To develop its sensor network, KieranTimberlake had to look outside of architecture to industries such as bridge construction and agriculture.

To develop its sensor network, KieranTimberlake had to look outside of architecture to industries such as bridge construction and agriculture.

Credit: John Romeo


Retrofits are the new frontier of energy-efficient architecture. But as juror Jing Liu pointed out, “Without the information on how a building performs now, you can’t submit a design to bring it up to a specific standard.”

That disconnect is precisely why KieranTimberlake began collecting thermal performance data on newly constructed buildings eight years ago, and on existing buildings slated for renovation three years ago. At the time, the work was hampered by technological limitations: data loss, malfunctioning sensors and equipment, prohibitive field equipment costs, time-consuming data retrieval, and, perhaps most vexingly, the lack of BIM-integrated software capable of analyzing the data collected.

So the firm set out to “simplify sensor deployment by creating an easy-to-install, plug-and-play network that could receive data wirelessly for viewing in a web interface.” To develop the custom field sensor circuitry and software apps to analyze the data, KieranTimberlake leveraged its internal research group, whose 12 members have diverse backgrounds in fields such as electrical engineering, computer science, and environmental management.

The result: a flexible kit of inexpensive thermal and moisture sensors, plus the ability to monitor them and improvise experiments remotely, and finally, the capacity to export the data into a BIM program. To evaluate the performance of a building, for example, the researchers can insert a series of temperature probes within the thickness of an exterior wall section to identify the precise wall component and location at which thermal leakage is occurring.

The resulting data can help inform on the benefits of repairing or rebuilding a wall, replacing windows, or adding insulation to an existing structure. Juror Lawrence Scarpa likened the technology to surgical implants that monitor a building’s performance. “These sensors are very small and very unobtrusive,” he said.

In 2010, KieranTimberlake deployed a network of off-the-shelf and modified sensors in a 1930s masonry building at Yale University to quantify the benefits of increasing wall insulation. As the firm took on buildings at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and a 1948 former bottling house in Philadelphia—which will soon become KieranTimberlake’s new office—it continued to refine the wireless system. For example, when the team discovered that the sensors’ standard watertight cable fittings were difficult to deploy in the field, it developed its own low-cost, waterproof, and self-configuring digital connector. That’s innovation in the face of innovation.

To see all of the winners of the 2013 R+D Awards, click here.


Project Credits 
Project Wireless Sensor Network 
Design Firm KieranTimberlake, Philadelphia 
Project Team Roderick Bates, Richard Clark, Peter Curry, Eric Eisele, Billie Faircloth, AIA, Stephen Kieran, FAIA, Taylor Medlin, Alex Roscoe, James Timberlake, FAIA, Ryan Welch

KiertanTimberlake deploys its sensors throughout a building to record detailed performance data. Up to 100 sensors, each with a unique ID, can be tied to a single wireless node.

KiertanTimberlake deploys its sensors throughout a building to record detailed performance data. Up to 100 sensors, each with a unique ID, can be tied to a single wireless node.

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake


KieranTimberlake's wireless sensor uses open source WRT router software with off-the-shelf router components in a plug-and-play configuration.

KieranTimberlake's wireless sensor uses open source WRT router software with off-the-shelf router components in a plug-and-play configuration.

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake


Measured data can be read on an iPhone app; a graphic user interface (GUI) mockup is shown here.

Measured data can be read on an iPhone app; a graphic user interface (GUI) mockup is shown here.

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake


Over the course of the wirelss network sensor development, KieranTimberlake experimented with several different formats for the end product. Above are generations 1-6 of the wireless sensor node.

Over the course of the wirelss network sensor development, KieranTimberlake experimented with several different formats for the end product. Above are generations 1-6 of the wireless sensor node.

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake


Key plan showing sensor locations (left); sensor depths within masonry wall at each test location (right).

Key plan showing sensor locations (left); sensor depths within masonry wall at each test location (right).

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake


KieranTimberlake also developed several prototypes for testing sensor deployment.

KieranTimberlake also developed several prototypes for testing sensor deployment.

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake


Diagrammatic secion of sensor placement within a typical wall assembly.

Diagrammatic secion of sensor placement within a typical wall assembly.

Credit: Courtesy KieranTimberlake