Thursday, September 19, 2013


Building as a System  > from series Interior Components and Systems

Building as a System /Building : A system for inhabitation / Categories of Building Systems /How Building Systems emerge /Building User and the Environment


A building is a very complex entity made up of many parts, components and systems. Some Parts of the building come together to form a Component. Parts and Components function in unison to form a System. A system has twofold identity: a unique personality of what it does, and a coherent character of how it carries out its functions. The ‘first identity makes a system substantially self-sufficient’, but the ‘second identity makes it a participant of a larger system’.

A building is a Man-made system compared to many Natural systems (such as weather, ecological, solar etc.). It is a Physical system unlike many ‘Conceptual’ or Nonphysical systems (such as information, taxation etc.).

Buildings are physical  entities composed of many elemental units. Buildings have systems of form and size, which render subsystems like scaling, modulation, proportion, hierarchy, patterns, etc. These subsystems in reference to the Universe provide orientation, siting, location, etc., and in association of the User offer left-right positioning, sense of vertical and equilibrium, anthropometric functions and sensorial values.
A building can be perceived as a very large and complex system consisting of many different types of systems and subsystems. The systems are customarily categorised in terms of what they do: such as Structural, Architectural, Interior, Electrical, Mechanical, Air-conditioning etc. Some of these are fairly independent or mutually less related systems, and so can be installed, replaced or removed without many of the consequential effects. However, other systems have very intense coherence, and so once installed cannot be easily removed or replaced without affecting other systems.

Buildings have emulated the biological system of live beings -Biometrics. Buildings are designed with not only built-in capacities or reserves, but designed to be responsive, through strategical planning and synergetic devices. Buildings consume energy to be a functional system, and as consequence of it, generate byproducts.


A building can be defined as a system for inhabitation. The building or the shell can be built exclusively out of structural systems, but for inhabitation many other subsystems must be incorporated into it. These incorporated subsystems have no or a very little structural role, though may depend on the structure to be operative. All subsystems of the buildings cannot be type-cast neatly as structural versus non-structural entities. There are several reasons for this. Structural and Non-structural systems swap their roles under specific conditions. For example a door or a window frame of opening systems may carry some loads in an earthquake like a situation. Inversely, a structural system may become latent or redundant, as for example a retaining wall of a swimming pool filled in on both sides may not be required to act as a retaining structure. In both types of swapping of roles, the changeover may be temporary, permanent, reversible or non-reversible.


STRUCTURAL SYSTEMS: A structural system by its  intrinsic  nature, composition, position, or arrangement, provides a whole that stays stable, in equilibrium, or constant (yet may be mobile like a ship, spacecraft etc.). The structural subsystems of a building system must exist in the required location or be available at the required moment and duration to achieve the distinctive constancy. The stability of a building is disturbed, when the structural subsystems are repositioned or removed. Structural systems of the building seem to be well integrated, because by being together they achieve constancy, which is fundamental to a structure’s being.

NON STRUCTURAL SYSTEMS: Non-structural systems of a building apparently  have no role to play in the constancy of the building. Subsystems within a building that do not affect the constancy of a building may be called non-structural systems (e.g. partition walls, doors, windows, finishes, etc.). Non-structural systems though useless in structural sense, are not totally dispensable.  Many non-structural systems  protect the structural elements, like plaster, walls, claddings etc. Some non-structural systems achieve their own stability by depending on the structural systems, e.g. a stretched net or a sail. Non-structural systems need not be integrated with the structure so are replaceable or relocatable.


  • Protective systems: that cover the  structural systems and  non structural systems, e.g. plasters, waterproofing, roofing.
  • Filler systems: fill up the gaps or spaces between structural subsystems, e.g. non load-bearing walls, joints.
  • Independent systems are complete systems by themselves that independently provide peculiar functionality, e.g. air conditioning, illumination, communication.

