Tag Archives: Sustainable Design


How a Culture of Collaboration & Technology Enables Design Excellence at NBBJ

Note, previous versions of this video were without slides, and this version has been improved to show the visuals accompanying Steve’s very engaging and inspiring talk. I hope you all enjoy it!

At the 2010 Design Futures Council Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, Steve McConnell, Managing Partner of NBBJ spoke about new technologies that are driving innovative sustainable design solutions at NBBJ. Using two projects currently under construction, Steve discusses the need for new models of collaboration to enable paradigm shifts in our industry. For more information on NBBJ, visit nbbj.com.

Click through for the iOS friendly version: How a Culture of Collaboration & Technology Enables Design Excellence at NBBJ – Steve McConnell, Managing Partner, NBBJ

It is both an honor and joy to work with such talented and visionary leaders. There are nine other wonderful presentations from other industry leaders (including one by the also eloquent speaker Phil Bernstein) also found at Design Intelligence on Vimeo.

Thoughts on the AU Keynote

Some very amazing things have been shown and talked about at Autodesk University 2009 this week. If you have been hiding under a rock, then you may not know that the attendees, both in Vegas and virtually have invaded the Twitter-sphere or Tweet-Zone or whatever… Go to Twitter, sign up now and follow the conversations by searching for #AU2009.

So, on to the Tuesday Keynote and three ah-ha moments:

  1. It’s not about Revit… or BIM, but Digital Design tool synergies! Best of breed products that work well together to create new opportunities and break new ground. Use things not necessarily as designed. Maya can make buildings, Revit can make movie sets. Put everything in a bowl, mix and see what pops out. These are exciting times.
  2. Sustainability, talk by Amory Lovins, co-founder and Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, approaches design with whole systems thinking. If a design feature can have more than one purpose, and is efficient,  it can drastically reduce energy use by leaps and bounds over traditional design, engineer, then build workflows. If you can make an SUV that is just as luxurious as a traditional model, but gets over 80MPG, why aren’t we all doing this now? If you can build a building that is so efficient you require no conventional systems to be comfortable, and it costs less to build, why not do it. Renovate the Empire State Building such that the energy savings are $4M annually and has a three year payback? That’s how you fix the economy. If we can upgrade just a portion of the existing building stock… think of the potential for jobs, increased profits, and reduced need for imported energy.
  3. Jeff Kowalski from Autodesk showed some radically amazing possibilities for integrated workflows within Revit. Sustainable design in the tool is a natural next step. The API in Revit 2010, thanks Matt Mason, already has the ability to cast rays and analyze points in the model which is much of the power available in Ecotect today. This has the potential to enable thermal, daylighting, visibility, and acoustic analysis in Revit. Let’s hope it’s in 2011… Time will tell. Along similar lines, which validates this assumption, Jeff talked about the current disconnected workflow of Design -> Analysis. Obviously, this removes the ability to iterate through design ideas either quickly or often. When he turned that workflow around with the idea of Analysis -> Design people literally had their tongues on the floor. The scenario went like this (with fabulous imagery): input some criteria about the site, and the building, and the analysis engine test many iterations of form, orientation, and massing. Comparing these to hit the sweet spot for efficiency, or daylighting allows the designer to move forward with a concept quickly.

Interesting times. Be Visual!

Lightcatcher Building

Not one of mine, credit - Whatcom Museum

Small cities deserve well-designed civic buildings and museums. This is one, designed by the accomplished Seattle firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects (soon to be renamed Olson  Kundig Architects), whose body of work is well known throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The building is so nick-named for the 180 foot long double glazed wall which runs like a spine through the entire project and partially defines an outdoor court. The official purpose, at least currently, is the Art and Children’s Museum of the larger organization, the Whatcom Museum. The History Museum will continue to function in the old City Hall building, which is a historic landmark in itself. The new building will be the first museum in Washington State to be built to LEED Silver standards. Here’s the official announcement from the city, which also contains an interesting time lapse video of the construction.

The building shell went up very fast with mostly precast concrete insulated panels. These have a very stone like quality about them which is interesting in itself. The  storefront details are well done, but the double curtainwall Lightcatcher steals the show. I definitely recommend a visit to see the building, and of course the artwork inside. The current exhibits are actually very interesting and feature some prominent artists from around the globe.

I attended the grand opening last weekend among great fanfare. Attendance was free, thanks to a local bank as the event’s sponsor. My only complaints were that on opening day, the upstairs atrium gallery was a little too narrow for the crowds trying to weave their way to the main exhibits. Ironically, the photographs displayed on that wall were of the area’s logging history. Perhaps it was the curator’s intent to create a human log-jam, creating an interactive exhibit. Second, that upstairs level really seems like a programmatic mish-mash. It is a small building, but  seemingly unrelated rooms like an exhibit space and the children’s activity room were next to the director’s glass jewel box of an office, which couldn’t have had more Design Within Reach furnishings if it had been the company’s 1st Ave showroom in Seattle. Lastly, and this isn’t the building’s fault by any means, I was dissapointed that the roof garden over the lobby was not accessible. There are patio blocks and seating out there as well as an informational sign explaining the virtues of the living roof and rainwater collection. I guess I’ll read it another time.

