will also explore the creation, placement, and use of sensing and actuation devices within these envelope systems to enable them to instantly respond to shifting conditions inside and out.

“This project’s scope is very bold and has the potential to break a lot of old paradigms,” said Lynch. “People have talked about these ideas as if they are 20 years away from becoming reality. We think the time is now and that’s what this project aims to prove.”

Publication date: 04/16/2012