The AIA 2030 Commitment: A New Perspective

FullSizeRenderGreetings from Herring Cove Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The only place in the Northeast USA where you can watch the sun set in the west over the ocean. Or something like that.

Vacation can be a great way to get a new perspective. But all the time you’re on the Cape, you can’t help but think about climate change and sea level rise. The Ocean, the ecosystem, the climate: it’s why we come here. But a one meter rise in sea level and most of the Cape Cod National Seashore is gone. Throw a 100-year storm at high tide on top of that and Provincetown becomes an island. Meanwhile, up in that bright azure sky, atmospheric CO2 is at 400 ppm and buildings continue to produce 44.6% of the US’s annual CO2 emissions.

Surely, there can be no more important issue for architects in Massachusetts (or in the world!) than driving radical reduction in building energy use as a way to mitigate climate change and sea level rise and protect our beloved natural environment.

Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Flashback to a few months ago. I had the honor of being asked to participate in the first daylong work session of the City of Boston with the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. If you don’t know about the “100RC”, you should. This program – formed and financed by the Rockefeller Foundation – works to “help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century”. Boston’s selection to be part of 100 RC was headline news. The award comes with grant funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer and access to a global networks of member cities, NGOs, and other strategic public and private resources.

I found myself in this daylong work session at Boston’s Fanieul Hall with a couple hundred people from the City’s many charitable, cultural, civic, advocacy, and educational organizations. I was one of only two architects there. And when we got to the first breakout group, I astutely observed that I was the only white guy over age 50 at my table.

Then came the assignment. The table facilitator had two stacks of cards, labelled STRESSES and SHOCKS, each describing about 20 different chronic problems or acute threats that could potentially jeopardize the survival of urban systems. We were asked to work together to rank these stresses and shocks on an X-Y scale of increasing likelihood and greater severity.

When the card for SEA LEVEL RISE turned up I was all over it. This was shock number one. Boston is a low lying coastal city. Flooding and storm surges will disrupt transportation, businesses, housing, public safety. Imagine one to two feet of sea level rise by 2050 and hurricane Sandy and nobody has a plan to get us ready for it.

Silence. Looks were being exchanged around the table. One brave soul offered: “But in the near term? How is this more important to us than addressing income inequality or lack of social cohesion?”

I was schooled. In the future, urban resilience will depend fundamentally on social cohesion. Climate change impacts are inequitable. No defensive or resilient infrastructure planning can happen unless all the city’s residents are working cooperatively to achieve shared well-being. Boston certainly needs some work here. While some residents see growth and opportunity, others see gentrification and disenfranchisement. Some people demand better public schools and transportation while some get bent out of shape about curb cuts that don’t look historic enough for their neighborhood. Sure, these debates aren’t unique to Boston or the 21st century, but the point was that basic human needs have to be addressed before we can talk about turning parking lots into storm water retention basins.

I had to agree. People come first. We do what we do to enable productive human uses and enhance lives. That is why the built environment exists.

We architects spend a lot of time talking to each other. We know the architecture and climate change script so well by now we can recite it in our sleep. So I left the 100RC workshop with another insight: It’s important for us to listen to the new voices and get a new perspective once in a while. I haven’t changed my mind about the AIA 2030 Commitment one iota, but I can see it as one part of a larger sustainability mission.

That’s it for now. Time for more sunscreen.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Seeing Is Believing

IMG_6783Were you in Atlanta for the 2015 AIA Convention? About 18,000 people attended, plus exhibitors. It was huge. I coulda missed you.

Here’s the headline news: If you are really, seriously committed to doing sustainable design, the Design Data Exchange (aka the DDx) – the new AIA 2030 Commitment reporting tool – will light up your life. The AIA COTE and a 2030 Commitment Working Group worked with the US Department of Energy for almost a year on DDx. It was unveiled at Convention with dramatic flourish at an open public forum.

Andrea Love, AIA, and Greg Mella, FAIA, provided the dramatic flourish. They masterfully demonstrated the features of DDx’s streamlined user interface. But I stopped listening when Andrea said this:

“We have a few laptops over there with dummy logins so you can try DDx yourself.”

I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner. I need to see something and get my hands on it to understand it. Being inclined to break things, I also found the term “dummy login” very attractive. As soon as the presentation was over, I made a beeline for the work station.

But . . . rather than just reading about what I discovered, why not see it yourself?

Do this: Follow this link to the AIA 2030 Commitment home page. Click the URL for the AIA 2030 DDx. Enter the email address with the password AIA2030DDx and watch DDx in action. Without flying to Atlanta. Or leaving at 5:30 AM. With a change in Charlotte.

