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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Building mis-information has profound impact on AEC industry

June 3rd, 2013 by Susan Smith

Michelle Addington, Hines Professor of Sustainable Architectural Design at Yale University, is educated as both an architect and engineer whose teaching and research explore energy systems, advanced materials and new technologies, spoke at sg 2013 in April 2013 at the University of London on the topic, “Data and its dis-contents”.

Addington challenges the concept that buildings account for 30-50% of global warming. “There were no sessions devoted to the built environment at the Climate Change Conference for the UN 2010,” Addington pointed out. “People were surprised that architecture would come. Buildings were the reason and the answer but not worth talking about. Where did this opiniong come from?”

This 30-50% number has made it into policy documents worldwide,” said Addington.  “I could not identify the technologies that would get you that number. If you followed the paper trail you would find a 1992 study of 11 buildings in southern California. Each time this information was cited, less of it was cited as a 1992 study, and it has since become fact. A lot of information reported as fact is not fact, it is one specific study or item.”

Addington said that people rarely cite sources in technology”People think if it’s science or technology they think it is fact.”

This mis-information is also changing the code landscape. All this data that’s out there is U.S. Energy codes are turning over rapidly and being adopted faster than anything else.

“By the time you ratchet in all these requirements you end up with something that looks like the IKEA building,” said Addington.

“How effective have these approaches been?  The energy czar says architects know what to do, they just choose not to do it.”

“If it’s not the independent technologies that are making a difference, what is going on?”

Buildings are getting larger in square meters per capita and per function. In China there has been a near six-fold increase in urban areas. We will see massive growth in interior spaces in China per person.

Electricity loads in buildings have increased because buidlings have shifted over to using a high degree of cooling and lighting requirements are greater. This gets collapsed into a common building meter that looks at square and metrics. “You can make your building look green by adding an atrium,” said Addington.

The primary energy for cooling is increasing at a faster rate than heating. Heating is simple. Cooling is not.

“Why haven’t we tackled these problems?” asks Addington. “Why are we working on the marginal aspects that don’t deal with the real facts?”

There are three reasons why this is the case, according to Addington:

  1. Assumptions —  individual buildings have been conceptualized as if they are unitized energy systems.
  2. Technologies – tend to be designed for buildings not occupants. The major energy consuming systems are designed for the buildings, not its occupants.  This has little relationship to human body.
  3. Tools – analyses are based on conservative volumes which treat the building as a homogeneous system bounded by material surfaces.

The Sistine Chapel had many different thermal climates in the building. When they allowed the walls to drive the condition, the HVAC system stripped the laminar layer and was homogeneous instead of heterogeneous, so when they cleaned the walls of the building, the walls got very dirty fast afterwards.

Some possibilities for change include: dis-integrate systems at the individual building – “we always want integration but many systems are governed at different scales so you might want to optimize them as they are,” said Addington.

Look at energy supplies to buildings such as thermal mass from the building scale.

Decisions made at the building scale – to choose lighting  is a micro behavior. The macro approach is to move the building to accommodate the lighting.

In another example an architect discovered you can extend a virtual sky view by using a reflective coating on the top two floors for heat exchange, simulating an urban heat island at the micro scale in stead of at the macro scale. Smaller apertures give the appearance of more light, as opposed to physically more light in bigger ones.

Action is taken through the built world, and we will see the impact of our actions on larger systems, according to Addington. With buildings the impacts are longer term, so the use of accurate data will be of utmost importance in the making of strategic decisions about infrastructure.

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Categories: AEC, architecture, Bentley Systems, BIM, building information modeling, Cloud, construction, engineering, infrastructure, integrated project delivery, site planning

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