Building performance is a hallmark of architecture in the 21st century. With buildings and the construction industry being significant contributors to carbon emissions, designers must do everything to reduce their buildings’ energy consumption and carbon footprints. Moreover, buildings need to contribute to a positive occupant experience, improving the health and productivity of their users through enhanced visual and thermal comfort and air quality. Today’s buildings are also expected to perform outside their physical boundaries and positively impact surrounding communities; by reducing their contributions to local heat islands and stormwater runoff, and supporting local green economies and sustainable systems.
With high-performance design goals becoming a standard benchmark for buildings, designers must identify the high-performance aspects they want to design for and set targets for key performance metrics. By tracking a building’s performance at each design stage through various simulations, building performance analyses provide a road map that gradually connects its predicted performance to its target values.
Traditional building performance analysis (BPA) tools allow users to calculate potential design impacts for many performance aspects. However, they require designers to model different design iterations, conduct performance analyses on them, and essentially undergo an extensive trial-and-error method to find the best alternative. Some of these tools also lack cross-platform functionality, which requires designers to spend hours rebuilding their design models on these tools before they run their analysis.
Automated building performance analysis eliminates this time-consuming method by using machine learning to generate the best options for a set of parameters automatically. By delegating the tedium of data crunching to machines, automated BPA frees up time for design teams to focus on what they do best: designing. Its integrated approach to performance analysis focuses on the interrelations between single performance aspects, allowing users to see, for instance, how natural ventilation rates affect indoor air quality or how daylight ingress affects energy efficiency or HVAC system sizing.
The benefits of integrating automated building performance analysis into your design process transcend process optimization and savings in time. There are immense financial benefits to investing in automated building performance analysis for the firm and your clients.
This article outlines four key benefits an architecture firm can obtain by integrating automated building performance analysis into the design process.
4 Key Benefits of Automated Building Performance Analysis
Benefit 1: Using automated BPA in the early stages of design lets you make data-driven decisions early on, drastically reducing the project’s overall duration and cost compared to the traditional workflow.
Integrating automated BPA in the early stages of design to make informed decisions can positively influence the construction and operational costs of a building. The early design phase of a project is crucial when making low-risk decisions that later amplify through the consequent stages of the project, determining the final design and total investment. For example, reducing a building’s heat gain through the right orientation and massing in the early design stages can reduce the size of HVAC systems and the project’s MEP costs.
On the other hand, addressing building performance in later design stages can prove expensive for design teams, who lose out on key opportunities for energy use reduction in the early design phase. Sadly, this is the industry norm, as developers and design teams often only carry out building performance analyses after the building has already been designed, late into the construction document phase, when they must submit documentation for regulatory compliance or green ratings.
Early-stage design decisions on aspects like massing, site placement, and orientation can significantly reduce energy demand and operational costs at no extra cost to the client or design team. This benefit is strongly tied to the proper implementation of automated BPA in all stages of the design process. When design teams prioritize building performance early in the design process and use BPA tools to inform design decisions, the project is set on the right track to achieving high-performance goals.
On the other hand, designers often face challenges when implementing building performance in the later design stages. They are either forced to compromise on the project’s potential for meeting high-performance targets or go back to the drawing board. This delay can cost both clients and designers, with the project overshooting its budget and planned timelines and design teams wasting their time on endless revisions.
Integrating automated BPA into the design process also helps optimize the process, as we will see in the next point.
Benefit 2: Automated BPA technology is a force multiplier for integrated teams.
An integrated design process is essentially a more intelligent design process. Automated building performance analysis tools drastically reduce the time duration of the design process by automating analysis and decision-making previously owned by specialists. They combine the expertise of many building performance analysts into one powerful tool, reducing the need for external consultants. Feedback loops are also shortened thanks to the quick insights provided by digital tools and automation and the time savings compound to reduce project durations. Automated BPA tools also store and use existing data, varying from site geography and climatic conditions to energy codes and energy consumption data, to quickly inform single-aspect and whole-building performance analyses, saving dozens to hundreds of billable hours.
