The office of the future

Research in focus March 2012

Open the door of a small high-rise building that forms part of the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP in Holzkirchen and you will find yourself in the office of the future – versatile, energy-efficient and, above all, perfectly adapted to the behavior of its occupants. Equipped with suitable technology, this office basically runs itself: It requires no light switches or heating controls, and few people actually pass through its doors – but everything that does happen in this office can be monitored online. VERU (a German abbreviation that stands for Modular Test Facility for Energy and Indoor Environments) is a three-storey reinforced concrete test building containing six square test cells. These are used individually or in combination to conduct experiments. Reconstructing a wall or integrating additional components in the façade of a normal house would involve major construction work. But VERU greatly simplifies this task. The building’s envelope consists of individual segments which can easily be replaced and fitted with alternative features, such as different types of wall construction or sun protection systems. “The tests we conduct in VERU focus on the interaction between the façade, internal spaces, and building systems. It might be a question of deciding what combination of technology and façade specifications would minimize energy consumption, while making the office as comfortable as possible for its occupants. Here in Holzkirchen we have a unique opportunity to conduct realistic, full-scale tests under natural weathering conditions,“ says Herbert Sinnesbichler, who heads up the Evaluation and Demonstration working group, highlighting the advantages of his miniature high-rise building.

The researchers in Sinnesbichler’s team investigate a broad variety of topics relating to building envelopes, including the design and control of sun protection systems, the energy consumption of the building's heating, cooling and lighting systems, and user responses to the indoor environment and its appearance. For example, what triggers the activation of the sun protection system and how much additional artificial light is required once it has been activated to create the optimum lighting conditions for the people working in the office? This interaction is controlled fully automatically in VERU without requiring any direct human intervention. In fact, real people are rarely used in the VERU test environment. “Experiments involving real people are generally very expensive and time-consuming, so we prefer to simulate the effects on human metabolism by using radiant heaters and humidifiers,” Sinnesbichler explains. Instead of office workers, the test cells are equipped with sensors that measure air flow, temperature, humidity and lighting conditions. Since all the offices in VERU are built to similar specifications, it is easy to compare measurement data from multiple test cells when experimenting with different types of façade. The results obtained by the researchers are compiled in a database. This data can then be accessed, monitored, evaluated and represented graphically in real-time over the Internet on any authorized computer worldwide using the IMEDAS TM software program developed at Fraunhofer IBP. The researchers are notified of any issues or disruptions in the test procedures by e-mail or SMS.

One of VERU’s key features is the integration of building systems in the façade itself. Modern façades consist of more than just bricks and insulation materials. Nowadays it is possible to integrate many of a building's energy supply systems in the building envelope, including decentralized ventilation units, solar absorbers, photovoltaic modules, thermal storage systems and lighting units. “To enable these components to work hand in hand, they must be tailored to the underlying design of the façade and optimized for the specific task they are intended to fulfill,” says Sinnesbichler, highlighting the importance of VERU testing. That is why VERU is equipped with a modular façade that allows individual elements to be swapped as required. The variable-depth test-cell spaces situated behind the building envelope components are designed to enable realistic, full-scale tests under natural weathering conditions –something that makes VERU unique among test facilities. The extraordinary versatility of the building makes it possible to test both conventional and innovative façade systems and compare their results in areas such as energy consumption and comfort. The tools used for individual tests in the test facility are complemented by a comprehensive, ultra-modern selection of basic equipment, including a centralized domestic hot water (DHW) heating system with gas-fired condensing boiler; a centralized cooling system with a chilled water distribution system; a single-room, time-switched air change control system; a supply-air conditioning unit that includes preheating, precooling, and (de-)humidification; and a modular heat source management system. “VERU offers a fantastic environment for our research work. Whatever kind of design we are asked to investigate – from conference rooms and small offices to open-plan layouts – VERU allows us to reproduce, simulate and evaluate numerous prerequisites and conditions both on and in the building envelope and within each individual room, and then to process and prepare the results,” Sinnesbichler enthuses, summing up the test facility's key benefits. 

The following link provides further information:

VERU – Modular Test Facility for Energy and Indoor Environments 

More Information

Home Research in Focus

All contributions at a glance