"We changed the focus from the buildings to the people inside them."

In an interview with Professor Schmidt from the Fraunhofer IBP Center in Germany, he talks about the search for projects in Latin America.

© Fraunhofer Chile Research
© Fraunhofer Chile Research

At the end of June, Simon Schmidt,  PhD in Engineering and head of International Affairs at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (IBP), was visiting Chile. The Fraunhofer IBP is one of the 72 Institutes of  Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, dedicated to applied research.

Dr. Simon Schmidt during his 4-day-visit came to be familiar with the current state of the Chilean market and analized projects to be worked on from Germany.

His visit also brought a new perspective to consider in the construction market.

Fraunhofer IBP made a shift from focusing on buildings to focusing on people, how was this process and why was it carried out?

Based on our experience, we changed the focus from buildings to the people. We came to the point where we said: the buildings exist there, we live in them and we want to have a good life in them, so what can we do to have a good life in them? And then the focus became on who lives in the building and that made us think about what do we need. What are the needs of the people who are living in the buildings? Emphazising this point we also have the possibility of turning people's minds and strengthening energy efficiency. This is how you can individualize construction in a way that has not been done before.

In Chile, Fraunhofer Center for Solar Energy Technologies works on the use and efficiency of energy.

Schmidt continues "If you look the construction as a whole and think about the heating, you have to heat the whole construction. But if you think about what want the people living in them, then you realize that they might want a room to be a bit colder and another one to be warmer, so you can make better use of the energy. We do a lot of research about what people want and need inside buildings.

Should innovation start from the needs of people or from technology?

It is a combination, people say what do they want and then we look for a technology that satisfies that need.

After participating in the Executive Committee of the Fraunhofer Chile Research Foundation on June 26, Simon Schmidt is having this conversation at the Casapiedra event center in Santiago.

Should other Fraunhofer institutes have this look at people's needs?

It depends, in the constructions it is like this because we need them. In construction we discovered that the core is the people inside, so we focus on that.

This is very interesting to consider when we internationalize, because people respond in a different way in different countries. There are different cultural and climate conditions, people want different things, and we have to adjust to that.

You are focussing on people's needs, but your clients are the companies which are developing building materials, how do you manage the interests of these two groups?

In that chain the companies sell their products to the construction firms and they sell them to the users, so we are all working in the same circle. We are also closely connected to the Universities, spreading this focus by education. In addition, we are working in the public sphere.

We work in the research about new constructions and we are involved in the development of prototypes of these constructions.

Is it important that the different players, companies, construction companies, universities, have the same focus on people?

Sometimes it is, but not always. Sometimes it is market-driven. If people demand something, companies have to provide it. It's in both directions. In the materials there is a high demand for health (temperature, humidity), people like a healthy indoor atmosphere and this is boosting companies because they know that they can’t sell something unhealthy for the interior. So the building materials are superior to what they used to be and improve the well-being of the people. On the other hand, people want a healthy and comfortable environment, they are asking for it and they get it from the companies.

Has Fraunhofer IBP been successful in proposing certain technologies to the Government as public policies?

Yes, we are working on regulation and standardization processes in Germany and also on networking. We have a standard 4109 for controlling condensation rates in a building and our researchers developed a formula to calculate it computationally. It used to be calculated manually and with many faults. Now we have a software for that.

On Wednesday, June 25, Professor Schmidt had a meeting with Ángel Navarrete Troncoso, in charge of Habitability at the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, and José Pedro Campos Rivas, director of the Instituto de la Construcción, to discuss about the energy rating for housing. "It was a fruitful discussion and I had the opportunity to get to know their future projects and let them know what we are doing in Germany. It is also very important to go to the government, explain them and to bring to the minds of decision-makers the issues we believe are relevant," he summarizes.

Which was the purpose of your visit to Chile?

The main issue was to get to know more about the market, to see what is happening here. Six years ago one of my colleagues came and gave me a lot of information. Now I'm reviewing what he experienced and I'm trying to find out where are the possibilities or us. Perhaps there are issues on which we can raise a project.

We can help to change the focus from the need of an energy-efficient building to a building that is beneficial to people. I think this mentality is getting stronger in Chile.

In energy efficiency and renewable energy there is a big change in these issues. There is a regulation in terms of energy efficiency and strengthening the internal environment of buildings. This is similar to what we have experienced, first the government established that it had to be complied with and then people started to comply, which is the same thing that is happening in Chile. Perhaps we can help sort out some of the difficulties we came up against in that process.

Before coming to Chile, the engineer visited Ecuador, and comments "there is a small beginning in a similar direction to Chile, but not driven by the government but by researchers. They do a lot of work in social housing where we can give them support.

Before assuming the position of IBP Head of International Affairs, Schmidt was involved in the development of a vertical wall of waterfall for air conditioning environments. "We presented the project at a fair in Munich. We are currently evaluating that it can be used as a space cleaning device. That's an idea we work on with our researchers.

Do you miss the research work?

Yes, I miss it. Although now I see many projects and work with all the researchers to find out what they are doing and see their potentials.