With a home office, I never have to worry if the temperature, lighting, or power situation isn't to my liking: I just set it up exactly how I want it. But if you work in an old federal office building run by the U.S. General Services Administration, you kind of just have to put up with what you get. Designers Beau Trincia, and Nash Hurley and Taylor Keep of VITAL Environments, decided that just wasn't right — especially if, by allowing workers to customize their own personal climate control at work, they could help the entire building reduce its energy consumption.
Their "Comfort-On-Demand" proposal, which was a runner-up in Metropolis magazine's Next Generation Design competition, would give every worker in the GSA building a smartphone app that they could use to dial in their personal preferences to the building's lighting, heating, and cooling systems. Their workspaces would then follow the instructions: pressure-sensitive pads under your desk and on its surface would warm you up on chilly days; personal fans with adjustable nozzles, as well as radiant "chilled sails" overhead, would cool you off after biking to work.
But VITAL's big idea doesn't stop there. Their site research indicated that workers spend less than 40% of their time actually at their desks — so the same system that makes a cubicle "just right" can also be used to tune the local climate in the cafeteria and conference room, too. Basically, each worker can have a little personalized climate bubble follow them around all day. (Within reason: the smartphone app communicates "preferences," after all, not "demands.")
So how does this save on energy costs? "The system directs energy to where it is actually needed," say the designers in a press release. "Each day, people are away from their desk 50%-60% of the time. All this mobility points to a need for energy systems tied to the office worker, not tied to the building." Metropolis says that Comfort-On-Demand (along with other improvements to the building's facade) could reduce energy consumption by 96%. That sure beats President Obama's goal of getting a 30% energy-use reduction in federal buildings by 2030. Also, imagine the pranking opportunities if you were to hack your cubicle-mate's smartphone: "Hey, why's it so damn cold over here?!"