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Integrating Building Performance with Design

Posted by Elizabeth Grant on November 03, 2017
Integrating Building Performance with Design

Now, more than ever, it is important for design professionals to be advocates of environmentally responsible design. Architects should aim to create places that occupants care about and care for, and maintain and enjoy for a long time. Unfortunately, architects may not have adequate training or experience to handle performance mandates relating to building integrity and comfort. This can result in situations where these parameters are either inadequately addressed, or are relegated to consulting engineers or other specialists after the schematic design process is complete. To ensure the creation of truly sustainable structures, architects must learn strategies for attending to building performance and ecologically responsible design in their work. I contend that this process must begin in the architecture schools. But how can students deal with these seemingly complex parameters while also designing beautiful spaces?

As an architecture professor, my mission over the last ten years has been to instill in my students both an interest in and a respect for environmental stewardship in the design process. I want our graduates to leave school able to design buildings that elevate the spirit, delight the client, and respect the planet. I recently published a book through Routledge entitled Integrating Building Performance with Design: An Architecture Student’s Guidebook, which contains a collection of stories, case studies, and exercises describing how buildings can be durable, comfortable, and beautiful.

The book takes a straightforward approach to incorporating building performance within the design process. A number of architects and educators have eschewed a concern for “sustainability” in architecture because the term “sustainable” has become trite. To me, this is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Though some practitioners seem to have tired of talking about the environmental aspects of sustainable buildings, I make a case that energy efficiency of buildings remains a critical factor. Further, I argue against architects relegating all “technical” considerations of building performance to engineers or other consultants. While these members of the design team are crucial, architects still bear responsibility for knowing the basics of building physics and knowing when to ask specialists for help.

The book contains ghost stories, cautionary tales from my time in practice as an architect. These tales from the trenches are intended to give students and others a taste of what can go wrong in buildings when building science is not understood, or when it is ignored in favor of unflinching conformity to ideas about geometry, space, and theory. I show examples of built work where architects painted themselves into the proverbial corner with their design decisions, giving insufficient thought to how their buildings would weather over time. I show other examples of built work where architects paid careful attention to this and other practical obligations, work that is both functional and beautiful. I also include examples of successful student projects that have made the connection between design and performance.

As its title suggests, Integrating Building Performance with Design: An Architecture Student’s Guidebook is intended as a resource for students. I include simple design exercises that can be used by students in the schematic phase of their work in the design studio. These exercises predominately deal with thermal comfort and building integrity through considerations of solar geometry; window to wall ratios; insulation; drainage; and rainwater collection, storage and use. Though the book is primarily geared toward architecture students, it will also be of interest to intern and early-career architects, building envelope and roofing consultants, engineers, homeowners, building scientists, and all others who are interested in creating buildings that respond intelligently to their contexts.

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