For example, these tools can automatically generate climate studies and passive design recommendations based on the project location by drawing climate information from the US Department of Energy’s database of weather files. Site analysis studies are made simpler through automatically-generated context data for a defined project site, including surrounding buildings (shape and height), property lines, traffic direction, and public transportation based on Google Maps and local GIS data. Previously, the same study took a team several hours to rebuild a site model and set up a bug-free climate script.
By providing a unified platform that brings design, engineering, and other discipline teams together, automated BPA tools enable easy collaboration and eliminate the possibility of miscommunication. They allow teams from diverse disciplines to work towards achieving the same set of high-performance targets, keeping everybody on the same page.
The cross-platform functionality of automated BPA tools also provides significant time savings for design teams. The same 3D geometry modeled for design purposes can be used for performance analysis through dedicated plugins. This function allows designers to make changes to their designs and get corresponding analysis results in minutes without spending time remodeling the geometry for performance analysis.
Benefit 3: It allows design firms to attract and retain the best talent in the industry.
Today, design professionals want to work with firms that use cutting-edge tools over legacy tools for collaboration, building performance, and design development. They see their work experiences as critical learning periods that will provide industry-relevant skills and support their professional development. Moreover, they are keen to work with firms with robust design processes and work structures, which evolve to integrate the latest process and product innovations in their work. Therefore, firms that augment their design process by incorporating automated building performance analyses into every design phase attract the industry’s best and brightest minds.
The enormous time savings resulting from this integrated design process is another factor that influences the attraction and retention of talent in the industry. Design firms are infamous for their long working hours, which leads to high rates of burnout and turnover in the industry. By making the design process more time-efficient, an integrated design process allows designers to spend their effort on critical and creative tasks and leave mundane and repetitive tasks to machines. This optimized process enables them to get more done in less time, improving their productivity and psychological wellbeing, and enhancing the quality of their design outcomes.
Today’s young professionals, especially from the millennial and Gen-Z age groups, aspire to work with firms that are committed to serving a purpose larger than themselves — improving the environment, ensuring racial and gender equity, and giving back to disadvantaged communities. More importantly, they wish to be a part of companies that “walk the talk” and demonstrate their commitment in tangible ways. By making automated BPA a standard part of the design process, design firms can show that they are dedicated to reducing the building industry’s negative impact on the environment and taking tangible measures to combat this issue.
Benefit 4: It contributes to business growth and increased profits.
As we have seen through the above points, using automation in building performance analysis saves millions of working hours for design teams. When it comes to working, time is money, and these savings in time translate into greater profits and business growth for firms.
Design teams are paid for their work on a project basis, so the efficiency of their design process directly affects their profit margin. For example, a design team paid X amount for a project will be awarded the same amount regardless of whether they spend 100 hours on the project or 80 hours. Firms with an integrated design process can maximize their per-hour earnings by doing the same amount of work in a shorter duration. The extra time also allows them to take on more opportunities and larger projects without affecting the quality of their outcomes or the health of their employees. Digital tools for building performance analysis also reduce the need for specialized personnel by bringing reliable technical data and machine learning to inform design decision-making.
Firms that use an integrated design process can deliver design outcomes that perform well in various aspects, as they validate decisions at every stage with reliable data. Through consistent excellence, these firms stand out among their peers and attract business as industry leaders, as they can deliver work faster and better. The integration of automated BPA is also an addition to the firm’s suite of services and an added opportunity for value generation.
While an integrated design process greatly benefits design firms by leading to cost and time savings, they also benefit clients and building owners by helping buildings meet high-performance goals, especially related to reducing energy consumption and carbon footprints. By validating design decisions with reliable information at every design stage, automated BPA brings building projects closer to their high-performance targets through each design stage, ensuring that they meet their targets during the design process and throughout the building’s operations. Additionally, high-performance buildings benefit clients and owners by increasing asset values, occupancy rates, occupant health and productivity, regulatory compliance, and reducing operational costs and energy consumption.
To learn more about the business benefits of automated BPA in the design process, check out the full article.