This is the sixth part of "Seven Practices of Highly Effective Green Building Consultants," an nine-part series from green building consultant Jerry Yudelson.
Practice #5 of highly effective green building consultants: Hold Design Charrettes.
Design charrettes, especially what we call “eco-charrettes,” are an opportunity to listen to the concerns of every member of the green building teams, to make sure they understand how they can contribute to the end result, and to elaborate a comprehensive vision for the sustainable design and operation of the project. They are critical.
I first learned about eco-charrettes about 15 years ago from my friend Nathan Good, an award-winning architect in Portland, Ore., and a real pioneer of sustainable design. At the time, Nathan was running the Earth Advantage green building certification program for Portland General Electric. He had long studied how design teams can better collaborate and coined the phrase “eco-charrette” for an architectural design exercise (a charrette) focused on a green building design.
From him, I learned about the art of facilitation and the importance of visual representation of the discussions and decisions made by the building team and owner during the course of the charrette. Later on, I refined my own approach to the eco-charrette and began to offer the program as a stand-alone service to my green building consulting clients, while I also integrated it into my LEED project consulting work. What I have always emphasized was the importance of casting a broad net, to bring as many diverse participants as possible into ,the eco-charrette, and to avoid focusing it solely on making design decisions using the LEED “scorecard.” It’s equally important to frame a broad sustainability vision of the project, one that all participants can refer to during the design process to help guide decision-making.
One particularly effective eco-charrette held by Yudelson Associates was for a new science building at a small private college in the western U.S. What made this event stand out for me was that we were able to engage not only with the design and construction team, as well as the facility staff, but also with three science professors and the college’s development (aka “fund-raising”) team. By having everyone understand the issues around sustainable design and how the presence and location of several wet labs would influence choices of mechanical systems and individual room layouts, it was possible to develop integrated design approaches that would enhance the building and also make it usable for the next 50 years. This helped the fund-raising team also see the benefit of a LEED designation to raise the college’s image. The result result: a LEED Platinum building, the first green building at this level in that state for an academic project.
How to Face the Challenges
One of the challenges in holding an eco-charette is to get all participants, especially the engineers, to understand how important it is to be part of the process, not just to show up at the meeting to discuss their particular issues. This adds cost to have the electrical engineer, for example, at a charrette all day. But consider how a discussion of the importance of daylighting might engage not just a discussion of lighting controls and overall electrical loads, but also the light reflectance of interior finishes. Without the engineer and lighting designer present, as well as the interior designer, how can everyone come together around a common daylighting vision?
Here’s my suggestion: Try to push the boundaries of the eco-charrette by having all of the climate information and basic building massing and orientation options analyzed in detail before the event. One great example of this approach was the integrated design process used to develop the Research Support Facility I project from 2007 to 2009 at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. I have written about this project extensively in chapter 5 my book, The World’s Greenest Buildings: Promise vs Performance in Sustainable Design, which you can download here.
The key take-away in this case, was that before the first design charette, the energy engineers were given three weeks to study the climate and model the building to achieve high-performance goals. At the first design meeting, they presented the results of the analysis, which included direction for building orientation and massing, to the design team. This approach led the entire building team in a positive direction for what turned out to be a LEED Platinum, net–zero-energy building.