AEC Solutions

Working Together for a Sustainable Future

How can architects and engineers work together to improve the overall functionality and energy efficiency of buildings?

October 3, 2011
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Working Together for a Sustainable Future body 1The rules for building used to be fairly straightforward. Architects and engineers were focused on one thing — production. How quickly and cheaply could they build a beautiful looking building?

Oversized systems were installed because energy was cheap. Poor performance was something that was overlooked. There weren’t stringent standards and codes for building owners to meet. As long as the building was comfortable for its occupants, everyone was happy.

Then the world started to become more energy conscious. Reports on energy consumption within the building sector were startling. Architects and engineers were no longer concerned with just the aesthetics of a building; they now had to consider how the design could improve overall building performance. This shift in perception presented a number of challenges for architects and engineers in developing sustainable buildings.

The tough decisions architects and engineers now make are inextricably linked to energy — both its reduction and its source. A building is no longer just a combination of shapes and forms; it represents our efforts to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.

So how do we achieve this sustainability?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” -Lord Kelvin

Stated another way, “If you can’t quantify, then you are guessing.” How can architects and engineers work together to measure and improve the overall functionality and energy efficiency of buildings?

The key part of zero-carbon building design is all about energy — reducing demand (loads) through climate responsive design, meeting those needs efficiently and effectively, and using renewables to deliver on reduced energy needs. However, it must be ensured that the building offers a healthy, comfortable internal environment. To achieve this, the industry needs to start thinking about the design process in an entirely new way, not just modify current practices. 

Enter building performance analysis.

Building performance analysis is a vital component in designing truly sustainable buildings. By using technology to calculate the impact of different design strategies, architects and engineers can make more informed decisions on energy usage, daylighting and building orientation — all of which play an important role in reducing the energy consumption of a building. Performance analysis software allows designers to virtually test the feasibility of different energy saving strategies and new technologies that facilitate low-energy/low-carbon designs.

A sustainable, energy efficient design requires an understanding of how a building will perform under predictable circumstances. Unfortunately, building performance analysis is too often undertaken in the later stages of design compliance rather than incorporated into the process right from the earliest architectural design stages. By working together and utilizing building performance analysis software from day one, architects and engineers can make the biggest impact in terms of designing a sustainable building.


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So how can we design buildings that will last 80, 90, 100 years? More importantly, how can buildings meet stringent guidelines such as the 2030 Challenge?

In order to reach carbon neutral levels by 2030, architects and engineers need to have access to intelligent building information in the earliest design stages. Imagine being able to determine which floor to area ratio is most energy efficient before room layout is considered? Or having access to information on seasonal weather patterns, theoretical energy required to achieve occupant comfort, and bio-climatic responsive design suggestions based on the coordinates of your building?

Working Together for a Sustainable Future body 2What if one conceptual design is all you need to help your team quantify and form energy saving decisions in the early design stage? Imagine tying in checks against LEED targets at key stages from schematic design onwards. Guiding and focusing decisions to take design performance into consideration alongside the LEED rating — the goals can often be conflicting and, if you need to make decisions about tradeoffs, wouldn’t you feel better if they were based on facts rather than guesses?

The good news is that this is a reality today using some of the increasingly sophisticated performance analysis technology available on the market. However,“an integrated design approach is required to ensure that the architectural elements and the engineering systems work effectively together”(IPCC report ‘Climate Change 2007).

Since the initial release of the IPCC report in 2007, the market has moved on quite a bit in the understanding of, but not necessarily the implementation of, integrated design. Architects and engineers need to work together to incorporate Lean, Clean, Green into the process as a core concept.

LEAN – using good design to make passive and hybrid strategies part of the solution

CLEAN – applying low-carbon technologies

GREEN – leveraging renewable technologies to a higher degree because the energy requirements of the building are now greatly reduced.

Climate needs to be the starting point — basic building design must be climate responsive, or the passive systems won’t work, and the mechanical systems won’t be small enough to be powered by renewable energy.

Shifting from the conventional linear building design and delivery processes to a multi-disciplinary practice of interrelated systems integration at the whole building level will allow companies to achieve cost effective and increasingly more efficient building performance, while also enhancing their competitive advantage.

A great example of best practice integration of performance analysis for sustainable building design is a project undertaken by our client, HGA, where it integrated the IES Virtual Environment (VE) analysis and simulation to achieve LEED platinum status on the Harbour College Science Complex, Long Beach California.  A video case study looks at the process they followed to achieve such a high-performing, low energy building.

The original presentation was given at Greenbuild 2010 and a series of questions and answers follow at the end. Results track for net-zero energy with a 44 percent reduction in energy consumption compared to ASHRAE 90.1-2004 with one-third supplied by the building integrated PV system and the remainder from the campus system. There is an estimated 50 percent reduction in energy cost. 

For the full impact of performance simulation to be realized, early analysis must continue throughout the entire process to design completion and beyond. Detailed analysis can provide accurate figures and results for system sizing, fine tuning, compliance, costing and documentation.

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