Building Systems Integrations and the Future of Architecture

We describe how flexibility and intelligence can be introduced into architecture, coordinating various building services and trades within an aesthetic continuum sensitive to materials, form and space.
“In the present state of the environmental art, no mechanical device can make the rain go back to Spain; the standard-of-living package is apt to need some sort of an umbrella for emergencies, and it could well be a plastic dome inflated by conditioned air blown out by the package itself.”
Reyner Banham, “A Home Is Not a House”

The avant-garde architectural theorist and historian Reyner Banham built his brand on provocation. This took the form of openly supporting radical architectural groups, like Archigram, or of focusing his keen intellect on architectural topics frequently ignored in mainstream discourse. This includes an extensive tract on environmental servicing, The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, in which Banham argues that the handling of mechanical services in architecture represents one of the most missed opportunities for architectural innovation.

His proposal of a lightweight, inflatable, portable “standard of living package” represents perhaps his most radical proposal for the integration of environmental servicing and structure.

The challenge of environmental servicing has only intensified since. Architects frequently criticize the loss of volume due to servicing requirements, or the physical presence of service terminations in their designs, as diffusers pock pristine ceilings fed by engorged service cores that devour square footage and interrupt floor plans, and trades coordination becomes increasingly complex.

Smart Buildings: Optimization and Integration

Contemporary infrastructural requirements are intensifying under the dual imperatives of wellness (led by WELL standards) and energy efficiency (largely led by LEED). These imperatives manifest in the contemporary paradigm of building systems optimization and integration.

Optimization involves the introduction of “intelligent” building elements that coordinate building systems to ensure that they work within prescribed parameters. In this paradigm, a centralized control system monitors building system performance, adjusting performance based on time of day, temperature, air quality, ambient lighting conditions, occupancy / vacancy, and a variety of other variables. These systems not only monitor and adjust building environments, but they also maintain historical data on building performance, which allows integrators to optimize system behavior over time.

Most manufacturers of building infrastructure systems, like lighting or HVAC, offer compatibility with building system optimization platforms, as these platforms are increasingly common and simple to support.

While building systems optimization maintains building systems performance, building systems integration centralizes various services into hubs or spines. It thus represents the physical integration of servicing devices in a centralized service core. Such systems help streamline trade coordination, simplify building servicing, improve service installation and help maintain design integrity. One such system was launched in a partnership between Norman Foster and Artemide in 2018. Unfortunately, this system does not appear on Artemide’s website and seems to be more of a conceptual product.

Envisioning Building Systems of the Future

Litelab has been designing and manufacturing Building Systems Integration platforms since 2013. At that time, we designed a system that provides HVAC supply and return, power, lighting, emergency lighting and fire suppression throughout the galleries of the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA. Integration resulted in aesthetic clarity centralized around the gallery lighting program, which operate as service spines, reducing ceiling clutter and simplifying installation.

Chrysler Museum Service Shell
Chrysler Museum Service Shell

Similar systems have been deployed at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, FL and the MoMA Temporary Exhibition galleries in New York. They are also being used in the Albright Knox Museum expansion, in Buffalo, NY, and similar systems have been used by Litelab’s retail clients for years inside of our Architectural Light Slot systems.

MoMA Service Shell
MoMA Service Shell

In addition to recessed service spines that collect and coordinate various building systems into a single terminus, Litelab also specializes in specialized service systems for other types of installation. For example, at the new MIT Museum, Litelab developed a Service Bus that provides power for lighting and other applications along the bottom, while also providing additional power and data servicing along the top to support the numerous different types of displays on exhibition, many of which address the history of computation, robotic, Artificial Intelligence and other innovations for which the institution is known.

MIT Museum Service Bus
MIT Museum BusRun integrates power and data for the displays

Similarly, for the new Boston University Center for Computing and Data Science, Litelab developed a custom slot system with integration for sensor networks, projectors, power, lighting, and HVAC. The design integrates completely within the aesthetic constraints of the project, reducing the presence of building servicing and allowing the play of materials, form and space full expression.

Boston University Center for Computing and Data Science
BU Center for Computing uses a recessed slot system that integrates data, sensor networks, HVAC, power and lighting.

Through years of development and application, Litelab has become expert at integrating various building systems into centralized servicing spines, working in coordination with lighting designers, HVAC and electrical engineers, architects and trades to realize design visions.


This is just one aspect of our desire to create forward-looking, adaptable solutions that will serve spaces for years to come. Stay tuned for more information on our upcoming building integration products that will propel architecture into a more adaptable and optimized future.