  • Identity : elemental units such as parts, components and subsystems.
  • Location, position, and  orientation of the elemental units within the system (the building).
  • Schedules and conditions of occurrence or being relevant for the elemental units within the system (the building).
  • Nature of interrelationships between the elemental units, such as: synergy,  coordinated behaviour, dependency, autonomy, and also: order,  patterns,  sequence, proportion, modulation system etc. involved.
  • Design compulsions such as minimum standards, codes, laws, regulations.
  • Technological relevance: Materials, specifications, experience, skills that are required.
  • User considerations: anthropometric and ergonomics, safety aspects such as hazards, risk management, sensual qualities, aesthetics.
  • User relevance in terms of novelty, tradition, vogue.
  • Environmental concerns: ecological value, disposal mode.
  • Operational aspects: repair,  maintenance,  replacement, accidental and malicious damage.
  • Social values such as acceptability, relevance, validity.
  • Economics such as value, cost, price.
  • Occupation and Inhabitation factors: life span, adaptability.


Building as system emerges at many levels and modes, some of these are:

  • Invent a novel entity using none or few of the existing subsystems, to replace several existing subsystems.    A window like opening system consists of many sub systems like grills, glass, railing, filters (jalis, nets), awnings, weather sheds, ventilation, safety and security hardware etc., but a comprehensive device can replace all such sub systems. 
  • Improvise important subsystems to substantially transform the physical nature of the main system.  Installing an elevator or air-conditioning system into an old building completely transforms its nature. 
  • Upgrade the working of the system by rationally relocating and time scheduling the various subsystems.
  • Adopt subsystems as offered by others such as: designers, innovators, inventors, vendors, through facilitation and customization.
  • Universalize systems by following standards, codes and protocols. Follow international practices such for Quality -QMS, Environment -EMS, etc.
  • Provide distinct intra connectivity between subsystems through a distinctive network or an ancillary subsystem.
  • Facilitate networking capabilities between systems with a view to achieve a larger system, through provision of nodes, interfaces.
  • Provide for greater integration between physical and non-physical subsystems.


A building as a complex system is designed to function in an environment and inhabited by a user. A building affects and gets affected by the user and environment. The building’s innumerable systems are permanent, replaceable or up-gradable.

The technological up-gradation of building as a system occurs through:

  • Replacement by an efficient system.
  • Elimination of several sub systems by adoption of a comprehensive system
  • Integration of several systems by spatial rearrangement or rescheduling.
  • Regrouping the systems by their user and environmental relevance or affinities so that systems operate with greater productivity.
  • Greater use of non-physical systems instead of action elements, sensing mechanisms, control elements, decision elements, connecting elements, distancing elements, converters etc. 
Changes in buildings are:
  • Intentional changes such as: functional, technological upgrading, styling.
  • Circumstantial changes such as: due to ageing, wear and tear of use, over-use, under-use, non use, and mis-use).
  • Environmental changes: some major categories are listed here:

1    User on occupation customises the building by self-help, but changing only the familiar and easily removable subsystems. The user has to hire semi-skilled crafts-persons, or retain specialists or professionals like architects, interior designers, engineers, etc. for altering partially integrated or coordinated subsystems.

2    Building begins to affect the user, through its awe, form,  discipline,  flexibility, unyielding rigidity, historical values, location conditions or setting, economics considerations, perceived stability, and expected life, etc.

3    Environment moulds the building, nominally at a very consistent pace and in a predictable manner. Some changes are of  imperceptible  measures  and  often ignored till the cumulative  effect is  beyond  remedial correction.  The environment also changes the building at an inconsistent rate and unpredictably, so all precautions prove useless.

4    Building impacts the environment in many ways. It causes  changes in the surroundings by its  presence, operations, and ultimately on its demise,  demolition and disposal.  A benign presence is  one  that disturbs  the environment for small time scale and over minor extent, compared to very long lasting and extensive disturbances to the balanced state. A building has nine lives like a cat. A building reincarnates itself in spite of disintegration of many of its sub systems. A building may lose its original form and functional identity, yet continue to be relevant as a shell for a different nature of occupation.


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