“Sometimes I don’t speak right, but yet I know what I’m talkin’ about.”*
Architects and engineers. If one is from Venus, the others must be from Mars.
Why is it so hard for architects and engineers to communicate? One of my sustainability gurus, Barbra Batshalom, describes the typical architect/engineer relationship as pretty much dysfunctional. But as we have pledged to meet the energy efficiency goals of the AIA 2030 Commitment, never before has a good, productive relationship between architects and engineers been more important. And yet.
Some of my best friends are architects. We all talk about this. The conversation usually degrades into a gripe session about our consultants. Here’s what we say:
“Engineers don’t participate actively in the design process. They wait until design decisions have been made before they offer any ideas. And when they do offer ideas, they’re just versions of the same old conventional solutions. (You want variable frequency drive motors with that?) They’re always lagging behind the rest of the design team. They don’t communicate very well with us, our clients, or even their own staff.”
Sounds familiar? Sure. But no surprise, there’s another side.
I can’t divulge my source, but several Boston-area architectural engineering firms were recently surveyed about the challenges of working with . . . architects. Engineers have a lot to say, too. Like this:
“Architects can’t manage their clients and don’t really know how to lead a collaborative, results-oriented design process. They still prefer to make design decisions by themselves and then ‘sell’ their ideas. They love to use terms like ‘integrated design process’ but can’t explain what it means well enough to create a clear project schedule or actionable meeting agendas.
Sure, we engineers are conservative. We have to be. Chide us if you’d like about safety factors and tried-and-true methodologies, but you know what the most complex part of any construction project is, right? What most owner complaints and professional liability claims are related to, right? Yeah, the heating and cooling systems. So you want safe or you want sorry?
And another thing: ‘Think outside the box?’ Puh-leez. Who put us in the box in the first place? You call us with a new lead and say ‘Here’s the job and here’s what I can get you for a fee. Can you do it for this?’ We both know engineers can’t sit in 8-hour schematic design meetings and do multiple iterations of energy models in DD for that kinda money.
Besides, most architects don’t know enough about building mechanical systems to understand our work anyway. Ask an architect to explain the difference between a chiller and a DX system without Googling it first. Quick: how does an energy recovery unit actually work? Yeah, we thought so.”
Clearly, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
My view? It’s more than that. It’s a cultural divide. It’s a natural selection process phenomenon. People choose careers because they’re inclined in a certain way. Allow me to generalize even more: An architect’s thought process is iterative, cyclical. An engineer’s is linear, systemic. Architects communicate visually and verbally. Engineers use diagrams and tables.
But isn’t that why we work in teams? Doesn’t our work require both of those skill sets and more? This relationship needs to work better. So what’s the fix?
As an architect, I say the big steps are on us. We’re the communicators and “team leaders”, so we need to own this one. First, we need to get smarter about engineering. We don’t have to become engineers, but we need to understand building systems a whole lot better than we do now. Next, we need to be clearer about what we expect from our consultants and share that understanding with our clients. And then, we need to hold the line on fees. “Sharpen your pencil” shouldn’t automatically mean cut the MEP fees.
But . . . engineers? Step up. Find your voice in design meetings. And be honest with us. If you really don’t do energy modeling in-house, tell us. If your best people are too busy to do the project please say so. If you don’t understand what we architects need before starting work on a project it’s as much your fault as ours. Let’s work on those interpersonal communication skills together.
Any comments? Thank you.
*“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” song tile and lyrics 1975 ABC/United Artists records, by “War”: Papa Dee Allen, Harold Ray Brown, B. B. Dickerson, Lonnie Jordan, Charles Miller, Lee, Oskar, and Howard E. Scott, writers.
If you’re an architect or designer working in the built environment, I’d guess science wasn’t your favorite subject in high school. Acute squeamishness was an impediment for me. Forget cutting frogs open, I still can’t even look at a needle. My career in the biological sciences was over before it began.
What would scientific research look like in an architectural firm? Would we ask questions and formulate hypotheses to answer them? Would we conduct experiments, control variables, manage complexity, observe and analyze test results? And would we record our findings and apply what we have learned to refine the hypotheses?
Sure. Why not? Think of it this way: we create drawings and models that are analogs for things that must go through an extraordinarily complex process in order to become real. We’re dealing with a vast amount of uncertainty and we need to trust our time-tested methods in order to achieve the intended results. Plus, we have committed to incrementally reduce the energy use of those analogous creations.
