This is the seventh part of "Seven Practices of Highly Effective Green Building Consultants," an nine-part series from green building consultant Jerry Yudelson.
One of my mentors and friends, the architect Bill Reed, has a very particular approach to integrated design, which he’s provided in a book, "The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building: Redefining the Practice of Sustainability." Reed insists that every member of the green building design team commit to the integrated design process, even if one is a so-called “starchitect." He insists that every important team member be present at every design meeting, especially to avoid last-minute design decisions by the lead architect that would undo much of the cooperative results that may have been achieved by the team. For Reed, integrative design is all about changing mental models; he believes it’s critical to break up the narrow boundaries of specialists to return to a more holistic way of viewing design.
Good consultants know the value of promoting integrated design from the beginning of the green building project, especially by bringing energy and water issues early into design consideration. Doing so allows the consultants and the architect can explore synergies that produce more but cost less. In some ways, this has become easier, as more projects aspire to zero net energy goals and, to some degree, to zero net water goals. These sorts of aggressive goals force the team, especially the architect and mechanical engineer, into early design collaborations around building envelope choices and passive systems that integrate glazing and mechanical system choices.
Why is Integrated Design So Important?
According to most experts, 80 percent of all design decisions are made in the first 10 percent of work on the project design. If all aspects of design are not considered together by all members of the green building design team at the beginning of a project, the cost of changes is often too great for them to be includes later. The McLeamy Curve describes this phenomenon.
Alternatively, integrating architecture with mechanical systems early in design, which can only be achieved through an integrated process, can often reduce total building costs. I wrote about this process extensively in my book, "Green Building through Integrated Design," where I present a process for integrated design that involves asking the right questions at the right time during design, construction, and operations. If you don’t ask the right question at the right time, often design decisions are made that may preclude a good option from future consideration. For example, asking “Are we going to produce power onsite?” may lead to further consideration of building integrated photovoltaic systems (BIPV), which in turn might influence façade design.
Consider the experience of a project I’ve previously written about in Portland, Ore., with 60kW of BIPV on the south-facing façade, using fixed south-facing shading to provide the PV support structure. The fixed shading allows the project to downsize the cooling system, since less sunlight enters the building through the south-facing glazing. You can immediately see how only integrated design could have produced this result, and, equally important, prevented the BIPV and fixed shading from being value-engineered out of the project later on. Why? Because the cost of a larger cooling system (required when there is more solar gain) would have to be more than the savings from removing the shading from the design.
Integrated design involves creating a team process and getting everyone to commit to it before the first design meeting. It also typically benefits from a green building consultant who facilitates the process, one who is strong enough to call team members to task when they start to deviate from the agreed-upon approach. It’s not easy: Given that there are a lot of egos at play in the world of design and construction, getting everyone on the same page calls for great skill and a lot of experience. It is, however, extremely worthwhile, and is a key skill of an effective green building consultant.