A team from Cornell University’s Environmental Systems Lab, led by recent graduate Allison Bernett, proposed a new framework for injecting as much information as possible into the pre-design and initial design phases of a project. that saves architects and design teams time and money down the road.
“(Our framework) enables designers to understand the full environmental impact of their building,” said Bernett, corresponding author of “Sustainability Evaluation for Early Design (SEED) Framework for Energy Use, Embodied Carbon, Cost, and Daylighting Assessment” which published on January 1, 10 in the Journal of Building Performance Simulation.
The principal researchers are Timur Dogan, assistant professor of architecture at the College of Architecture, Art and Urbanism; and Katharina Kral, registered architect and lecturer in the Department of Architecture.
“How we see it, there is the cost of the change in the design process and then the opportunity for impact,” Dogan said. “At the very beginning, changing something doesn’t cost anything, but if you’re a month into the project, changing something is really expensive, because now you have to hire back consultants and rethink things.
“And then the other thing is the potential for impact,” he said. “At the very beginning, just with a simple nudge in the right direction, you can change a project from being an energy hog to something that is very sustainable and fits in well with the environment.”
In 2018, according to the International Energy Agency, the construction sector accounted for 39% of greenhouse gas emissions related to energy and processes. This included 11% from the manufacturing of building materials and products.
The Early Design Sustainability Assessment Framework (SEED) is a decision support tool that can dynamically and simultaneously simulate several variables: building energy performance; embodied carbon (carbon emissions generated by construction and materials); cost of construction; and natural lighting (the use of natural light to illuminate interior spaces).
The framework will allow architects and design teams to quickly test and categorize tens of thousands of design iterations, using as few as four entries.
Using publicly available data and a suite of available design simulation programs – including Rhino / Grasshopper (a CAD program); ClimateStudio, developed by Dogan, for daylight simulation and energy modeling of buildings; and Karamba3D engineering software – Bernett and the team tested SEED in a case study of a hypothetical mid-size office building modeled in Boston, Washington, DC and Phoenix.
The SEED framework generated thousands of design options based on variables specific to the three cities in the case study, giving designers the flexibility of many options early in the process, before changing course becomes too costly.
“The idea is that you run this scan,” Dogan said, “and you get a few options that already make a lot of sense, and some options that you can completely forget about.… [It] always comes back to this lack of information in the decision-making process.
“In that sense, the construction industry is super inefficient,” he said. “There are too many actors who do not know the whole picture and who then take decisions that are not always rational. This framework that Allison worked on is designed to help put information on the table. Each actor in the design process can then form their own opinion on the priorities of the design objectives. “
SEED’s greatest asset, said Bernett, is amassing a slice of data on multiple factors in one place and involving architects early in the design and pre-design phases.
“It takes a long time to put all of this data together, and we’ve prepackaged it. So there’s definitely an appetite for it,” said Bernett, who presented the SEED framework in September 2019 at the International Simulation Conference. of building performance in Rome.
“Right now, we rely heavily on modellers and energy consultants to do this work,” she said. “And if we can get the architects involved easier and earlier, I think we’re going to see a lot of improvements and cost-efficiency for those early design decisions.”
In addition to the publicly available design simulations, the team used AutoFrame, a new procedure developed by Kral for the automatic calculation of structural systems. AutoFrame improves the accuracy of embedded carbon assessments and daylight simulations.
The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability Small Grants Program provided critical support for this work, Bernett said.
“This funding really gave her the boost she needed,” she said. “This allowed me to present a first iteration [of SEED] at the Rome conference, and then to really flesh out the research further afterwards. “