Therefore, if we want the results of our time-tested methods to improve, we need to be more rigorous about our processes. I propose we do some actual research.
And in the spirit of this blog, I offer Bergmeyer’s experiments as a case study.
My hat is off to the design firms I know that employ building scientists or have trans-disciplinary research groups in house. We admire and respect what you do. But if you don’t mind, we’re going to borrow your methodology.
Here we go. Lab coats and goggles? On.
By itself, we find the question “how do we meet the AIA 2030 Commitment energy use reduction standards?” is too broad to be practicable. But as much of our work is interior architecture, most of our projects’ intended energy use can be estimated by using Lighting Power Density. So to make progress on AIA 2030 goals, we need to improve our cumulative design LPD.
Here’s where complexity and uncertainty factor in: for our retail work, energy codes give exceptions and allowances for display lighting and fixture lighting. The LPD numbers we get from engineers only count general illumination. So we’re having a hard time getting our arms around how an actual LPD is even calculated.
But creation is a patient search, right? And a good design process starts with a good question. Ergo, our restated (and researchable) question: How can we effectively improve LPD across all our design work?
And our hypothesis: If we can create our own approach to calculating LPD – either a software plug-in or a calculation methodology – and we provide this approach to our design teams, that should produce a reduction in firmwide LPD.
Our investigation will be in three stages: first, we will explore the feasibility of creating either a software plug-in or a calculation method for actual LPD versus code-compliant LPD. After we create the tool, we’ll pick several projects as a control group. Some teams will use the tool, some will not.
After project design phases are complete, we’ll record the LPDs and compare the results. We’ll also interview the designers who worked with our tool to see how useful it was. Finally, we’ll record the results and publish a report of our findings. On our website. In six months. We hereby promise.
It isn’t likely that we’ll make Scientific American or Engineering News Record. But if we can move the needle (ugh! Again with the needles!) on energy efficiency just a bit, I’d call it research well done. We’ll keep you posted.
One of the hardest things about the AIA 2030 Commitment is just keeping the faith. After getting your architectural firm to sign up, completing three or four years of reporting and enduring as many setbacks as improvements, sometimes you want to put your head down and just do your work.
But, hey, buck up. The whole world really is watching. (I’m not old enough to remember much from the 1968 Democratic National Convention except that chant!)
It came as very encouraging news to learn that architects all over the world are working on the same building energy use challenges that we are.
Ever heard of the International Union of Architects? They were news to me. The Union Internationale des Architects (or UIA) was founded in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1948. It’s a global federation of the professional architectural organizations from 124 countries that now claims to represent one million three hundred thousand architects. The AIA is a member-organization of the UIA.
You have no doubt heard of the United Nations. The UN does a lot of its work through organizations like UNESCO and the World Health Organization. And the UN recognizes the UIA as the only global association of architects, which gives the UIA a certain amount of – comment dites vous? – clout.
So here’s the big news: at their last World Congress in Durban, South Africa, all of those UIA member organizations voted to adopt something called the 2050 Imperative, an international plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the built environment to zero by mid-century. We’re talking world-wide now.
The 2050 Imperative’s key objectives look like ideas we can certainly get behind. Plan and design cities and buildings to be net zero energy. Promote socially responsible architecture. Give architects the information and tools needed to design buildings that use on-site renewable energy. They also look very familiar.
Why? Because the story within the story is this: Not only did our own professional organization – the AIA – send a delegation to this summit, the word (that didn’t make the press release) is that the 2050 Imperative was jump-started by our very own Ed Mazaria’s short but persuasive keynote address at the AIA Convention in Chicago. You can see Ed’s presentation “Design! Life Depends on It!” here, wherein he introduces us to the 2050 Roadmap and demonstrates how US building energy use reduction fits into the whole big global carbon-neutrality picture.
And that’s not all. Next, the Imperative goes to Paris for the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the goal of which is to reach binding agreements to phase out all greenhouse gas emissions from energy-using systems by the second half of this century.
(In addition to progress on such important global policy matters, I personally look forward to seeing Ban Ki-moon’s selfie with big Ed. That’ll be a sign that we have truly achieved serious traction.)
