The Building as a Machine
Machines are energy devices that help to alleviate effort or create other conditions that make life easier. Similarly buildings can be considered machines as they help people to avoid the effects of the weather, create healthful conditions, and allow them to recoup their energy by resting in them.
Machines and Buildings
Buildings signify the ability of mankind to occupy any place in any geographical or climatic zone, in any kind of environment, and adapt his habitat to make it to conform to conditions that it finds suitable. This is in the same way that machine technology converts any form of mechanical energy into a more useful form. The fundamental purpose of any building technology is to provide mankind with a living space and comforts that can facilitate his working.
Machines also help the performance or assist humans in performing certain tasks. A building similarly helps human beings to go about their daily duties and tasks in more amenable conditions, whether it is while working or even just performing other daily routines. Even in the Stone Age, mankind used caves as buildings that could help him to keep warm and protect his family and property.
A machine is a device that modifies mechanical energy and transmits into a form that is more useful. Buildings similarly act as repositories for offices and factories that transmit the abilities of the persons within those buildings into commercial and manufacturing activities.
Machines are also devices for doing work with the assistance of power sources or auxiliary equipment. Similarly buildings like powerhouses use auxiliary equipment like turbines to produce power for the use of mankind. In the broader sense dams and canals can also be considered buildings, and these use the stored water for power or irrigation that helps mankind to grow crops for its sustenance.
Again an intricate system or organism is considered a machine, and buildings with their complex use of power, lifts, water, drainage, communication, and ventilation and heating systems can be considered intricate systems on their own. And just like an organism or machine can break down, a building can also break down when any part of its complex organism stops functioning. Imagine a building without power or even one where the lifts do not work or the telephones malfunction. In effect the building stops functioning as a machine and is unable to assist the humans occupying it in the functions that they are supposed to carry out.
Image Source: Flickr: travlinman
The Mechanical Construction of Buildings
Starting the building of a high rise building involves machines right from its inception. Computers are used for design concepts and finalization. Further machines are used to draft the vast amount of drawings, specifications, and requirements for contracts to be awarded for the construction. Then the foundation work commences probably with huge piling rigs and excavators to prepare the base of the high rise tower. The cranes are put in place which will help to erect the steel structure all made from parts that fit neatly into each other. Concrete is poured on the deck slabs, using concrete mixed or transported from elsewhere and pumped up or carried up to the place where it is to be laid. Once the structure is ready, walls of glass, steel sheeting or other form of panels for the walls are lifted up in place till the entire skeleton is covered.
Meanwhile services start making their presence felt in the form of cables, ducts, pipes, and the like to form the basis for the electrical, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, communication, lifts, firefighting, security, and data systems. All these things go into place based on drawings and instructions finalized by engineers and planners who are probably hundreds of miles away from the scene of action. Equipment is then brought into place in the various service floors or basements designed to receive them. The entire system then undergoes rigorous testing to see that everything is functioning as it should, before it undergoes the necessary statutory inspections. Following this, the building is ready for occupation to host a vast number of people who will then use the building to perform their own designated tasks that will in turn churn out the commerce, finance, or other activities that the building as a machine has been designed to produce.
Image Source: Wikimedia: Construction of buildings
Buildings and Efficiency
Machines are considered efficient when they are able to give outputs consistent with the input of energy that they consume. A mechanical engineer will constantly strive to improve the efficiency of his machine by using better materials, better designs, and other innovations. Similarly a building can be considered efficient when all the comforts that mankind requires of it are available with the least expenditure of resources and energy. So a building that uses materials that reduce the heat going into the building will help to reduce the cost of energy required for cooling the building. This can even be done by architectural features which reduce exposure of the walls to sun. Buildings can use solar heat to reduce energy costs for heating water. Solar energy can also be used to produce power for lighting. Rainwater harvesting can reduce dependence on water resources.
A Building Functions like a Machine
Let us now see how the building that has just been built functions. A typical 24 hour day will see the day starting with the security systems being deactivated to allow the users of the building to come in. All HVAC systems will be switched on and adjusted to take the loads that are envisaged. Coffee, tea machines, and water coolers will be made ready for the onslaught on them. People will start arriving and will be carried to their destinations in lifts or escalators or through the use of stairs. Washrooms and other such facilities like catering will have their own staff to gear up to their usage. Computer servers will be up and running and all areas lighted to enable people to perform their tasks in comfort.
All these activities have a mechanical or machine-like way of functioning that is meant for the comfort and use of the inhabitants of the building. Once the working day is over, just as a machine switches off, all activities and machinery in the building will slowly wind down and be kept in an idling mode. The evenings will be taken over by the housekeeping activities, which like machine maintenance, is an equally important aspect of a building’s functions. Maintenance staff would attend all other machinery to ensure that they are continuing to operate the way they should.
Building technology ensures that buildings, once completed and occupied, need to be treated like machines to see that every part of the building functions as it is designed to. It is only then that the full potential of a building and the investment made in it can be realized.
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