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Integrated Design Processes and Green Design


Photo: japanese_craft_construction 

Originally published in OAA Profiles, 2009

In the past five years, there has been an explosion of talk about new ways of developing real estate. The points of view vary from those who advocate reduced environmental impact as a social benefit, to those who advocate for high performance building as the best thing for the business bottom line. Discussions of cost are just as mixed. One can get a green building for less than market, at market cost, or at any number of market premiums from small to substantial. How is a corporate vice president for real estate supposed to know where reality lies? How does he or she demonstrate to her or his corporate board that the right decisions have been made? Successful green building follows a different design process than conventional work. The improved process provides better control of design information handling than business-as-usual for both the owner and the consulting team.

The key word for the development of any green real estate product is integration. First it was integration of the design team, ensuring that the architects and ngineers were all at the table as the concept design emerged. Then it was building systems. The process of design demonstrated how a decision to use one  type  of  building  system  influenced the performance of all the others, leading to the idea that the whole building worked as a single system. Properly designed elements couldn’t be pulled out or substituted without compromising the performance of the whole. The owner is a key part of the integrated team.Regardless of their depth Sustainability and Green Design The Integrated Design Process: An Owner’s Quality Assurance of knowledge of building design, their presence is required from the earliest concept stage. The integrated team is there to answer the owner’s question: How is this building going to help me? It is astounding how helpful that question can be; but be prepared for a real conversation.

The integrated design process gives the owner unprecedented access to the design issues affecting their project. For possibly the first time, he or she will know exactly why things happened, and have had a direct influence on how. This new clarity ensures that the owner’s priorities, themselves tested and integrated with all of the other project issues, are maintained as the design develops. It also gives the flexibility to respond when opportunities arise in a project that go beyond initial expectations. From the design team perspective, the work can proceed more surely when the party that makes the fi nal value judgments is present.

As real estate performance data becomes more available, new areas of discussion arise. Where does building performance fit in the analysis of corporate performance? Do your people have the right space to work, and how does that space contribute to their, and ultimately your, productivity? Would you be willing to pay more for a green facility? Would you get better rent if you owned one? The integration of building performance into corporate performance brings all of the business tools to the table, and demands answers to real questions about business value. How facilities are used and perceived is as important to a building program as the floor area requirements. How does the marketing budget or the HR expense for attraction and retention of high quality employees become expressed in the concept for a new facility? The newest step for integrated design is in budget planning. Currently, under standard design contracts such as OAA Document 600, the owner brings the budget to the design team.

If the owner has clear expectations, understands what is needed, and has a feel for the way costs may escalate over the time of the project, everything may be fi ne. This is what happens on the green projects that deliver the building “on time and on (if not under) budget,” but often that is not the case. Budgets are set when nothing is known about the building, or even the site. How can reliable numbers be generated? 

Ongoing research in integrated design at Natural Resources Canada suggests that life-cycle building budgets can be developed as soon as a required project floor area is known. This budget setting process is an analogy to the energy Reference Building used in calculating the maximum annual energy cost set by the Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (MNECB), or the number of points gained under the LEED™ Canada for New Construction assessment system.

Energy and Atmosphere credit 1. The economic reference building is quickly assembled as a sketch design from the most basic assumptions of floor area and number of building stories, combined with the wall, roof and window assemblies specified for the reference building by MNECB region. High-level models can be built quickly and when combined with basic area or volume costs from conventional estimators’ manuals will produce a life-cycle cost for the facility under a wide array of scenarios. The economic reference is a rational scenario that describes what a speculative building would provide the owner in terms of area, and basic services. Once the model is developed it is criticized in terms of the desired expression of an owner’s program, and the capital and operational costs of new features can be understood in the context of whole building performance.

The owner then has a direct method to value particular building features or images that can inform other programmatic desires or requirements. Furthermore, the economic reference building model is not a “design” that attracts loyalty from any of the designers. It can be easily criticized as a means of initiating discussions on the values that are unique to the project, without endangering the team spirit that bridges the inevitable challenges that building projects bring. This process of budget setting is an example of a detail of integrated design that creates a critical environment for evaluating building performance before long-term commitments are made and much consulting time is spent. Increased involvement by the owner, matched by full participation of the consulting team, clarifies project issues and leads to more timely decisions. A facilitated design process led by an architect familiar with green design objectives and materials is the best way to deliver buildings that will be better supports for successful businesses and remain higher value real estate assets at the end of their initial service period. 

Stephen Pope, BES, B.Arch, OAA, MRAIC is a member of the OAA Sustainable Built Environments Committee and a Sustainable Building Design Specialist for Natural Resources Canada.