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The AIA recently issued a press release announcing the findings of its AIA 2030 Commitment 2014 Progress report. The report showed that nearly half of energy-modeled projects met or came close to meeting 2014 carbon reduction targets, with a quote from the press release saying “Quite simply, energy modeling presents the greatest opportunity for architects to realize more ambitious energy-saving in their design projects.”
The press release featured industry experts who agreed that energy modeling is key to reaching carbon neutrality in buildings. We interviewed one of the experts, Kim Shinn, a Sustainability Wizard at TLC Engineering for Architecture, to find out more of his views on energy modeling and the benefits of an integrated design workflow.
Why is an integrated design process, where the architect, engineer, owner, developer, and contractor are a critical part of the concept modeling stage, so important to creating sustainable buildings?
A couple of reasons come to mind. The first is the principal that the earlier you can make an informed decision, the greater its impact on the building’s potential to perform well and the lower it will cost to implement. The second is that each member of the team brings special knowledge, perspective and experience to help inform those decisions – we benefit in the whole having greater knowledge than the sum of the parts.
Why is it so important for Architects to incorporate energy modeling as part of their design process?
All building performance simulations, not just the ones that model energy performance, are incredible tools that open a window into the design process. Buildings are complex, comprising interactive elements and systems that defy the human mind’s ability to integrate all that information to develop design solutions and evaluate alternatives. The decisions that project teams must make, especially the architects, from siting and orientation, to massing, to fenestration, to program area assignment, all the way down to envelope constructions are best informed when the architect understands the energy implications of those decisions, along with cost, aesthetics, function and human health and wellness. Architects have to balance all those factors and the more information that they have about them, the better decisions they can make.
What do you think makes Architects hesitant about energy modeling? What are the obstacles to the uptake of energy modeling?
Energy modelling tools, especially the ones with a lot of power and capability, can be very complex and intimidating. I frequently tease architects that energy models are powerful and complex tools, and as with many powerful and complex tools, an inexperienced operator can be maimed if not careful. Also, the output of some of the older tools have traditionally been mostly numerical and not easily or quickly understood without a lot of “post-processing”. Understanding and effective use of an energy model depends upon the user’s ability, skill and knowledge of building science. Unfortunately, some architects are intimidated by “science” and think that “science” is the province of engineers. So, I think architects are hesitant because they fear that they won’t be able to use the software and/or understand the model’s results without having to hire a consultant (normally an engineer). Who wants an engineer around during design anyway – their vocabulary usually starts and ends with “no”. Architects think it will take too much time and money (especially if they have to pay a consultant to do it). Therefore, the obstacles: knowledge, time and money.
Do you think concept energy modeling is enough? Is there a need for more detailed energy modeling at the early stages to uncover innovative strategies?
Concept modeling is a start, and needs to be more widely used. If it becomes more routinely used, I think teams will see that there are opportunities to investigate novel and innovative strategies at early stages of design – especially to determine if further, more intensive investigations are warranted and feasible.
In your experience of using IESVE do you think it enables more detailed analysis at early design stages? If so can you explain how it does this?
Without question. The integrated suite of solar, daylighting and glare analysis, wind and ventilation modeling, along with the energy analysis offered in the VE sets it apart in its ability to figuratively “open the windows” [pun intended] for looking at any number of early strategies that help shape the building’s architecture. Effective daylighting and natural ventilation depend so much upon building form, fenestration and orientation that it is difficult and usually prohibitively expensive to develop and implement good solutions after those decisions are made in the absence of the information gained from simulations. The VE also has enormous power and potential to influence, not only energy performance, but also the health and wellness performance of buildings, especially when it comes to occupant comfort and productivity that results from good daylighting, indoor comfort and natural ventilation.
Do you think the AIA guide will have a significant impact on increasing the amount of projects that use an integrated design process?
The Institute is incredibly influential. It is trusted by its members, as well as the greater design and construction community, for the quality of its educational offerings as well as for helping shape the culture of the design practice. The education materials developed, as well as the policies adopted and advocated by the Institute have the potential to change the way architecture is practiced, not only in North America, but around the world. And these changes affect the way real estate development happen – all the way from client expectations to project delivery to actual performance.