I took a few photos of the atrium, and exterior. The lobby was too full of people to see much, but is a well-designed arrival space. Since it was dusk, these are a little grainy. Maybe it’s time for a new camera, or  should open the manual for once.  FYI: No photographs are allowed in the exhibit spaces, as is typical in most museums. Enjoy.

My only complaints were that on opening day, the upstairs atrium gallery was a little too narrow for the crowds trying to weave their way to the main exhibits. Ironically, the photographs on that wall were of the area’s logging history. Perhaps it was the curators intent to create a human log-jam. Second, that the roof garden was not accessible. There are patio blocks and seating out there as well as an informational sign explaining the virtues of the living roof and rainwater collection. I guess I’ll read it another time.

House of the Week: Consorzio Vini Tipici di San Marino

OK, so it’s not really a house, but perhaps a really good house wine. Every once in a while you find a very intriguing use of technology in architecture schools. Lately, the amount of good work has been not scarce. In this example, however there is evidence of biomimicry, parametric scripting, simple rendering using ambient occlusion, and using Ecotect to present sustainable analysis data in very compelling and rich ways. Bravo Andrea!

Click through to have a taste of Italy:

s h i f t: Digital refining: new winery for “Consorzio Vini Tipici di San Marino” _[boards].

Congrats to the CCA + SCU team – 2009 Solar Decathlon Architecture Contest winner

Refract House

A well deserved kudos to all who participated in the Solar Decathlon is in order. This year’s entries have a level of sophistication and attention to detail that should inform the industry and heat up the debate on energy independence.

The Refract house, winner of the Architecture category is such a well-done concept. Not only does it bend producing more roof area concentrating on the best sun exposure, but creates and extends living space to the outdoors. From the photographs it is obvious that, while only 800 s.f., there is a visual separation form the adjacent spaces as the building form turns the corner.

An overview of the design process and a well-documented list of the features employed can be found on the official page below. It’s unclear what digital design tools were used in creating this project. Anyone that can provide some clues, you are welcome to add a comment to the post. The use of the Building Dashboard for monitoring energy consumption and production is especially interesting, since I covered this way back in February of 2007.

from ArchDaily: CCA + SCU win 2009 Solar Decathlon, Architecture Contest | ArchDaily.

the official page: http://www.refracthouse.com

Seattle Ecotect User Group

Ecotect insolation imageI and 50 other architects, designers, engineers, consultants and construction professionals just attended the inaugural meeting of the newly formed Seattle Ecotect® User Group. This meeting, sponsored by IMAGINiT and Callison Architecture was held at the Seattle offices of Skanska. Surely this will be the first of many exciting collaborative, and community-building meetings to come.

For those not familiar with Autodesk Ecotect: It is an early building performance and design analysis tool for use by architects and designers. Its primary purpose is to aid in the iterative design process and gain valuable early insight in to cost and performance measures of buildings, and can greatly contribute toward reaching energy efficiency and sustainability goals. Ecotect is very graphical in nature, and thus provides those sexy images that help sell complex ideas to the client while working with a broad suite of environmental analysis tools. Ecotect plays somewhat well with others, as it can import files from SketchUP, Revit, and other 3D CAD and BIM applications using the gbXML file format, and can also export data to many precise engineering tools such as EQuest, Radiance and EnergyPlus.

Some folks joined the meeting as an exploration of available technologies, and are studying their options for sustainable design tools. Others, approximately 25%, were current Ecotect users and expressed a desire to share experiences and best practices to take back an implement in their work.

A presentation and model sharing was given by Teresa Burrelsman of Callison, discussing the need for quick design simulation during a schematic design for a new tower in the city of Riyadh, and showing how Ecotect was used to determine energy cost savings and occupant comfort (especially reducing glare) by various schemes using shading devices. There was some discussion of these quick, down and dirty, ‘shoebox models’ and how invaluable they can be to drive design iteration.

Olivier Pennetier of Symphysis, a leading regional Ecotect consultant,  joined by phone from his office in San Francisco and offered advice on modeling practices, as well as providing food for thought on how the community can begin to share information learned from the informal conversations these types of meetings generate.

Based on those in attendance, it was determined that the next meeting will take place on the second monday of the month, July 13th. The location is still to be determined. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to add to the discussion on this post. As more information on the next meeting becomes available, I will provide an update here.


zHome rendered image

zHome concept image

Recently, I attended a presentation by Brad Liljequist, the project manager for the zHome project. His talk, part of the Sustainable Connections series of conferences in Bellingham, WA, was a very interesting discovery showcasing the efforts of a complex and intriguing project, right in my own region. Located in the Issaquah Highlands, just East of Seattle, WA, this project is aiming at becoming one of the first zero net energy affordable residential projects to be built.

Yes, there actually is sun in Seattle, and outside of the darkest winter months, is plentiful enough for energy production. If everything goes as planned, construction should begin soon. Can’t wait for the availability of site visits. If you live in the area, go the the website and sign up for the email newsletter. I’ll certainly be following this more closely over the course of construction.