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In Focus: The Changing Role of Architects in Building Performance Analysis

The use of energy modeling as part of an integrated design process has become increasingly important in the role of the architect, and firms are now realizing that they must adopt new design practices to remain competitive.

Q3 / Summer 2013
Incorporating performance analysis can seem like an added complication and is often perceived as laborious and time-consuming. However, specialists in building performance analysis, such as Integrated Environmental Solutions Ltd., have recognized this and are addressing these issues by offering architects software packages that make it easier for them to adopt analysis into their day-to-day practice.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) release of “An Architect’s Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process” is evidence of the growth in sophistication of energy modeling among architects. The guide was released in October 2012 with the accompanying statement: “Energy modeling is fast becoming a more useful means to better inform major design decisions early and often throughout the building design process. It can provide a roadmap to help practitioners lead their clients toward energy-efficiency goals, green code compliance, and building certification programs.”

Unfortunately, most building performance simulation tools are deemed not compatible with architects’ working methods and needs. From the perspective of many architects, these tools are judged as too complex and cumbersome. This stems from the fact that most tools for analysis were developed by technical researchers, building scientists, or HVAC engineers concerned with empirical validation. There is a real need to fully comprehend architects’ problems in interacting with performance simulation tools — architects have different backgrounds, different knowledge processing methods, and are visually orientated. This is exactly what IES is trying to do with its new software package, which not only provides tools for energy modeling, but also recognizes the broader issues of daylight, solar shading, water, climate, and much more; it provides a fully comprehensive package of analysis tools to allow architects to analyze the full performance of an entire building in an integrated fashion.

Such tools help architects to incorporate data-driven and integrated design into their processes from the opening charette. Being better informed on performance from the start of the design process allows architects to retain control over their design and not sacrifice aesthetics for performance, but rather marry them together.

Imagine if you could use specific site understanding to automatically outline suitable bioclimatic architectural strategies for a project. Such pre-design sustainability direction is invaluable. Then once you have several viable options, the tools can help investigate and refine the most promising. In performance terms this means looking at the impact of different orientations, forms, constructions etc. and understanding potential passive or active systems the engineer might want to investigate.

The world and economy are changing, and sustainable design is now on boardroom agendas. Building and architectural firms must adopt new design practices to remain competitive in this climate. Clients are demanding ever-higher energy and performance targets designed to save them money and deliver on corporate targets. We’re seeing that increasingly architects are starting to embrace and understand the power of analysis. We are definitely seeing a shift, and this is very positive for the future of sustainable building design.

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