PUBLISHED BY INTELLIGENT GLASS SOLUTIONS IN IGS ISSUE 4/2013
"Good design doesn’t cost, but it pays." [Richard H. Driehaus]
What is the value of good design? Design as product, process, or both? This fascinating question triggers discussions of design and the relationship between aesthetics, quality, and architecture. It also highlights the interesting relationship between, on the one hand, value in monetary terms – good design is potentially good business – and, on the other hand, value in qualitative terms – potentially experienced as the worth of a building or a space. The article attempts to relate these questions to High Performance Facades and some of the challenges facing the industry in the future.
So how do you measure the value of design? As engineers, we are used to dealing with performance requirements fairly routinely and comfortably and the current energy performance debate centres on the performance gap (between the design targets and the performance delivered in operation).
In certain parts of the market, there are expectations in terms of the ‘standard’ of construction, but how do you measure this beyond construction budget? When it comes to aesthetics and the qualities of fabric and space it becomes more complex and more ‘soft’ measures are usually applied.
The discussion is not purely academic. We are starting to see hard data on the economic value of design as research explores the market value of property designed by signature architects. The details of the science lie beyond the scope of this article, but it is relevant to mention that this is an area of interest from the perspective of the most commercially astute investors and developers. One such study states “ (...) compared to buildings in the same submarket, office buildings designed by signature architects have rents that are 5-7% higher and sell for prices 17% higher.” [F. Fuerst et al., Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK].
"Good design is good business." [Thomas Watson, Jr.]
DESIGN AS A PRODUCT
The term design used to describe the product can take on a wide range of meanings and cover a number of characteristics, including aesthetics. It is also frequently associated with elements pertaining to quality, which can lead to challenges in terms of communication across design team and supply chain, and beyond.
A design can be characterised by appearance, function, and performance. Notwithstanding this, the quality aspect is critical and this is where terms such as durability and longevity become highly relevant. Quality here refers to the detailing, quality of materials, and workmanship, but also to the ‘softer’ architectural qualities of fabric, texture, and space. High quality buildings that are pleasant to live, work, and play in, and also benefit the surrounding environment, are more likely to be looked after and last longer. In the long run they are therefore worth more than buildings of lesser quality. Such qualities can be difficult to measure and quantify, but the suggestion here is that there is significant value in good design and that this translates into the worth of a building and/or a place.
DESIGN AS A PROCESS
Good design depends on a good design process. Over the past decades, there has been much talk about the integrated design process and interdisciplinary working. It is now generally agreed and understood that successful building projects are usually the result of a thoroughly collaborative process where the design team responds appropriately to the client’s requirements. “The devil is in the detail”, but great designers have taught us how to translate the inherent complexities of architectural design into subsets of interlinked decisions with an eye on the overall result. Paraphrasing, the late Sir Ove Arup spoke of Total Architecture when he addressed architecture and engineering as inseparable parts of design.
Good collaboration and the integration across disciplines and the supply chain will facilitate management of risk – financial as well as technical. Ultimately, the link between the architects and the suppliers is a way of managing architectural intent as the feasibility (cost, time, quality) of alternative options can be assessed from the early design development. Specialist advice (such as facade engineering) can prove instrumental to proving the feasibility of innovative solutions and adequately manage integration across disciplines.
The pitfalls are around every corner. The value of design in this context relates to the nature and quality of the collaboration and the ability and capacity to translate the client’s requirements into concrete design proposals.
Value engineering usually focuses on cost reduction in response to indications that the design may run over budget. When carried out late in the design process the options are frequently fairly limited and the result can be that the project is stripped of what may be deemed superfluous design elements in the pursuit of best value. It could be argued that value engineering is a necessary and intrinsic part of a healthy design process and that it should not actually be possible to trim elements of a good design. The key here is that an investor needs information on both cost and value to make informed decisions and the design team needs to be able to articulate and assess options as well as the consequences of alternative design decisions.
"When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." [Richard Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller]
WHAT JUSTIFIES A PREMIUM?
