The Intelligent Built-Environment as Cyber-Physical System

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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Discussions of intelligence in the built-environment began in the late 1960s and early 1970s [1]–[7]. They belonged to a broader technical and technological discourse, engaged across a variety of domains and disciplines, to explore potential opportunities entailed by the Information Age. During this nascent period, and partly due to the novelty of the exploration as well as to the rudimentary state and forbidding costs of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), said discussions were principally theoretical and/or hypothetical in nature and impartial to defined fields of inquiry. Two main branches developed, one Technical—stemming from Information Sciences and Engineering fields—and another Architectural.

In the Technical branch, Ambient Intelligence (AmI) was coined in the late 90s to describe a cohesive vision of a future digital living room, a built-environment whose computing hardware and software technology imbued its dwelling space with serviceable intelligence to the benefit of its occupant(s) [8]. Also salient in this branch was Ambient Assisted Living—or Active and Assisted Living—(AAL), which framed its inquiry around the promotion of quality of life as well as the prolongation of independence with respect to Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) [9] among the elderly via technical assistance [10].

In the Architectural branch, Cedric Price’s pioneering Generator Project and corresponding programs by John and Julia Frazer [11] in the late 70s, explored notions of interaction between human and non-human agents in the built-environment. In Price’s project, architecture was conceived as a set of interchangeable sub-systems integrated into a unifying computer system, which enabled a reconfigurability sensitive to function. Price and the Frazers intended for the system to suggest its own reconfigurations, denoting non-human agency.

The promise of solutions yielded by both AmI/AAL and IA/AA is limited by the rigid and increasingly outdated assumptions in their approaches. It is not possible, as they are and as they are currently developing, to combine AmI/AAL and IA/AA to yield a unified and cohesive approach. This is because the sophistication of a system will depend on that of its mutually complementing subsystems; and two or more subsystems may not mutually complement, sustain, and/or support one another properly if their levels of development and sophistication do not correspond [12]. That is: at present, the architectural does not correspond to the technically predominant AmI/AAL, while the technical does not correspond to the architecturally predominant IA/AA. Consequently, a different design-approach is required in order to enable comprehensively and cohesively intelligent built-environments with corresponding levels of technical and architectural sophistication. What could such an approach look like?

In this thesis, an alternative approach that conceives of the intelligent built-environment as a Cyber-Physical System (CPS) is presented and demonstrated. Under this approach, ICTs and Architectural considerations in conjunction instantiate intelligence fundamentally—i.e., unlike existing AmI/AAL or IA/AA approaches, the present approach subsumes enabling technologies into the very core of the built-environment, where a solution does not exist as such without either of its informational and physical constituents deliberately conceived for each other (if not formally, at least conceptually and operationally with respect to instantiated services).

In this thesis, the general potential and promise of the presented approach is illustrated via its application to a constrained use-case—i.e., that of intelligent built-environments for elderly assistance and care (also informally referred to as smart homes or environments). Twelve proof-of-concept demonstrators (see Chapter 5), each showcasing an intelligent product and/or a service—or combinations and sets thereof—integrated into the built-environment and/or its ecosystem, are developed. Eight established parameters (see Section 3.2)—four pertaining to Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and four Quality of Life (QoL)—define the purpose and inform the design of each demonstrator’s setup and development within four types of demo environments (see Chapter 4)—two Physical (Hyperbody and Robotic Building) and two Virtual (Digital Twin and Non-descript). Each demonstrator, while presented as a discrete proof-of-concept, builds on the same core System Architecture, and are intended to be viewed as a collection of systems and services expressed within a same hypothetical environment. That is to say, all come together to represent the intelligent built-environment as CPS.

All demonstrators are functionally and physically developed and involve human participation to test and to validate both the feasibility and success of the concept. Success is determined if the developed products and services indeed provide added value to a user and/or occupant of the space—i.e., if they promote and contribute to well-being by assisting, facilitating, or enhancing. Accordingly, the tangible nature of the process and results promote—albeit in a limited scope—the presented approach in very real terms, and—hopefully—situate it as an alternative to existing modes of imbuing intelligence in the built-environment.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Eisemann, E., Supervisor
Award date22 Dec 2023
Electronic ISBNs978-94-6366-791-3
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Intelligent Built-Environment
  • Ambient Intelligence
  • Ambient Assisted Living
  • Active and Assisted Living
  • Cyber-Physical Systems
  • Interactive Architecture
  • Adaptive Architecture


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