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Testing & Analysis

When Buildings Must Perform

29 Nov, 2013 By: Heather Livingston

Technology plays a critical supporting role in architects’ efforts to meet requirements for energy use and occupant comfort.


GSA had already indicated a desire to make the building meet sustainability guidelines, but the new source of funding required that it to go further than simply meeting checklist requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program. It would elevate the project to the level of performance-driven design.

Vertical fins on the Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt Federal Building provide direct shading and support vegetation that will be a source of shade as well.
Vertical fins on the Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt Federal Building provide direct shading and support vegetation that will be a source of shade as well.

The concept entails designing a building to meet specific requirements for energy and water consumption and other environmental impacts. Software technologies, although still evolving, are critical to the process. Architects and engineers rely on building information modeling, design simulation and analysis, and solar-study and building-orientation tools — to name a few — to predict how a building will perform, all while it's still in the design phase.

The technologies in play are not new, nor is the practice of considering the energy use and other environmental impacts of a building during the design phase. What's new is the increasing focus on building performance for practical reasons rather than idealistic ones — and the increasing demand for new buildings to meet performance metrics as a condition of the project.

Aiming for Targets

Lisa Petterson, associate principal and director of the Sustainability Resources Group at SERA, explained that the availability of ARRA funding for Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt was linked to the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which put demanding restrictions on the redesign.

"For EISA, the requirements were that we needed to be 55% more fossil-fuel efficient than a typical building," Petterson explained. "We needed to have 30% solar-thermal requirement and 30% energy savings." In addition, EISA required a reduction in potable water use for the exterior environment by 50% and interior by 20%, as well as effective storm-water management.

Finally, SERA had to deliver a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) by September 2010. To meet the accelerated schedule, SERA undertook three to four months of intense building analysis before handing over the design to Cutler Anderson Architects, said Jim Riley, associate, SERA.

"We spent a lot of time getting ourselves to an understanding of how the building needed to perform, what the systems needed to be in order to meet the performance targets, [and] what the geometry of the building needed to be in order to really take into account the existing structure and its orientation on the site," said Riley. "Then, we presented all of that analysis to Mr. Cutler and said, 'These are the boundaries that we're working within.'"

Performance-Driven Design

GSA, the nation's largest landlord, has excelled for a number of years with its Design Excellence Program. One of the agency's mandates is to provide efficient and economical facilities that are not only functional but also outstanding examples of public architecture.

Achieving building efficiency and economy increasingly requires the use of advanced technologies for applications ranging from design analysis to rendering to modeling for security, wellness, and sustainability. As evidenced by the Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt funding requirements, GSA is putting high-performance design at the top of its list of requirements for new buildings.

Performance-driven building design is a trend that is definitely growing, according to SERA's design team. Petterson said they're seeing a real shift toward it.

"Certainly, it's a long way away from every client coming to us with performance metrics, but I'd say that we actually found it so valuable that we often bring it to the table," she explained, instead of simply relying on the owner to request it.

Ken Hall, director of Sustainable Design Systems at global architectural firm Gensler, concurs that performance-driven design is gaining ground against traditional building design. Hall believes that more stringent building codes are driving the trend to increase buildings' operating efficiency.

"They set the base level of performance, and that base level is being met and raised continually by the building codes," explained Hall. "Analysis tools are a part of meeting the codes."

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