Center for Environmental Building & Design


Information in Environmental Architecture: Ecological network analysis and new indices of building performance

Hwang Yi, Dissertation in Architecture

This dissertation suggests a new framework and indices of building performance evaluation based on an eco-systemic approach. The energy-efficient building construction and operation are important to achieve sustainability. Nevertheless, efficiency does not fully account for the building’s complex environmental phenomena in which nature, art, and human living are inseparably involved. In particular, increasing efficiency cannot clearly associate the robustness and stability of the building’s internal energetic organization (and trade-offs between energy efficiency and material use) with building form and occupant behavior. The purpose of this study is to argue that environmental information content is a substantial source to achieve building sustainability and to suggest that an emergy (spelled with an “m”)-coupled information measure is the most comprehensive and holistic index of building performance.

Based on ecosystems theory, this dissertation defines building as a thermodynamic system that utilizes, transfers, and self-organizes the useful environmental resources―energy, material, and information―through networking processes. Definitions and formulas of information measures and ecological indicators from Shannon’s information theory, Ulanowicz’s ascendency principle, and Odum’s maximum empower principle are discussed and adopted to develop a new methodology of integrating building information and emergy and a model of building emergy-flow networking. A hypothetical generic building system is modeled and tested to characterize the building’s systematic behavior with the examination of information change. Results of the hypothetical tests show that the informational characteristics of building emergy-flow networking parallels the phenomenological evidences of ecosystems development and sustainability―increasing complexity, resilience, fitness, and useful energy (power).

To verify the consistency between ecosystem development and building sustainability, experiments were conducted with two case study buildings: a net-zero energy building (NZEB) and a non-NZEB. Emergy-integrated information analyses according to the suggested governing equations and system models were carried out. Results show that the non-NZEB tends to be more resilient and adaptable and to have more “generative” empower (or total system information), even though the NZEB is more efficient. This indicates that high-performance (high-efficient) buildings may end up greater nonrenewable inputs. On the other hand, the investigation of the information content of building envelope demonstrates that human activities can generate the largest amount of useful information content than any other building system components, and the responsive building form coupled with smart human behavior contribute the most to increasing resilience, power, and information. Findings demonstrate that buildings self-organize internally, like ecosystems, with the inputs and outputs of resources. This eventually suggests that increasing complexity, total information, and power be the final goal of building sustainability and environmental building design.

contact: Hwang Yi, Assistant Professor, Florida International University,