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April 17, 2014  |  Login
Integrated Design
By Jerry Yudelson

Integrated design is the main method used by green builders to design high ­performance buildings on conventional budgets. How is this possi­ble? If I make a piece of equipment more efficient, isn’t it going to cost more? Yes, it is. But if I make it more efficient and design the building to use less energy overall, then that equipment is going to be both more efficient and smaller, thereby saving cost.

Here’s a practical example. Most office buildings don’t use shading de­vices external to the building; instead they rely on tinted glass to reduce glare. But the sun still enters the building, leading to excess heating in summer, requiring more cooling. Most office building air­-conditioning systems are sized for the absolute peak summer afternoon cooling de­mand. What if you could reduce that demand by shading the south-­facing and west-­facing (and in some southern climates, east­-facing) glass, so that the sun never enters the building during the summer, at least from 10 am to 4 pm? That would require a lot less cooling. But it would cost more for the external shading devices (plus mess up the clean post­modern façade of the building). But would it cost more than you would save by downsiz­ing the air-­conditioning system? In general, the answer is no.

So the basic principle of integrated design is that we have to look at the whole building’s energy and water use, not just focus on individual systems in isolation from each other. Easier said than done, however, with­out a strong commitment to an integrated design process by the building owner, architect, engineers and other key members of the design and con­struction team.

The basic elements of integrated design include the following activi­ties, all knitted together by excellent facilitation and communications skills:

  • Select the Team: Team members need to know not only a lot about their own field of expertise, but also how their decisions might affect all of the building’s systems and components. Typically, the owner’s representative or project manager and the key contractor team mem­bers are part of the design effort, much more so than in conventional building.
  • Set the Goals: It’s a truism in business (and life) that teams can per­form at very high levels if they are asked to. It’s also true that “what gets measured, gets managed,” so that measuring performance (such as achieving a LEED rating of a certain level) is a critical factor in driv­ing design teams to innovative, cost­-conscious decisions.
  • Assign Champions: It’s also a truism in business that someone has to “own” the results. If an architect tells a mechanical engineer to cut building energy use from the norm by 50%, that engineer has to agree to make this happen, without overspending her budget. High-­per­formance buildings have a champion for each area of design, con­struction and operations.
  • Optimize the Design: No one project is just like another; each design has unique requirements, typically driven by the purpose of the build­ing, the owner’s or developer’s expectations, budgets and schedules. Therefore, each design needs to be optimized for the specific circum­stances. This often requires multiple iterations of the design, trade­offs between various building elements, best done in the early stages before much of the detailed design cost has been incurred. 
  • Follow Through: The best players in sports never take their eye off the ball, and the best building projects have a very strong follow-­through, to make sure that all of the great ideas from the early stages of design get incorporated into the project. This can be difficult, because often the building’s conceptual designer hands oª the detailed design to an­other architect or engineer, or is occupied with several other projects happening simultaneously.
  • Commission the Project: As discussed previously, commissioning makes sure that the design intent is actually translated into the build­ing systems all the way through construction and startup, so that all energy-­using systems work the way they were designed. Incredible as it may seem, no one except perhaps the building owner or developer is really in charge of a building’s final energy performance. Commis­sioning helps to bridge the gap between good intentions and actual performance.
  • Maintain and Monitor: No good project goes without maintenance for long. Training of operating personnel in the building’s systems (especially if they are unconventional) is critical, as is monitoring the performance of the building and finding out why performance isn’t meeting expectations.


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