So keep the faith, you hard-working signers of the AIA 2030 Commitment. We now have global company. Although it’s hard to imagine one million three hundred thousand architects agreeing on anything, all over the world in offices just like yours they’re working to crank down lighting power density and improve building energy use efficiency.
The whole world is with us.
(8/15/2014 update: As I suspected, Architecture 2030 had more of a hand in this declaration than first disclosed. They initiated it and helped draft the language. See their press release here, plus a list of all the signing architectural associations such as the AIA, RIBA, RAIC, etc. It’s pretty cool.)
(8/27/2014 update: And here’s a link to a New York Times article about that upcoming 2015 climate summit.)
“What are you reading these days?” is a tough question.
To be honest, most of what I read now is in the social media stream. Although I still drop everything for a new print copy of The New Yorker (thanks, Katie!) and do plow through an actual book now and then (just finished The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, just started On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno), architecture magazines pile up on my desk and trade papers go right to the recycling bin.
But when people ask me what I’m reading, they usually mean “where do you find all the climate-change related articles, studies, and posts that fuel your Tweets, posts, and links?”
Well, these are a few of my favorite sources:
Let’s start with Grist, environmental news and commentary. “A beacon in the smog.” My all-time favorite source. I go to grist.org for clever, hard-hitting, timely, and well-written posts. Today’s home page features a piece on how Washington State knocked $2500 off the cost of solar panels and an interview with controversial new Sierra Club chief Michael Brune. Fair warning! This site – and many others on my list – is pretty left-leaning. My architectural firm, Bergmeyer, does not endorse a political ideology. But this list is my own, and I’m a Progressive and proud. So, to continue . . .
Next on my list is The Natural Resources Defense Council, “The Earth’s Best Defense”. By their own (and many others’) assessments, the NRDC is the most effective environmental action group in the USA. More specifically, I follow the NRDC “Switchboard” blog. The Switchboard throws out regular policy updates and provides easy ways for you to poke your elect officials. Because they need frequent poking.
The Conservation Law Foundation has a full spectrum of really good environmental policy pieces written by environmental lawyers in New England. Today’s “CLF Scoop” does a deep dive (pun absolutely intended) on the inestimable ecological value of Cashes Ledge, a kelp forest in the Gulf of Maine, and an editorial about the fishermen’s view of peer-reviewed cod stock assessments. Smart people not afraid to take on hot topics.
Posts from the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News usually get my attention, too. Like: “CLEAN BREAK: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn From It.” As if watching them in the World Cup wasn’t lesson enough. Inside Climate News is always on point, although not to be confused with RealClimate who are not the same as the Climate Reality Project. Still with me? All good.
I think The Atlantic Cities is pretty interesting right now. “An engaging destination for an increasingly urbanized world,” Atlantic Cities collects essays on the future of urban living. Go to their home page, click on “CityFixer,” and get stories like “Hey Congress, Oregon Has Your Long-Term Highway Funding Solution Right Here” (emphasis mine!) Of course, Oregon has Earl Blumenauer, too, which helps with that issue. Love this site. Love their parent magazine, The Atlantic, too. But please note: their Twitter feed and Goggle+ pages have recently moved to www.citylab.com and @CityLab.
Emails. Sheesh. I asked for them! They come every day from Green Buzz Daily and Environmental Leader Daily although sometimes the spam filter gets them first. I also get posts from The Breakthrough Institute, The Energy Collective and ThinkProgress’s climate blog. I don’t always agree with what I read on these sites and they tend to be deeply wonkish, but they’re always though-provoking and topical.
Energy-conscious architects in greater Boston are pals with NEEP, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership. NEEP “facilitates partnerships to advance energy efficiency.” I subscribe to their blog site “Energy Efficiency Matters.” We also like the Institute for Market Transformation for their work on building energy use reporting and disclosure ordinances and their partners the Global Building Performance Network.
Our A-list also includes the Boston Harbor Association for their advocacy leadership on climate change adaptation, Greenovate Boston as an aggregator for all our municipal government’s GHG reduction efforts, and the Sustainable Performance Institute for building the environmental design capabilities of our firms. And for SPI blog posts like “Putting the Management Back in Change.” And we’d all be lost without BuildingGreen and their gold-standard publication Environmental Building News, an absolute “go-to” for building profesionals since 1992.
