Better Software = Better Green Buildings

Green design is more difficult that conventional design: The considerations within the design process has to go far beyond a gut-feeling about performance or the application of popular components such as green roofs or bamboo flooring. Energy performance is a dynamic relationship between interior and exterior factors that influence the systems within a building. Green buildings are best known for the things they do less (use less energy, use less water have less particles/pollution within the indoor air). The building science behind green building isn't easy to understand. Architecture is, in the end, the act of making building science real or at least it should be. The way a design team calculates how much fuel is needed to heat, ventilate, light and cool occupiable space determines the actual efficiency of a building post-construction. Issues such as the length of day, location of the site relative to the equator, building type, wind current, solar exposure, sun azimuth , total heat degree days, total cooling degree days and topography are just a few of the factors needing to be considered. Most design teams, and more importantly — many developers, decide performance levels of the mechanical systems based on a "rule of thumb". Until recently, design teams weren't concerned with how much energy was used, so climatic factors were to be overpowered rather than incorporated into the design process. Due to the fact that interest in energy performance is basically brand new, the construction industry lacks extensive methods of evaluating building performance that can be integrated into the design process easily to anticipate functionality after completion.

Software does exist that can simulate the behavior of architecture - certain engines have been around for decades. Most of the available software is highly technical needing specialists to input the data to simulate the structures, however, even with the in-depth approach by the software, the programs are not a holistic technology that takes into consideration all of the factors acting upon a building. These programs can be used to analysis specific systems such as daylight, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and mechanical systems separately. Each simulation is "ran" in isolation how daylight effects CFD or how natural ventilation may decrease indoor air quality is not considered in these programs. Moreover, the different types of software can not communicate with each other nor can they communicate with industry-standard software such as AutoCAD or MicroStation . These issues limit the willingness a design team has to incorporate the analysis into the design process and the client, typically adverse to project cost increases, is not savvy to spending the capital to have software consultants run the simulations.

In the United Kingdom, a man by the name of Don McLean has been tirelessly working to rectify this dilemma facing the emerging green building movement. In 1994, Dr. McLean established Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES). IES offers software to assist design teams with creating low-energy structures. The company is based in Glasgow, Scotland . IES's software suite, the Virtual Environment (VE), has already become the best energy analysis in the UK and may quickly become the de facto simulation tool within the United States. Recently, the company has opened offices in Boston and San Francisco . One of the reasons for the success of IES is that VE circumvents all of the problems other simulation tools pose for the design team. The software is unique in that it operates from a single building model. The transfer of data from one application that evaluates CFD can be used to assess daylighting which then can be used to estimate the reduction in costs, occupant satisfaction and then used to figure out how the building uses less energy, emits less carbon and considers the consequences of different design options. Plus, which the developers will like, the simulations are fast and don't need a team of consultants which makes green design less expensive.

As Chien Si Harriman, IES's United States West Coast Tecnhical Manager explains, "IES combines the simulation process into one common interface. Conventionally, for a project team to decide if a window needs to be operable to increase natural ventilations, three software packages would need to be used .for IES, it's all in one." Another positive aspect about IES is that they have beta tested VE with AutoDesk's Revit . Revit models can be inputted into the VE interface, and then exported back into Revit seamlessly (for those not-in-the-know, Revit is to AutoCAD as AutoCAD was to drafting boards ). Another notable point about IES, architects such as Norman Foster and Ken Yeang use the software with nearly all their projects. The famous London Gherkin by Sir Foster used IES to make the building energy efficient.
IES has a strong desire to improve the software by making it more user-friendly, easier to navigate, better graphics and speeding up computations. The software has a sweet-spot for natural ventilation simulations another aspect of the engine that other programs just seem to not be able to do.

It takes innovations such as IES and design professionals that have a vision to apply building science for green building to continue to grow. Though green building is still, for the large part, only seen as way to market a project, technological innovations are preparing the industry to mature into more real science and aesthetic. With engines such as IES offering the option to design teams to incorporate climatic conditions rather than fighting them green building will become, not just a process to function in "less" ways, but create abundance .

Tags: Architecture | Green Building