Photo credit: Lewis Katz Building, courtesy of the Penn State Law
Terms such as “sustainable,” “energy efficient” and “high performing” as used to describe the future of our nation’s built environment. If we erect a new skyscraper, it needs to be sustainable. If an existing structure is to be retrofitted, it needs to be energy efficient. If an edifice is to be considered high performing, it needs to meet resiliency standards to withstand a natural disaster.
Very likely you have seen any number of data charts with daunting statistics outlining amazing achievement or a grand result of this new and evolving infrastructure environment. To date, the public’s and policymakers’ interest in building statistics has been largely confined to numbers pertaining to real estate or the economy. In the future, however, the metrics of accessibility, safety, security, resilience, aesthetics and cost effectiveness will matter most, as the focus turns to how well “high-performing” buildings are actually performing.
What Makes a Building High Performing?
High performance in buildings goes beyond standards for energy consumption and water use. True high performance results from a range of transparent components that make the building efficient, sustainable and reliable, thus reducing its impact on the environment. While energy reduction, water recycling and disaster resiliency all play a role in a building’s efficiency and sustainability, the most high-performing and energy-efficient buildings take into consideration not only the structure and systems, but also the occupants and how the building is to be used.
Think about it. You can gather the best design professionals in the world, put them in a room, and have them create a cost-effective and energy-efficient college campus building. The entrance to the building could have a ramp, railings and lighting that would make it accessible for persons with disabilities. The doors could be made of fiberglass or wood-clad steel that are lightweight and provide greater thermal efficiency, thus reducing condensation while keeping heat inside during the winter and out during the summer. The windows’ glass could be coated with a layer of silver that would refract solar radiance while permitting enough visible light so as to eliminate the need for electric lighting during the day. On the roof there could be solar panels, windmills and rainwater recycling systems to reduce energy and water consumption.
By most standards, this building would be considered very sustainable and energy efficient. However, let’s suppose the design professionals that built this structure — a building purposed to sustain the daily activities of thousands of college students, faculty and staff — did not include an attractive and appealing cafeteria. Those thousands of students might then choose to drive off-campus to have a more congenial environment in which to interact during lunchtime. All the effort to maximize the energy-efficiency of the building would be compromised because the facility does not fully support the needs of the occupants.
How Can We Achieve High Performance in Buildings?
As this little example shows, meeting all the requirements of a high-performance building takes coordination and teamwork. Along with ensuring buildings become increasingly energy efficient and that they address issues of human health and productivity, the major stakeholders that make up the building industry need to work together in a more cohesive, integrated way. Various stakeholders have spent much effort and time on research and collecting data to inform solutions for tomorrow’s builders and designers. For the industry to succeed as a whole and achieve its long-term goals, however, all industry sectors, including trade associations, professional societies and manufacturing interests, need to cooperate with one another and work toward a common goal: the success of high-performance buildings.
To this end, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) recently hosted the Building Innovation 2014 Conference & Expo. The Expo was an excellent opportunity for all building and design professionals to gather with manufacturers to discuss how each sector of the built environment can work together on high-performing and sustainable buildings. Topics and research ranging from sustainable design and low-vision accessibility for new buildings to innovative materials and products that will ensure a healthy indoor environment for occupants were shared and discussed among industry professionals.
In addition, the conference included a meeting of the High Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coalition (HPBCCC) where multiple stakeholders of the built environment gathered to discuss federal policy issues of mutual interest, around which there was much agreement . Unfortunately , what benefits one segment of the industry may be perceived as a detriment by another, and this has led to a failure to reach unanimity among design professionals, organizations and manufacturers. Without total collaboration, it is less likely legislators will support the public policy being developed by various industry professionals represented by the HPBCCC. For its part, the American Society of Interior Designer’s Government and Public Affairs team will continue to participate as a voting member of the policy committee to ensure that the design industry and policymakers recognize our national legislative strategies and, of course, that proposed policies benefit the general public.
For more information on ASID GPA initiatives and how you can be involved email firstname.lastname@example.org.