Finally, you have no doubt heard of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Lemme tell ya, my brother is a climate scientist and he’s concerned. So I read their stuff religiously. I also appreciate the solid scientific research produced by Yale Environment 360. OK, being an alum I’m a little prejudiced here. Their posts are often not about architecture, but they’re always fascinating and well-researched.
So I hate to use the phrase “tip of the iceberg” given the state of the Greenland ice sheet, but this list is really only that. And of course nothing of this social media download will help you pass a lazy Sunday afternoon on some faraway beach. For that, give me the great Gray Lady any day. I’ll take the Sunday Review section, thanks. And please recycle.
Today I’m blogging live from the 2014 AIA Convention in Chicago. A trip to Chicago is always fun, but truthfully, I enjoy the AIA Convention wherever it is. I come for seminars that expand my mind. I attend to see friends and colleagues from across the country – including people I never get to see in my hometown. And I show up for the parties. But not necessarily in that order.
I kind of like where architecture is going these days, too. There are far more conversations at this conference about design and health, architecture and climate change, public-interest design and human-centered design. Maybe it’s just where I am, but the profession seems to have put the rose-colored Corbu goggles down and is focusing on big social issues to which architecture can contribute. And in a meaningful way.
Not that beauty isn’t important. I just don’t think we need 4-hour workshops on beauty.
For example: my four-hour workshop this morning was on health impact assessments. We heard about the Health Impact Project, a national collaboration between the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to identify the health impacts of public policy. We learned about how architects participate in health impact assessments (HIAs) on things like development proposals and infrastructure projects. We were introduced to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey tool from the CDC that tracks and maps health indicators . . . and may have persuaded me to skip a couple of those parties. Or not.
And then there’s this new materials transparency movement.
As follow-up to last year’s Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan, the AIA has launched a new web page called Materials Matter. It’s dense with information on what green building products are, where they come from, what goes into them, and the crowded field of new reference standards and claims. It makes a great case for why architects should be pushing for readily available, transparent, and accurate information about what’s in building materials. The Convention has a whole materials seminar track and a nifty “materials matter” button. Because a serious conventioneer must wear nifty buttons.
And how does all this relate to the AIA 2030 Commitment? Glad you asked.
Ed Mazria will be our Friday keynote speaker. Yes, the founder of the 2030 Challenge that set the bar for building energy efficiency. Ed is still the avenging angel of architecture and climate change, but lately Architecture 2030 is not only focusing its research and advocacy work on energy use. They’re also looking at . . . materials.
The 2030 Challenge for Products also makes the point that materials matter. Their research says that over the first 20 years of a building’s life, 45% of its total energy consumption comes from the energy used to produce its building products (embodied energy) and by the construction process itself. Of course, this is because when a building is first built, 100% of its energy expenditure has come from materials and construction. But we haven’t been able to account for that impact. We don’t have meters that collect real-time data on embodied energy like we do for operational energy. But those carbon emissions from material fabrication are just as real as the ones caused by lighting loads and air conditioning.
So if we’re really serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, we must consider the carbon consequences of the materials we use, too.
There you have it. My mind has been pretty well expanded today. And now, it’s time to enjoy this beautiful city. Cheers!
Whenever someone says the word “feedback” I become momentarily distracted. I mentally flip into “air guitar” mode and imagine that I’m Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock playing the Star Spangled Banner . . .
But feedback is a good word. It’s an important concept. Anyone who wants to improve the output of a system needs to recognize – or create – process feedback loops and watch them closely.
Designing buildings and spaces that are more and more energy efficient every year is one heck of a process. When you persuade your architectural firm to sign the AIA 2030 Commitment and join a leadership team to monitor the results, you have embraced process improvement in a big way.
So what kind of feedback loops could help in this quest? Sadly, the very best feedback loop that you could imagine of is one that we architects rarely use: Going back in after a project has been in operation for a year or so and comparing actual energy use with design intent.
In a phrase: post occupancy evaluations.
The fiercest criticism of “green building” is that we’re basing all our claims for energy efficiency on design intent only. It’s our Achilles heel. Fact is, we don’t know how to address a potential delta between intended and actual performance, and we certainly don’t know how to use what we might learn from this potentially valuable feedback loop to improve our design process.
