Closing The Gap Between Architects And Energy

In his book Designing Energy Simulation for Architects: Guide to 3D Graphics, published earlier this year, Kjell Anderson explores how architects have become divorced from thinking about how their designs will actually perform-and how we can fix this disconnect. The publication could not be more timely: as building energy codes become stricter (new commercial buildings compliant with ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013 will have to be nearly 9% more efficient than those under 2010), design professionals will have to collaborate to take advantage of opportunities to trim excess. To do this, they will need at least a basic understanding of building energy modeling software. Many architects are understandably reticent about learning these new strategies, but they may not have to be for much longer. Several written works, including Anderson’s, are geared towards an audience that might have more experience with aesthetics than airflow.

“There really are no guidebooks out there to help us,” Anderson notes in a 2013 interview with the AIA Washington Council. “There is a yawning gap between highly specialized texts that focus on mechanical performance, academic texts that perhaps give good ideas but are difficult to apply to specific projects, and graphic case studies that provide pictures but only cursory text.”

He sees his book, largely a collection of in-depth case studies about best practices for building simulations in architecture firms, as part of the solution. Topics of the chapters include climate analysis, daylight and glare, and airflow analysis. One of the book’s strengths is in its detailing of specific scenarios, including what energy software a firm used and why they made that choice. The book looks at the work of well-known architectural practices such as Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF).

Anderson is not the only one taking notice of the dearth of resources aimed at design professionals without an engineering background. In 2013, Francis D. K. Ching published Green Buildings Illustrated. Along with other information, the book outlines the sequence of models a design team can expect to perform, from rudimentary models for ballpark figures to detailed models rigorous enough to show energy code compliance. Also in 2013, Brian Edwards published Green Buildings Pay, where he made clear the huge financial incentives for firms to adapt to new technologies. Three of the four main barriers to energy modeling that he identified had to do with lack of education and resources.

Enabling all design professionals to understand the application of energy modeling is crucial, and it appears that one of the more successful tools to accomplish this is books made for architects written by architects.