Testing & Analysis

When Buildings Must Perform

28 Nov, 2013 By: Heather Livingston

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

Productivity View

Although tightening the codes is a good first step to delivering high-performing buildings, Hall explained, what's really becoming important are the issues of health, wellness, and productivity. "That is in many ways the rising star at this point in time: linking the productivity benefits of employees in buildings with these investments, which makes them healthier and happier and more productive."

Hall cited the LEED program as an important factor in increasing awareness of the health issues tied to buildings. "It has created a market force wherein there is competition to achieve a LEED rating. Individuals would rather be in a LEED-rated building because they believe it's going to be better for them from a health point of view."

And there's more than just anecdotal evidence to suggest growth in this trend. More than 250 design firms are signatories to the Architecture 2030 Challenge to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from building construction and occupancy. The National Institute of Building Sciences is working to deliver an Owner Project Requirements online tool, a metric that "identifies performance-based objectives, standards, and lifecycle costs for planning new and renovation commercial building projects." The American Institute of Architects has created An Architect's Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process. Finally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has reported that building-related energy use will drop by approximately 70% from 2005 to 2030.

The renovated Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is shown in its setting in Portland, Oregon.
The renovated Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is shown in its setting in Portland, Oregon.

Software Still Maturing

When it comes to predicting with any confidence how a building will perform before it's actually built, architects and engineers depend on software technology. Hall said there has been a healthy evolution of tools over the past decade, but there's also plenty of room for improvement.

"We're too early in this to have any one tool that in fact solves all of our problems," he said. The good news is that solutions are diverse because there's a lot of competition in the marketplace, he added. "Everybody is moving forward and nobody has the perfect answer yet. We're trying a little bit of everything that's out there."

The Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt project required more than 60 software applications, the design team estimated. The most useful tools cited for performance-driven design include Autodesk Revit Architecture and Navisworks Manage; Heliodyne for solar hot water–system design, AGI32 lighting design software, IESVE and eQUEST for energy analysis, Trace Software's solar calc, SketchUp Pro, and the Center for the Built Environment's Thermal Comfort Tool.

To identify the right software tools for the job, Riley recalled, "We tried to do as much 'fast failure' as we could. If we couldn't get reliable results within 80 hours' worth of work, we would drop the software platform and go find something else."

Jeffrey Maas, sustainable design analyst at SERA, believes one area of performance-based modeling that is poised for improvement is the software user interface. Citing the ease of use of Google and Apple tools, Maas said that software developers need to focus on usability that will encourage their products' use and not intimidate members of the design team who may be less tech savvy. Software users also should be able to refine and change assumptions that were input at the beginning of the design process once HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and security systems are finalized.

The designers at SERA say having good graphic output that reflects the analysis conditions would be ideal, as would having a common language that lets the various software programs communicate seamlessly. As the demand for performance-driven building design grows, the software tools that support it will undoubtedly mature as well.

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