And what’s more, we don’t even have a clear picture of what a thorough post-occupancy evaluation looks like. The estimable Z Smith of Tulane University and Eskew+Dumez+Ripple describes the “four horseman of building performance” as actual building energy use, building management system data, thermal performance and occupant comfort. Maybe commissioning agents are collecting this info somewhere, but it’s not getting back to the designers in a form that we can use. ASHRAE Energy Audits? Engineers do that stuff. Building diagnostics? Call a HERS Rater.
In doing my research for this post, I found no end to the studies that compare actual building energy use to codes or to CBECS or some other criteria. But comparing actual energy use to design intent? Nothing.
So I called a colleague at one of the few Boston firms I know that does POEs with any regularity. It helps that they have engineering and commissioning in-house. But their POE experience is limited to a few building types and it’s been hard for them to consistently get multi-year metrics. And in my estimation, that still puts them way ahead of the pack. Most architects I know – like us – are still trying to get our heads around how to collect energy use info and what to do with it when we get it.
Look, I’m not saying that client feedback on the quality of space and materials and how the lighting controls worked out and whether the coffee maker was in the right place isn’t good. But that kind of information isn’t going to get us to the zero-energy 2030 future.
Yeah, I know. This post is turning into a rant. I don’t have the answers. But I think I see the challenge.
It’s this: architects create analogs. REVIT models and performance specifications and energy use calculations are not buildings. Construction is a variable process, as are building operations and maintenance, as are weather and climate. We need to know more about the many variables that influence building energy use and how design can mitigate those variables. For that, we need feedback loops. We need to be prepared to hear that the gap between designed energy use and actual can be pretty substantial. And we need to be smarter – and braver – about harvesting this feedback and putting it to use to improve our design process. 2030 is only 16 years away.
Meanwhile, back at Bergmeyer, we have targeted a few clients for data collection in 2014. And we have started the conversation with our consultants about connecting this information back to our models once we get it. Every journey begins with a first step, right? I’ll post later on our progress . . .
What do you dream about when you’re designing? The thrill of seeing your brilliant ideas built? The joy of receiving thanks and praise from your clients? Maybe you dream of getting some publicity or winning a design award? Or feeling deeply satisfied from knowing you’ve made the world a more beautiful place?
Or do you just hope the lawyers won’t show up?
Fame and glory and energy efficiency that’s 50% better than baseline are all good. But in reality, sometimes just getting that last invoice paid, delivering the manuals and walking away without getting subpoenaed is cause enough for celebration.
But let’s return to those happier thoughts. My crystal ball is ready. We can imagine a better future and set more ambitious goals for our practice. Here’s my dream about what a better working relationship between an architect and client would look like in the near future:
(The place: a snowy Vermont mountain town, slopeside. [Hey, this is my dream, right?] Architect sips coffee while looking at laptop. Architect looks at cell phone, pokes keyboard, waits for screen image, then speaks.)
Client: I’m a little concerned about the energy use spike last month. It’s outside the ideal performance range you guys established for us on buildings 1 through 5.
Arch: Well, we did just install those laminar air flow sensors in the Building 6 auditorium. But they shouldn’t draw enough power to affect your demand that much. Can you link me to the live BMS dashboards?
Client: Will do. Lemme contact IT at Facilities and get right back to you.
(Architect reloads on coffee, watches snow accumulating, opens trail report site. Another email re-focuses his attention. Picks up phone, dials, speaks.)
Arch: Thanks for that link, Jesse. I’m on the dashboard right now. That power spike might be from increased fan energy use. You know we installed those air flow sensors when we suspected the stack effect ventilation strategy wasn’t giving you enough air changes when the hall was full. Do you think people are still screwing with the digital thermostats? That would cause fan energy to spike. Lemme check another document. (Pause.) We have plenty of fee left in this year’s master post-occupancy performance contract. I’m going to see Ling (our firm’s commissioning specialist and an excellent snowboarder) on the hill in a little bit. I’ll see if she can be on site tomorrow.
Client: Thank you so much. I’m sorry to pester you when you’re out of the office, but we really appreciate everything you’ve done to make our whole university more energy efficient. And by the way, the President has some new ideas for energy-positive buildings and a net-zero branch campus. I know she’ll want your input.
Arch: No problem, Jesse. At your service, as always.
(Client hangs up. Architect smiles, turns off laptop, picks up backpack, leaves for boot room.)