This article is over 8 years old

UH Moment

UH Moment: ‘Living Building’

We take great pains to get our buildings to conform to our needs, but what if buildings could tell you what they needed.


To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>

During a tour of the University of Houston Central Plant, Michael Burriello, assistant director of central plants and mechanical, throws out some impressive figures regarding the facility that powers the campus:

  • Three main electrical feeds have the capacity of 1,050 amps at 12,470 volts
  • Eight water-cooled chillers range in capacity from 2,000 tons to 5,000 tons
  • Ten pumps push chilled water to the campus through three and a half miles of tunnels
  • Equipment is running 24/7/365

“So that’s a lot of power,” Burriello said.   

The facility maintains and distributes power for all buildings on the campus. But what if each building could tell the Central Plant how much power it needed. It’s technology for a living building.

“What we’re talking about is having the Central Plant and all the buildings surrounding the Central Plant communicating back and forth based on the needs of each of the buildings,” he said.

It’s happening now at the University of Houston and it’s saving energy.

“If we take information from a building and take it to the central plant and tell the machines ‘you don’t need to generate more cooling water because we don’t need it,’ then we can slow down the machines and conserve more energy,” said UH College of Technology Professor Driss Benhaddou. 

Michael Burreillo (center), assistant director of Central Plans and Mechanical, gives a tour of the facility.

He and his team of researchers have developed the algorithms, the language, to allow buildings to talk to Central Plant. The innovation is called horizontal optimization. Two rooms in the college are already armed with sensors. The next steps will be to arm the whole floor and then the entire building. 

“Then we move to another building and another building until we build the web that will support the automatic decision making process, the virtual decision making process,” Burriello said.   

Living buildings are part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.