Do you know of any good project examples that have used an integrated design process and are achieving good results? Can you share these with us?
I daresay that any Living Building or LEED Platinum project is an excellent example of an integrated design process. In fact, it is almost inconceivable to think of achieving those levels of performance without using integrated design processes – short of spending inordinate sums on “buying points” and excessive renewable energy capacity. While we have many, many examples of these projects, I’ll just cite one. The fitness center at Tyndall Air Force Base is the US Air Force’s first LEED Platinum building, and the first LEED Platinum project administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The architect was Atkins and TLC provided the building systems engineering. The Air Force wanted to use the project as an educational demonstration project, to demonstrate how integrated design and incorporating early energy modelling could achieve high performance goals – they wanted the project to demonstrate how to achieve LEED Silver level on a “conventional” building budget. I think it speaks volumes that we were able to achieve Platinum on a pre-LEED budget. We used energy modelling at the concept phase to influence site orientation, massing, and fenestration approaches to minimize solar gain and maximize daylighting potential, as well as to maximize the solar photovoltaic and solar thermal potential of the building for no capital cost impact. We used energy and daylight modelling to size the window apertures and glazing material selections during design development, as well as to optimize the equipment sizing, achieving significant capital cost savings over more “conventional” approaches.
The average car makes thousands of decisions a second on our behalf. Buildings, our most expensive assets, need to catch up.
Cars in the 1970s had very little technology. Today, the average car uses lasers, radars, stereo cameras, satellites and even windshield wiper detectors, to constantly figure out the best next course of action, making thousands of decisions per second on our behalf.
Our buildings have yet to move on. If it’s warm and sunny and the rooms starting to overheat, it might take about 20 minutes before you start to feel uncomfortable enough to get up and open a window. If you lived in a hot climate the air conditioning would automatically kick in. Only you don’t need air conditioning yet, just a little ventilation would do. This overuse of air-conditioning is generating £3.6bn of energy waste a year in the Gulf area of the Middle East alone.
There’s no reason – with today’s technological advances – why our building’s couldn’t continually monitor the room and work out the most energy-efficient thing to do to maximise comfort levels.
This isn’t the stuff of Science Fiction
Today, if a room needs ventilated, buildings can automatically open the windows. If the building detected the room was getting cold too quickly, it could automatically reduce the size of the window opening. If the natural ventilation isn’t enough to restore comfort levels, the building can close the window and activate the air conditioning: automatically controlling the airflow in the most energy-efficient way possible.
This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. We’ve developed satellite navigation and cars that can drive themselves. It’s time our buildings moved on.
A building isn’t a static object
Building’s are complex pieces of equipment. They have to keep us safe and secure, provide us with comfortable shelter from the elements, allow us to work, rest or play, keep ourselves clean and fed, and support our social interactions – all in ways that optimise our health and wellbeing.
One of the biggest misconceptions about buildings is the perception that they’re static objects. They might not move around like cars but they’re dynamic, ever-changing environments. Altering just one element, like the lighting, ventilation or use, can influence everything else. The sooner we recognise just how complex and dynamic our buildings are, the sooner we can justify utilising technology to make the best decisions about how to get the best out of them going forward.
Why we need Integrated Solutions
For too long, we’ve been looking at the different elements of a building: the energy, lighting, comfort and security, in isolation. Although it’s easier to look at things this way, the fact is the building works in a holistic way. To get the best out of it we have to look at it holistically, as well as in the context of its environment, neighbourhood and city. For example, more buildings are now designed with daylight dimming strategies that automatically dim artificial light whenever there’s enough natural light, reducing the energy needed to power the lights by as much as 70%. Although this is a worthwhile exercise, one thing that’s often overlooked is the extent to which the artificial lights might heat the building, prompting an increased need for heating on cooler days. If you’re only looking at the lighting, and not the impact of the lights on other elements, you might miss this other important energy factor.
To get the best out of our buildings, we have to look at them holistically. That’s why IES specialises in getting every element of the building to work together in an integrated way and is closely involved in research which looks at interactions at the neighbourhood, city and stakeholder level.
Read more in IES – The Future of Energy Reduction