Whole Building: Route to High Performance

Bringing together a building’s stakeholders throughout the design and construction process can produce a building that is greater than the sum of its parts

Seven years into the twenty first century and facilities executives are only starting to understand that commercial office buildings can be more than just structures for conducting business. Facilities executives are learning — one step at a time — how buildings interrelate with both their external and internal environments. This growing awareness has shifted not only how people interact with buildings, but also how they design, create and manage buildings. The green building movement has highlighted the importance of designing buildings that use resources efficiently and provide a healthy environment for their occupants. Since the passage of ADA, a building must be accessible to serve the needs of an increasingly diverse population while providing a workspace that fosters health and productivity. And since 9/11, building security has been more prominently considered.

Each of these important factors is often considered separately, or sometimes not at all. Recently, a more expansive approach to building design, construction, and operations and maintenance has emerged. With a whole building approach, it is not enough to simply design a sustainable building, or a secure building, or an accessible building. Rather, by understanding how these separate goals are related to each other and can be integrated, it is possible to create a truly high-performance building. It’s a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
“A high-performance building is more than just a green building,” says Helen English, director of the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC). “A high-performance building is durable, safe and secure, and environmentally responsible. It is attractive and accommodating to people who are going to lease it, has good indoor environmental quality, and is acoustically, visually and thermally comfortable.”

“The goal is to create a building that performs well for its intended use, adds to the community, protects the environment, and reduces operating costs,” says Leon Chatelain III, president, Chatelain Architects.

An Integrated Approach

The Whole Building Design Guide is a comprehensive Web-based portal that covers all the facets of the whole building approach. It identifies eight design objectives that should be considered and optimized for a high-performance building: accessibility, aesthetics, cost-effectiveness, functionality, historic preservation, productivity/health, security/safety and sustainability.

No one aspect takes precedence over any other. The goals for each building are identified by the owner and the architecture and engineering team and will determine how each design consideration is balanced against the others. The key to creating a high-performance building is an integrated approach that brings together all those who have a hand in designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the building early in the process.

“When a building is anticipated, you have to pull in all the stakeholders,” says Chatelain, “Everyone has to understand the project’s needs and be involved in setting goals.”

The integrated design approach is a departure from the typical planning process in which all parties concentrate only on their own areas of expertise. It is important for all stakeholders to communicate their goals for the project and be receptive to others’ goals and ideas. Because facilities executives usually have the best idea of the types of space that will be required and overall purpose of the building — and because they have the largest stake in the building’s outcome — they should take a leading role in establishing these goals. Facilities executives also have the best sense of what the operations and maintenance needs of the building will be and can be sure they are considered during the planning process. A question-based approach can be an efficient method for incorporating everyone’s perspective during this process.

“There are a lot of decisions to be made in the beginning and each building is unique,” says English. “What shade of green are you hoping to achieve? How secure does the building need to be? Which accessibility features are needed? How elaborate should the aesthetics of the building be?”

Once goals have been established for the project, all the stakeholders come together for a structured brainstorming session to review and refine the preliminary design. This is known as a design charette, and it provides an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss face-to-face how the previously established goals for the building will be carried out.

“Design charettes are important in getting everyone involved in the design process,” says Deane Evans, executive director, New Jersey Institute of Technology Center for Architecture and Building Science Research. “It’s an opportunity to collectively say things out loud that would not be possible otherwise.”

Budget restrictions, building schedules and material selection are all issues that can be discussed and agreed upon during the charette. Key people to include are mechanical, structural, electrical and construction engineers, the facilities executive, operations and maintenance staff, architects, cost-management experts, owners, occupants and building consultants, if possible, says Evans. Although it may be difficult to include contractors this early in the process, the more people at the table, the more integrated the design can be. Facilities executives can assume a leadership role in this process by maintaining focus on the big picture.

Following the planning and design stages of a high performance building project, an integrated team approach is required throughout the construction process to ensure that all parties continue to communicate with each other. Project management software can make it easier for the entire team to share information and track the sometimes intricate changes. Ideally, total building commissioning is performed throughout the entire process and tracks all design goals, as well as consideration of the envelope, the mechanical and electrical systems, the controls, etc. Commissioning helps ensure the true design intent is fulfilled.

“It is important to keep rounding back on your original questions and goals throughout the process to ask whether this design is optimizing security, aesthetics, etc.” says Evans.

Balancing Act

Security and sustainability are increasingly important issues in new construction. On a typical project, they are likely to be addressed separately. With an integrated design, however, sustainability and security goals can be meshed to achieve a high-performance building.

For example, when decisions are being made about how a building will be situated on site, access to the building is a security consideration. While this may traditionally be addressed with walls or fences, an integrated approach could use trees, berms, or reservoirs to restrict access — a solution that would contribute to the sustainability of the site by maintaining vegetation, controlling erosion and providing a stormwater management system. The position of the building on the land can also be considered from both security and sustainability perspectives, as this can affect both the energy performance of the building (for solar access, daylighting, passive cooling, etc.) as well as what access control methods will be possible.