The AIA 2030 DDx home screen is a sleek, clean user interface. Very unintimidating. When you log in, you’ll be looking at the fictional projects of imaginary firm Acmeview Architects. See the four main tabs? Portfolio, Inputs, Reports, and Research. You know what those mean. The five little buttons on the side are what you use to add data on a new project. One button even lets you duplicate a project record for those multi-site commissions. So far so good.

In the “Summary” pulldown box, select 2014 as the Reporting Year. The list edits to show 55 projects by building use type, location, and predicted, baseline, and target EUI. Acmeview Architects’ 55 projects comprised 15 million GSF of total floor area. They must do some pretty big buildings!

Next, pick a project at random and check out the “Inputs” tab. Here’s where data gets entered. Again, there are easy pull-downs for everything. The “Target Certification” menu includes LEED levels, Energy Star, and many others. The “Design Energy Code” menu includes many active versions of ASHRAE, IECC and California Title 24. Go ahead, poke around. You can’t break it.

The “Building Envelope” tab asks for broad brush R Values and U Factors. Not too hard. But I opened the “HVAC Systems” tab with some hesitation. When confronted with “Zone Equipment”, the “Heating” tab asks to select from 16 choices that include radiant floor, fan coils, VAV, package terminal heat pump . . . heck, even I know what those things are. Not a problem.


Back to the main menu. The “Reports” tab is where it gets exciting. This firm has four offices: North Bethesda, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Houston. Look again at the 2014 reporting year. Combined, all four offices reached a 46.5% reduction in PEUI and a 14.4% reduction in LPD. Nice. But as you click though each office’s individual reporting, you see the Houston office pulled the numbers down. Houston reported one project and only achieved a 28.1% reduction in PEUI. Houston, we have a problem.

Go back to Portfolio, 2014, and sort by Building Use Type. There it is: a 1.7 million GSF inpatient hospital in Louisiana. Its 202 kBtu/sf/yr. compares to a baseline of 281 kBtu/sf/yr. But Acmeview Architects’ North Bethesda office designed inpatient hospitals in 2014 at 83 and 95 kBtu/sf/yr, far better than Houston’s job. Maybe it’s time for a trip to Houston to see what’s going on. Let’s see. Lots of direct flights from Atlanta . . .

There was much more to see, but a restless crowd had formed around the work station. And my next seminar was about to begin. Besides, after only 10 minutes of study I had a good grasp of what DDx could do. Seeing was believing.

As I bolted for room B406, I couldn’t help thinking that convincing architects to sign the AIA 2030 Commitment would be a little easier now.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: A Conspiracy Theory

Want proof that college is worth it?

This was the title of a recent article in the Washington Post. The story included a chart of 100 different college majors ranked by median lifetime earnings in millions of dollars. Architecture was around number 26, just ahead of Political Science. The top nine majors: all Engineering.

I had lunch with an engineer the other day: Kim Shinn, PE, LEED Fellow, of TLC Engineering. Kim calls himself a recovering physicist (physics came in at #14 on that chart) doing engineering to make a living. He was intense. Tall, lanky, bald, and dressed in black. Picture Yul Brynner with a Texas twang. And he spoke with urgency as if to share dire prophesies.

Bergmeyer hired Kim for a unique assignment. One of our commercial building clients had new sites in California. They wanted to know how the prototype we designed for them could conform to CALGreen, the state’s 2014 Green Building Standards Code.

Kim’s short answer: Not easily. CALGreen required a 20% increase in energy efficiency. Title 24, the state building code, had gone from basing its Energy Conservation Chapter from ASHRAE 90.1-2007 to ASHRAE 90.1-2010 in one fell swoop. It was the single biggest jump in energy codes he had ever seen.PNNL

His example: If a building designed to meet ASHRAE 90-1975 had a theoretical baseline energy performance of 100, that same building measured by CALGreen would be below 50.

And Kim was convinced that California was just the beginning. The rest of the country would eventually adopt these more stringent building energy codes. “I know where this is going! We’ll all be there soon!” (If by “being there soon” he meant in Sonoma County with a nice zinfandel, I was ready.)

But he didn’t. He had a warning for architects. Pressing his fists firmly together, he added “there’s fixin’ to be some conflict here!” because new energy codes would start influencing Architecture!

Like this: the newest version of the International Energy Conservation Code (which is also based on ASHRAE 90.1-2010) mandates skylights and daylight controls for single-story commercial spaces over 10,000 SF with 15’ high ceilings. It set a window-wall ratio (WWR) of not more than 30% glass, unless 50% of floor area was in a “daylight zone” and high Solar Heat Gain Coefficient glass was used – and that just nudges the WWR to 40%. All-glass buildings? Only possible through energy modelling and the “performance” code compliance path. Which meant COMcheck – the old standby code compliance checklist – would be useless.

