Design Beyond Building Automation Systems to Provide Occupant Autonomy

Creating an Ever-Changing Architectural Story

The design of architectural environments factors for occupant function, aesthetics, and meaning — but how often does it allow for occupant choice. One of the powerful aspects of environmental design is when the occupant narrative is designed as a real-time and ever-changing journey. That is, occupants can travel through the architectural “story”, but can also choose which directions it takes.

The more adaptive and responsive architectural environments become, the more nuances such occupant choice can have. For example, instead of simply allowing an occupant to choose whether to have lighting on or off in their office, they can choose from a spectrum of lighting states to get just the right lighting for their given task or mood. Yet, occupant choice should extend well beyond lighting functionalities.

Personalization Zones and Control Features

Within architectural environments it is important to give occupants autonomy. According to Chris Congdon, Steelcase’s global research director, the latest Global Steelcase Workplace Report “found a direct correlation between the amount of freedom a worker was given [and] their engagement at the office.” Congdon said that “giving people control over their environments makes the most difference”. (1) Given these findings, it makes sense to inject not only occupant choice as control features into architectural responsive design, but also personalization zones as well.

There are infinite ways that personalization can be integrated into an architectural design. For instance, what if you think about your architectural space from a modular perspective? Perhaps certain modules can be controlled or personalized by occupants while other remain more fixed.

The Synergy between Occupant Personalization and Control

The relationship between what in an environment gets personalized by occupants versus what gets controlled by occupants is interesting. In the former case, occupants have the most autonomy; while in the latter case, occupants have choice. It is similar to the difference between being able to draw anything on a blank page (personalizing the page) versus being able to choose between drawing a house, bird, or chair (controlling the page). As responsive environments continue to be developed, more combinations will become possible to create synergies between occupant spatial personalization and control.

For now, think about how to inject occupant personalization and control into environments which allows for more choice as an occupant travels through their architectural journey. After all, an architectural story may have more profound meaning and positive effect for occupants if the environment which supports them can tune to their experiences, needs and goals.


(1) Hofherr, Justine. (2016) Most Office Spaces Are a Lot More Boring that You’d Think. [Accessed April 3, 2016]

Image Caption: It is important to design beyond building automation systems, to give occupants more autonomy. Think of ways you can give occupants more freedom, choice or areas for personalization.

Image Credit: © Artur Marciniec | Fotolia





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