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Energy modeling workflow maps: A tool to improve architecture practice

Architects and engineers don’t always mix, but when they do, great things happen. That’s the case in our San Francisco office, where an architectural designer and mechanical engineer are working together to avoid bottlenecks in the BIM workflow.

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Making energy a common language between architects and engineers.

Two team members banded together explore where architects and engineers jointly understand energy modeling – their ideas caught the attention of some very interested groups.

Autodesk shared information about this effort on its Sustainability Workshop blog, abridged here. You can read the full post and download a copy of the workflow on the Autodesk website.

We at the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop are trying to influence architecture and engineering practice through education. One exciting thing we’ve been delving into recently is workflows for high performance building design.

We found that folks at Stantec were trying to map out processes to incorporate energy modeling into mainstream architecture practice. This is important because energy modeling and passive design analyses are often either not done, or done too late in the process that they are only valuable for verification purposes, not meaningful design solutions.

Workflow maps allow processes to be understood, improved, and integrated quickly

Workflow maps can be immensely valuable to help designers and design teams more comfortably adopt new processes.

Whether those workflows are “homegrown” or come from experts, they build confidence because they serve as a roadmap and reference for how the process can and should work. It can help project managers, who may be skeptical of trying something new, better understand exactly what they’re getting into – and how it can help improve their project outcomes.

The architects and engineers at Stantec started this project because they wanted to better define their energy modeling process to THEMSELVES first - so they could explain it better to their colleagues and others in industry. While it may seem like this is adding a complicated tool to an already complicated process, the goal is to simplify the process by making it more explicit and removing ambiguity.

The workflows that Stantec is working to explain are about Building Energy Modeling – getting architects to work together more closely with engineers and energy modelers to produce higher performing buildings, and meet concrete energy goals, right from the start. Furthermore, their process goes all the way through to measurement and verification of the constructed building – to ensure the energy targets are being met. Both of these are important things – and not done enough in industry.

This type of map is also helpful for other stakeholders in the design process, like the building owner, to help justify design and process decisions.

How to read and interpret Stantec’s map

Stantec’s map is organized with design phase along the X-axis. Because every project has a different run-rate, time is given as a percentage of completion through these phases.

There are horizontal bands running throughout the diagram based on who’s making the decisions as the process moves forward (architects, engineers, or collaborative).

When icons line-up on the timeline, that signifies a meeting between the stakeholders where these issues are fleshed out. For example, during the pre-schematic phase a program fitting meeting happens where the architect will estimate the footprint and number of people per square foot; the energy modeler will estimate the HVAC, domestic hot water, and ventilation strategies; and the two parties will come together on things like the window-to-wall ratio and estimated plug and lighting loads.

The circles on the map are where all of this information comes together in an energy model. The icons within the model are the design variables that are “on-the-table” to optimize based on the energy model results. 

Stantec’s energy modeling workflow map focuses on communication and information exchange

As Stantec built-out this map, they found what bogged them down most is not the inadequacy of the tools or a convoluted process, but clarity on the basic information exchange that should happen. So they made the iconography of their workflow map richer to show the level of confidence of the information exchange – and what level of specificity/detail should be known.

Tips on how to use Stantec’s workflow map on your projects now

  1. Review this process with your design team before the project kicks off.
  2. Pace and set the agenda of meetings to align on the design variables outlined.
  3. Use it to create a checklist for yourself to ensure you’ve covered all of your bases before you move on to the next phase.
  4. Monitor the process and reevaluate at the end of each phase.

Future work

The Stantec team is sharing this work because they hope that it will help drive best practices, on-the-ground, in their firm and in industry. They’d also like to involve more firms to refine this, and perhaps create some AIA guidelines around it if there’s enough momentum. They are working to scope and get support for the next phase of the project, which will be to observe the process of several project teams and better understand the realities of real projects vs. an idealized workflow.  

Authored by Adam Rendek and Matt Grinberg

The Stantec team is sharing this work because we hope it will help drive best practices, on-the-ground, in our firm and in industry

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