Revolutions in the science, strategies, and prospects for building performance are happening faster than transformation of the American building stock. Within a decade the frontier moved from more energy-efficient building components to integrated buildings systems, opening dramatically new opportunities. Today the focus for strategic leaders is looking toward holistic buildings within systems-integrated communities that cut first cost, lifecycle cost, energy demand, carbon emissions, and resource impact generally while driving economic growth and transformations in transportation, air quality, and in-the-building experience.
That means a building delivery process conceived more broadly to include public policy, standards and codes, economics and urban design, architecture and engineering, finance and workforce transformation. At the heart of the emerging idea of high-performance building delivery is the experience of cities and private enterprise together creating profound change in the field. Armed with an expanding toolkit of possibilities and a new sense of urgency, policy makers and building professionals are discovering the agility to mix and match tactics as required to meet much higher targets and realize the new possibilities. Building delivery can no longer be viewed separate and distinct from market transformation.
But can the goal be reached?
At our June 2017 EnVisioneering Symposium, Edward Mazria, CEO of Architecture 2030 and one of the most influential voices on the future of buildings, highlighted reasons for both the new urgency and for confidence in the possibilities. In the next 15 years, he explained, world urban population will increase by 1.1 billion. Urban population in the US will increase by 40 million, even though total US population growth is expected to be 34 million. Rapid urbanization is also anticipated to be a worldwide phenomenon in developing countries. Today, urban centers are responsible for 75% of the human produced greenhouse gas emissions, with the contribution of buildings hovering roughly between 65% and 80% of total emissions. Clearly cities are the crux of matter — and the matter is that the carbon emission cuts required to achieve the widely envisioned two-degree-Celsius cap on the rise in global temperature seems on its face far beyond anything that can be accomplished.
Mazria, however, contended that the goal is within reach precisely because urban buildings play such a large role. And because cities are getting in the business of setting forceful emission reduction targets.
With the policy arm in motion, Mazria suggested it would be possible to start projecting a phaseout of all CO2 emissions in the building sector by 2050 through a combination of high-performance new building design and major renovations, deep efficiency renovations, and renewable energy. He emphasized that US building total energy consumption has leveled off despite substantial growth in building space. The portals to the next phase — deep cuts in energy consumption — can be found at certain “building intervention points” or a major renovation, where energy-efficiency improvements cost approximately 75% less.
How do we meet these laudable goals?
Such critical junctures include major renovations driven by the capital improvement cycle, resiliency upgrades, zoning or use changes, and building transactions. It is at these moments in the life of a building that it is possible to best activate the impact of energy-efficiency upgrades and codes, incentives, and alternative compliance options — and in doing so, to dispel myths, move the market, and educate.
Building intervention points are the key to a building delivery strategy for truly high-performance buildings. Mazria argued that perhaps the most powerful obstacle to high-performance building delivery at the volume and pace required is a powerful myth: that it is more expensive to design and build high-performance buildings. The key to cost is trade-offs. The building budget is impacted by the form, orientation, fenestrations, systems, equipment, and products or materials used. So, spending more at one end simply means spending less at another. The critical factor is the role of design.
Investing in creative design work at the front end means using the building project budget to meet the energy goals and cost goals — and other goals that are introduced into the equation. Steps such as building certification can help move market demand. But meeting the new, better informed, more sustainable demand requires, in Mazria’s terms, a deep shift in both professional practice and architectural education (i.e., form-based design studio culture).
Creating the required building delivery pathways will require strategies based around key intervention points, new codes and incentives, and the like. But broad deployment of the high-performance buildings of the future requires building delivery strategy centered on “bottom-up” leadership, on a design community that insists on using the full palette of available options in creative ways in each new building and renovation to meet the full range of goals, including carbon emissions and cost containment. In brief, delivering sustainable buildings — economic, atmospheric, and the rest — depends on a new creativity among building design professionals.