Excited by the thought of truly progressive building codes, I asked: What’s driving this change?

Kim had more insight. He lowered his voice and looked around the restaurant. It’s the US Department of Energy, he said. The US DOE wants to get us to net zero by 2035. ASHRAE and the International Code Council are on board, too. And they have the Pacific Northwest National Labs doing cost-benefits analyses. If a new energy code causes a $2-$3/SF increase in construction cost and produces a $0.25-$0.50/SF/year in energy cost savings, it’s a 4 to 8 year payback and within their “sweet spot”. So it gets adopted in the next code update. That’s how they’ll get us to net zero by 2035.

Just then, I had a vision. I saw a Dr. Strangelove–like setting. A windowless room, huge computer screens on every wall, big conference table in the middle, full of . . . engineers. With a red desktop telephone connected directly to the DOE. All conspiring to make building energy codes so rigorous that engineers and energy modelling would soon become indispensable. And then, engineers would take control of the design of the built environment . . . for good.

And I smiled. I suddenly felt the Architecture 2030 Commitment might be a little easier to achieve. Because engineers were together and mobilized. And on our side.

I promised not to tell anyone. And I paid for his lunch.

4/22/2015 update: For architects heading to Atlanta for the 2015 AIA Convention, I highly recommend a full-day pre-conference workshop titled “Transforming Firm Culture and Process: Embracing Sustainability and Getting to 2030.” With all-star presenters Barbra Batshalom, Nadav Malin and Betsy del Monte, this is a don’t-miss. Here’s a link.  

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Car Talk

CarTalk.shutterstock_238528774I own a small car. It’s a 4-cyilynder with a 6-speed standard transmission and front-wheel drive. And a roof rack for my skis.

I know how to turn it on, make it go and stop. And that’s about it. There may as well be a nuclear reactor under the hood. When the dashboard “check engine” light goes on, I take it to someone who knows what they’re doing.

The AIA 2030 Commitment is like a dashboard indicator light for your architectural firm. (Hopefully, we all know a lot more about our firms than I know about my car!) My firm, Bergmeyer, has been reporting the energy use intensity and lighting power density of all our projects since 2011. We now have three years of reporting data to show for it. The collective EUI of our whole-building projects has been steadily improving against a baseline comparison: 15.0% better in 2011, 25.1% better in 2012, 29.6% better in 2013. This is surely good.

But – here’s the important part – we are not gaining ground on the AIA 2030 Commitment reduction target. In order to get us to carbon-neutral by 2030, our work needs to be 60% better than baseline now. That’s a 30-percentage-point delta between where we are and where we need to be.

So our AIA 2030 “check engine” light is on. What do we do next? We get help.

We called Barbra Batshalom at the Sustainable Performance Institute. SPI’s goal is to help your firm deliver on its sustainable design promises. It’s like having dealer warranty service for your firm. But Barbra makes house calls. And without greasy overalls.

We brought SPI in for a practice assessment. They did staff and client surveys about our firm’s sustainable design expertise. Barbra then joined us for a two-hour deep-dive work session to simulate a typical project delivery process. This step felt a whole lot like having the hood up. We met again later to review her diagnostics.

As expected, it was good news and bad news. The best good news was that Bergmeyer’s leadership is very commitment to sustainable design. In Barbra’s experience, that’s not always the case. But the bad news: not all of our project teams are connected to the mission. Again, not unusual for a firm of our size, but to accelerate the energy efficiency of all our design work we need to be firing on all cylinders.

We learned that we need to pay more attention to how sustainable design goals inform our project delivery methodology. I know that sounds a bit like MBA-style doubletalk, but when we discussed it together we began to see strategies. Like these:

  • Promote LPD (Lighting Power Density) fluency on project teams. LPD sounds like an easy concept (watts divided by square feet, right?) but it gets complicated when retail projects have extra wattage allowances for display and fixture lighting that vary depending on what code is being used. And our MEP engineers do the calcs for us. We need to own that process and build it into our design work.
  • Focus on project initiation: That’s traditionally when the rules of the road are made clear. But we have a lot of small, high-speed projects. The sports metaphor of a “kick-off” meeting doesn’t always apply. Many of our projects are more like “get your motor runnin’!” then we’re zero to sixty in three-point-five. We’ll have to find a way to get alignment around sustainability goals within these dynamic schedules.
  • Get better at making the business case of sustainable design: Heard this one before, right? Not easy. But our project teams are already very adept at managing the cost implications of design decisions. We’re good with budgets. So maybe we can merge that budget-consciousness with energy consciousness and “sell” it as one package. Hmm . . .

