3 top trends show green building technology on the rise

Evolving green building technology automates data at every turn, making it easier than ever to adopt—and more profitable. These three trends promise to keep sustainability in the forefront.

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Susan Kuchinskas

June 2, 2022

min read
green building technology johnson controls apac office
Gensler made extensive use of BIM to design Johnson Controls’ Asia-Pacific headquarters, China’s first building to earn three different green-building certifications. Image courtesy of Gensler.

The Johnson Controls Asia-Pacific headquarters in Shanghai is one of the most sustainable corporate complexes in Asia. In the summer of 2017, the campus opened as the first building in China to earn three green certifications: LEED NC Platinum, the World Bank’s EDGE, and China’s own Green Building Design Label.

Although just one example, the Johnson Controls building is indicative of a larger move toward green building worldwide. According to the World Green Building Trends 2018 report, three emerging trends in green-building technology are advancing the sustainability revolution in architecture: energy-analysis tools used at every stage, the promise of generative design, and the use of data from design through the building’s entire lifecycle.

Dodge Data & Analytics, publisher of the report, surveyed more than 2,000 architecture, engineering, and construction professionals and found global growth in green-building projects: 47 percent of industry professionals expect more than 60 percent of their projects to be “green” by 2021.

NBBJ, one of the architecture firms surveyed for the report, takes green building quite literally for its project The Spheres (Amazon’s new Seattle office complex)—its interconnected steel-and-glass domes form a conservatory for more than 40,000 plants from the world’s cloud forests. However, the report defines “green” projects as including, at a minimum, efficient use of resources; waste and pollution reduction; high indoor-air quality; and as much renewable energy, nontoxic and sustainable materials, occupant quality of life, and environmental adaptation as possible.

Many incentives now entice architecture and construction firms to create buildings that meet those requirements. Owners are seeing a 10 percent or greater increase in asset value for new green buildings compared to traditional ones—as well as decreased operating costs and a shorter payback period. Survey respondents were also much less concerned with the higher cost of green building, with only 49 percent of them citing it as a factor, compared to 76 percent in 2012.

Here is a closer look at the World Green Building Trends 2018 report’s three emerging green-building technology trends.

 1. Using energy analysis early and often

green building technology Fort Lewis College Sitter Family Hall
Southwestern architecture and design firm D/P/S uses software-integrated energy-analysis tools on projects such as the energy-efficient Fort Lewis College Sitter Family Hall in Durango, Colorado. Image Courtesy of D/P/S.

The most important trend identified by survey respondents was the availability of early-analysis tools for use with building information models to analyze building performance.

Analysis of potential energy use and daylighting is crucial for green building at every stage of the design process. For example, providing natural light to as much of the building as possible reduces the use of electricity for lighting—except in hot weather, when it can increase the heat load.

Architects and engineers can make those calculations using Building Information Modeling (BIM) and energy-analysis tools such as the Insight tool within Autodesk Revit. The integration of design programs such as Autodesk AutoCAD with BIM lets architects and engineers use an iterative process to find optimal solutions. In-house architects can begin to model energy consumption early in the design process, without waiting until the design is turned over to consultants.

Margaret Montgomery, principal and sustainable-design leader at NBBJ, said in the report: “When our designers start at day one, they probably don’t have the other disciplines sitting there with them as they are initiating their first design doodles, but I want the software to be able to support them [at that stage]. … I want us to have a good feedback loop when we’re doing things that we tend to do quickly and early.”

In the report, Brandon Garrett, associate and architect at Dekker/Perich/Sabatini (D/P/S), said that integrating these tools lets energy analysis “become part of the dialogue throughout the design process.”

Understanding a project’s energy needs is also useful in client discussions, allowing the design team to demonstrate impacts of key design decisions such as building placement and mapping—sometimes on the fly during a client meeting.

Aaron Ketner, energy specialist at D/P/S, noted that when his team can demonstrate the impact of basic design decisions on the spot at a meeting, it impresses clients, who tend to think that a firm will have to figure out those impacts off site and come back to them at a later date.

2. Heeding the promise of generative design

green building technology voxman music building
LMN Architects used generative-design scripts to create an acoustic reflective ceiling for the University of Iowa School of Music Voxman Music Building. Image courtesy of LMN Architects.

Generative design has been called BIM 2.0. With generative-design software, designers or engineers can input design goals along with parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints. This removes a lot of the guesswork inherent to the process of proposing a building design first and then analyzing its potential performance. The software can generate a variety of building designs or come up with the optimal orientation, glazing, and window treatments based on preset energy-performance parameters.

In the World Green Building Trends 2018 report, Garrett predicted that such tools will become more and more automated into a designer’s workflow: “A dashboard sitting there as you work, and as you are designing and making decisions, performance moves up or down. So it is no longer a second thought process to run the analysis, but, rather, you get live feedback as you design.”

Generative-design software is already being used to design machine and building parts. For example, LMN Architects used generative-design scripts to create an acoustic reflector for a majestic new music hall at the University of Iowa School of Music Voxman Music Building.

Software will not likely create complete architectural designs, as Ellen Mitchell Kozack, principal and director of sustainability at HKS, said in the report. “There are inherent things in terms of beauty and delight that a computer is not going to be as effective at simulating,” she said, “but [the technical tasks of understanding how a structure performs] can be solved by a computer very easily.”

3. Using data at every stage

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IoT data helps Schneider Electric exceed the LEED Platinum standard for office buildings in Grenoble, France. Image courtesy of Schneider Electric.

The survey results of the World Green Building Trends 2018 report show that today’s smart buildings expand the reach of the Internet of Things (IoT). Their many sensors measure factors such as occupancy, air quality, and temperature. Currently, the data generated from these sensors is often siloed in building-automation software, also known as building-management systems (BMS).

In the past, building owners seldom shared BMS data with architects; however, an emerging trend is changing that by tying building automation systems into BIM tools. This lets architecture and construction professionals understand the actual performance of a building, as well as consider potential performance throughout the planning, design, construction, and management processes.

For example, some BMS can count the people in any space in real time. This can let building systems proactively turn on ventilation to prevent carbon-dioxide buildup. Feeding this information back to architects could help them understand how users actually circulate through spaces, inspiring design strategies for improved routing or to encourage the use of stairs.

Sensor data could also make buildings more predictive than reactive. For example, climate-control systems could use the weather forecast to precool or preheat the building at off-peak times.

According to Kozack, this flood of building data is starting to fundamentally impact design. “As we move toward IoT, people will rely more and more on data to inform decisions,” she said. “I think once that comes, there’s no going back.”

As an example, Schneider Electric in Grenoble, France, is leveraging IoT data in the design of two corporate buildings that aim to exceed the LEED Platinum standard. Designers are using energy analytics and BMS data from one completed building to lower the energy consumption of the second building by an additional 8 percent.

Right now, buildings contribute significantly to climate change, producing about 28 percent of global energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions. The three trends outlined here show the promise of technology to produce more sustainable buildings. These technologies not only result in highly energy-efficient structures but also automate processes that grant architecture, engineering, and construction professionals more brainpower for creativity.

Partnerships with United Technologies, Autodesk, the USGBC, the World Green Building Council, and the American Institute of Architects supported the publishing of World Green Building Trends 2018.

Susan Kuchinskas

About Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas is a journalist and author. She covers science, tech, and business for a variety of publications.

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