Another example is glazing. While windows in a facility can enhance daylighting, provide views, and allow visual access for security, owners may want to consider the possible risks of damaged glass in the event of extreme weather or terrorist attacks. An integrated design approach considers all glass in light of both security and sustainability (and all other goals). In this case, window film could be used to minimize the risk of flying glass while preserving views.
The building’s HVAC system is another component that needs to be considered from a variety of perspectives.

“Some HVAC systems may make more noise, which will affect productivity,” says Chatelain.
Facilities executives should also ensure that product decisions do not negatively affect indoor environmental quality, and that possible security risks are considered when air intakes are being placed. For example, street-level vents on the secluded alley side of a building might invite vandalism that can be prevented.

From the Outside In

One of the biggest concerns for facilities executives is maintaining good indoor environmental quality. The integrated team process gives them the opportunity to keep this aspect at the forefront throughout the design and construction process. Designing a building with optimal indoor environmental quality requires consideration of noise, air quality, and thermal and visual comfort.

“The outside of the building, the walls, floors, foundation and roof have to be designed to produce the kind of indoor environment you want,” says English.

Carl Smith, CEO of Greenguard Environmental Institute, says that design and construction choices must be considered from the perspective of indoor environmental quality both early and throughout the process.

“Proper sequencing of the construction process is important,” Smith says. For example, buildings should be sealed properly before standard drywall is installed. “If this doesn’t happen, walls could be exposed to the elements, which could cause mold growth.”

Material maintenance is also an important component of indoor environmental quality. Materials should be considered not only from a cost perspective, but also from an occupant productivity perspective, says Steve Ashkin, president, The Ashkin Group.

“There are two things to recognize when it comes to cleaning and indoor environmental quality,” says Ashkin. “The first is that lack of cleaning can lead to build up of contaminants, and some materials require more cleaning than others. The second is that some cleaning products can contribute to poor indoor environmental quality, which can lead to occupant health problems.”

One example is the maintenance involved with stripping and waxing a floor. The emissions from a single stripping and waxing can equal or exceed the emissions of the floor over its entire lifespan, says Ashkin.

“A floor may be stripped and waxed between one and four times a year. This is an example of the potential risk and exposure in maintenance that doesn’t get considered unless you apply the whole building approach.”

Looking Forward

Communication and teamwork are essential to a successful integrated design. Open and continuous communication among stakeholders helps ensure all design goals are incorporated from the start. This can help avoid costly change orders later in the construction process. One emerging technology that experts see as a boon to the whole building approach is building information modeling (BIM). BIM software creates an electronic model of a building in which changes can be made to one building system. The effects of these changes on other building systems can be seen immediately. According to Deke Smith, chairman of the National BIM Standard Committee at the National Institute of Building Sciences, BIM has the potential to streamline the integrated design process and also to contribute to the cost-effectiveness of a building.

“Lack of communication can lead to change orders, and this is a weak link in the industry,” Smith says. “BIM gives you the chance to logically build a building before physically building it. Then you can analyze issues such as accessibility, indoor air quality and value engineering.”

Smith says that BIM has a long way to go before it becomes a standard tool, but educating people about BIM can help promote the whole building approach.

“Traditionally, people haven’t looked at the whole building because everyone is looking at their own 12- or 18-month segment of the process,” he says.

Chatelain agrees that BIM will be a useful tool going forward, and sees it providing transparency throughout the life of the building. The real driver of whole building design, however, will be a shift in thinking.

“From an architectural point of view, we have evolved to a new awareness of responsibility to the community,” he says. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘What are we leaving our children?’”

Towards the Greater Good:
About SBIC

The Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC) is an independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to unite and inspire the building industry toward higher performance through education, outreach, advocacy and the mutual exchange of ideas. The Council began in 1980 as an organization dedicated to promoting passive solar design strategies in buildings. This was a holistic approach to building design that was focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy. SBIC’s expanded approach now incorporates all the design considerations included in the Whole Building Design Guide (www.wbdg.org), educating people on how sustainability fits together and complements safety and security, accessibility, cost-effectiveness, aesthetics, productivity and historic preservation. As the scope of the council’s focus has expanded, so has its membership.

“As SBIC has grown and evolved beyond green, we have been reaching out to different kinds of organizations,” says Josephine Mooney, director of marketing and membership, SBIC. “Now more than ever, we are expanding membership to reflect the full spectrum of products and services related to the whole building approach.”

In addition to SBIC’s efforts to spread information about the whole building approach, the council is advocating for the development of a high-performance building standard.

“Right now we estimate that there are more than 3,000 different standards governing building design and construction,” says Helen English, SBIC’s director. “Still, we see many buildings that are poor performers. Our goal is to bring all these standards together. We support section 914 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.”

Section 914 requires the Department of Energy, in conjunction with the National Institute of Building Sciences, to evaluate current building standards and assess their relevance with respect to current technologies.

“The assessment stage is just getting started now,” says English. “One day we may see a comprehensive standard that will allow building owners to ask for defined levels of performance in their buildings.”


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  posted on 2/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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