So thanks to the AIA 2030 Commitment and the Sustainable Performance Institute, the road ahead of us is clear. We’re back on track. Ready to put the pedal to the metal. (Enough already!) Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted on our progress. Just don’t drive like my brother.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: One Small Step


A Neil Armstrong moment: That’s when you realize that some unremarkable event is actually the result of a long, arduous, and purposeful process.

We at Bergmeyer recently had one of those Neil Armstrong moments. We finally got a look at how one of our project’s post-occupancy energy use compared with its designed energy use. There it was: actual performance versus design intent. If your firm has signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, you’ll understand why this felt a bit like walking on the moon.

Each year, we record the energy use intensity and lighting power density for every project we design and compare our whole-firm numbers to a declining scale that will get us to zero by 2030. But those numbers are not for actual energy use. They’re theoretical. And as we dutifully and optimistically send those numbers to the AIA every year we wonder: how do our projects actually perform?

Getting actual energy performance data wasn’t as easy as it sounded. After many false starts and frustrating meetings, we have succeeded – with lessons learned. So if you’re thinking about doing your first post-occupancy energy use analysis, consider this advice:

1. Pick the right project: For our first venture into POEs, simpler was definitely better. We used a small, owner-occupied built-to-suit office building as our beta project. Something where the energy use sectors looked familiar (think ASHRAE Advanced Energy Design Guide) and where the building users were the same people who paid the utility bills. That disqualified a lot of our retail and restaurant projects (as tenants in their spaces) and our university projects (too many different parties involved in building finance and operations).

2. Pick the right client: The first several clients we asked to share actual energy use data were reluctant. It was either “our electricity costs are not a problem” or “that information is private” or “we don’t want to be your guinea pig!” The right client for us turned out to be one that understood our mission. The willing client, Historic Boston Inc., is an organization committed to strengthening Boston’s neighborhoods through historic preservation. The building – the Eustis Street Fire House – was built in 1859 in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. It was gutted to the structure and historic exterior shell and adaptively-reused as HBI’s headquarters.

We simply asked HBI if we could use their energy use data to help us learn and become smarter. They kindly agreed.

3. Find a good data aggregator: We used WegoWise. They’re a web-based utility tracking and benchmarking company that is committed to using data and analytics to promote building energy efficiency and mitigating the effects of climate change. Good people to have on your side.

4. Don’t flub the math: The first data you get will not be in a useful form. Our first report from WegoWise was about 30 months’ worth of raw energy use numbers. To begin, pick a twelve-month baseline period. Then convert those kilowatt hours of electricity into BTUs, divide total BTUs by 1,000, and divide again by floor area to get kilo-BTUs per square foot per year. Gas use is recorded in “therms”, which also needs to be converted to KBTUs/SF/yr and added to the electricity use. Now you’re apples-to-apples with your energy modelling results.

5. Don’t fear the results: Our beta project performed pretty well in year 1. Our energy model described a designed intent Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 74.02 kBtu/sf/yr. The actual first-year performance data was 76.64 kBtu/sf/yr: only 3% higher than designed. Pretty remarkable given the number of variables involved the gut renovation of a historic property. And we were still 5% more energy efficient than benchmarked New England buildings. Not bad.

But at 42 kBtu/sf/yr., our AIA 2030 Commitment target was quite a bit lower than even our designed EUI. And our year 2 WegoWise data is showing a mysterious 10% increase in overall energy use . . . which of course gives us an opportunity to go back to our gracious, mission-driven clients to understand the reason for the increase. And to get even smarter.

That’s the story. OK, it’s not nearly as big a deal as that historic stroll from Apollo 11 at Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969. But still. It was one giant leap for Bergmeyer.


PS: Thanks for all the emails and tweets about my last blog post, #ClimateChangeClient. Keep up the public advocacy pressure. Because we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: A Climate Change Client?

Denial.shutterstock_156983825I am frequently reminded of the difference between skepticism and cynicism. A certain amount of skepticism is necessary to form an honest critical evaluation. Be skeptical when you must. But avoid cynicism. It erodes objectivity.

I recently attended a public forum on the likely effects of climate change on my home town, Boston, Massachusetts. The first panelist was a historian. She had archival maps showing how Boston’s waterfront had been modified over the centuries. Next up was the natural resource policy advocate. She had impact analyses showing how flood-stage storm surge augmented by sea level rise and high tide could reintroduce Boston to its mid-18th century coastline.

