The New Tenets of High-Performance Building Design

James Forkan is a structural engineer and member of Building Design Experts, and he shared his thoughts on high-performance building design.

“So, I think high-performance building design can be described as a design philosophy in which designers try to achieve a high standard of performance on several key areas. Some of those are more traditional areas that we’re all familiar with, such as safety, aesthetics, things like functionality and cost effectiveness.

Clients are always trying to push us to minimize the use of materials and reduce complexity to minimize cost. So, that’s already embedded in the design process and has been for a long time. But, in the present and gradually more in the future, what we’re seeing is more emphasis on other parts of building design, such as productivity in the industry itself and the whole design process.

So, industrialized construction, modular design, all that type of thing — and there’s more of a concentration on productivity of the building occupants and wellness in the building itself, accessibility for all users of buildings, which is obviously a very important, and, maybe more important than any other aspect of high performance building design, at least in my experience right now, is sustainable design, or designing buildings that have no embodied carbon in the materials they use.

Using renewable materials like timber and as opposed to concrete, which I think is a very heavy carbon footprint, minimizing the amount of cement, and the use of renewable energy resources in buildings, such as solar.

Outside of that building and in deconstruction, as well, we’re reusing buildings that we’ve already built and we’re not recreating and producing an even greater carbon footprint. This is, in my opinion, becoming one of the strongest trends that is emerging in the last couple of years in building design and sustainability, in particular.

I would say, after that, perhaps productivity. I’m trying to understand better a way to create almost a manufacturing-led process in building design, such as modular design or something like that where not every building is built once and all of that knowledge is lost, the expertise is lost and all of that production just applies to that particular building.

I think it is a very exciting space, and there’s a lot of room for innovation, particularly in the industrialized construction point of view and in understanding how we transition from traditional construction, where we build a concrete core with laborers on site, which is very intensive and quite unsafe when compared to the manufacturing process in a factory environment.

The industry is not doing well in terms of productivity. And a lot of that is down to the fact that we are producing these bespoke buildings all over the place. Now, we’re starting to learn ways to create buildings that perform well, look good and are also driven by a manufacturing process.

People are beginning to understand the importance of our role as designers to influence sustainability and building design. We need to educate our clients. We need to educate the industry at large on how we need to try and develop designs that minimize the environmental impact they have so that we start building not just for the present, but also for the future.”

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