Wrapping up was an architect. She brought images from design competitions on how our built environment could be redesigned to allow us to live in a dynamic, new relationship with water. Barrier reefs. Aquaculture shellfish farms. Canals. Raised sidewalks. New ground planes. Infrastructure improvements.

Then – like fingernails on a chalkboard –  came the moderator’s inevitable question: Sure. But how are we gonna pay for all that stuff?

Was that question skeptical or cynical? Or just provocative? Whatever. It pissed me off enough to speak up. We can’t talk about know how to pay for something until we know what that thing is. What we need is a vision. An actual resilience plan. Then we can talk about how much it will cost. And for that, we need a real client.

Which, admitted our Boston panel, doesn’t exist yet.

Political leadership changes. Mayors change. Governors change. We have new folks in both offices in Boston and Massachusetts. Boston has a 2014 Climate Action Plan. We have greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2025 and 2050. Our new governor has not been shy about his top priorities, either: the budget, drug addiction, educational reform, health care costs. All very necessary.

But who will write the request for proposals for a comprehensive climate change adaptation and preparedness plan? Architects know that we can improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we work to meet the AIA 2030 Commitment. But we do this work for clients. We’ve all seen the climate change impact analyses by now. The design work that can prepare our coastal communities for those likely impacts needs a client, too.

And look, seriously. The cost to create an actual, build-able, fund-able regional resilience plan is a drop in the proverbial leaky bucket compared to the eventual construction and implementation costs. Say nothing about the catastrophic costs of continuing to do nothing. As we say to our building clients: it’s short dollars.

So what’s happening in the meantime? More design competitions. It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’m growing skeptical of design competitions. The Big Dig and the Boston Harbor cleanup were not theoretical projects. They were real commissions with real consultant teams with budgets and schedules.

So who will be our #ClimateChangeClient?

The AIA 2030 Commitment: A New Year’s Revolution


Here it comes again. New Year’s Day. Time to press the reset button and set noble and ambitious goals for 2015.

What are yours? Lose weight. Get organized. Save money. Quit smoking. All good, but all self-oriented. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The desire to improve one’s self and bring a certain calendrically-enhanced discipline to the pursuit is great. But have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to try to improve something outside yourself? To put a little of your considerable personal effort into serving a greater human good?

I’d call a goal like that a New Year’s revolution.

Are you tired of hearing people say that we don’t care enough about climate change to do anything? Or that individual effort won’t amount to much? How about New Year’s revolution to help fight climate change? Websites like “10 ways you can stop climate change” are packed with tips. Drive less. Eat mostly plants. Recycle stuff. Turn lights off when you leave a room. Unplug your computer – but not until you’re finished reading this blog post, of course.

Although many people need a website to provide them with earth-saving ideas, you’re different. You’re a design professional. You’re working to create buildings and spaces that contribute to a healthy, regenerative ecosystem.

So here are five things that you can do in 2015 that are unique to your profession, uniquely suited to architects and designers:

1. Pick one useful, relevant energy-efficiency technology and pledge to learn everything you can about it. For example: By March 2015, you could be the office expert in solid state lighting, organic light–emitting diodes and light–emitting polymers. By June, you could write something post-able on the subject. Your goal could be to use organic LEDs in a project by the end of 2015.

2. Take an MEP engineer out to lunch. A good one that you can learn something from. Better yet, invite them for an in-house lunch-and-learn. Do this several times in 2015. Turn it into a guest-lecture series on topics of their choice. Direct digital control systems. Heat recovery systems. Absorption chillers. Cogeneration. By the end of the year, you’ll be thinking like an engineer and your projects will be better for it.

3. Join the movement to promote transparency in building materials content. Greenhouse gasses aren’t the only thing impacting our ecosystem. How about bioacculumative toxins and carcinogens linked to (among other things) building material manufacturing and disposal? Start here, with the AIA Materials Matter website and this organization: the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Collaborative. (Now how about the conductive polymers and phosphates in those LED lamps, hmm? Who’s researching that?)

4. Promote gender equity in architecture. And this is related to climate change how? In a larger, societal sense, gender equity is part of triple-bottom-line sustainability. Within the practice of architecture, women do not share access to the privileges and benefits of the profession equally with men. Don’t believe me? Check out the Missing 32% Project. I say: no sustainability without gender equity. Spread the word.

5. Get your firm to sign the AIA 2030 Commitment. This is the best choice, hands down, end of story. Join the 99 other AIA firms that reported on 1.6 billion gross square feet of space in 2,462 projects in 2013 at an average designed energy use intensity of 34% better than baseline energy code. Share your findings with your colleagues. Be part of shaping the entire practice.

Cheers. Here’s to a revolutionary year!


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