In the context of value engineering and with a focus on return on investment as the key success indicator of commercial development, it is perhaps interesting to consider what kind of elements may justify a premium. As discussed briefly above the potential premium fee of a signature architect may be justified on the basis of image, marketability, and market value of real estate. In some cases specialist services such as facade engineering are seen by the client as ‘additional’ but justified because they are perceived instrumental in terms of managing technical risk and timely delivery. Then what constitutes a premium, actually? Well it depends on circumstances, but in the context of this discussion it relates to design beyond the baseline minimum necessity.
Double skin facade solutions are a prominent example of premium architectural solutions. They offer a range of distinct architectural expressions and – importantly – they typically offer varying degrees of transparency through the extensive use of clear glass and shading devices protected from the elements. Besides adaptable function and performance, the layering and depth of the double facade add a desired aesthetic quality to the design. Studies show that it is hard, if not outright impossible, to justify the additional cost of these solutions on the basis of energy savings when comparing with more conventional solutions. The premium is thus justified on the basis of less tangible qualities and the decision to pursue this style of facade derives from informed dialogue between the architect and the client. Whether the budget is subsequently taken for granted or subject to further justification varies from project to project, but the point is that the premium is justified on the basis of the value of the design. Similarly, in certain locations and markets, there are requirements in term of architectural language including use of certain materials. Banks may want to project a ‘solid’ appearance of their headquarters and opt for the use of natural stone, which will represent a premium. The requirement for natural stone may also derive from planning regulations and be seen as a price for development in a certain premium location.
A recent research study by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) highlighted the relationship between the height to architectural top and the height of occupiable space for recent prestigious high rise buildings. Somewhat controversially, and perhaps actually ‘tongue-in-cheek’, the height of non-occupiable space at the top of the high rise building was dubbed Vanity Height (up to 39% of the height to architectural top) and this subsequently spawned a heated debate in the industry. The point is that, for a number of reasons, investors are willing to invest vast amounts in architectural elements that are - by definition - beyond the baseline minimum necessity when they are seen as adding value to the design.
The added value of design is a theme worth discussing also in relation to high performance building. Traditionally options are judged on their cost for equal performance and a parallel discussion deals with architectural intent and quality. It is time that these strands of discussion merge and that the architectural merit of high performance solutions is taken into account as a matter of course as they may add to the worth of the solution.
HIGH PERFORMANCE DESIGN
Dow Corning has responded to the need for more integrated solutions in the field of high performance building and now engages in the development of a broad range of innovative solutions in collaboration across the supply chain. In the construction sector, the company is traditionally known for excellence and innovation in sealants and structural glazing based on a long history in Silicon science. As a more recent strategic direction, the company now provides custom solutions and work closely with designers as early as concept design where key design decisions are made. As part of this effort, the company now employs facade engineers who link the research, development, and innovation work with the field. This connection creates synergies where the designers are equipped with new solutions in the pursuit of new design possibilities. Through this early stage engagement, the designers can freely explore options, while gauging their feasibility thus minimising risk including the exposure to the dreaded redesign post value engineering.
An example of novel high performance facade solutions is the Dow Corning Architectural Insulation Module – an opaque thermally insulating facade module incorporating vacuum insulating panels and insulating glazing unit technology. The technology sets a new benchmark in performance which potentially translates into very thin building envelopes and trade-offs between vision and non-vision areas (WWR, window-to-wall ratios). While the performance levels are interesting in their own right, the really intriguing aspect here is the impact this novel technology can have on the architectural expression of high performance building envelopes generally and curtain walling in particular. Instead of asking for the technology to deliver a certain specified performance, you can now start to ask what impact the technology may have on the architecture. For instance, what if the wall could be 60mm thick instead of 300mm? This leads on to discussions about the value of lettable floor area, but also the value of a certain aesthetic or the qualities of the space.
GREEN IS THE COLOUR ...
Indoor environmental quality and occupant comfort are shown to impact on productivity, staff retention, and corporate image. Evidence shows that the financial impact of these factors is substantial and more significant than the energy savings for an occupier of an office building. The marketability of a building is another significant commercial element where buildings with high environmental ratings are attracting tenants quicker than similar buildings without ratings. In certain markets incentives are given to developers who can demonstrate the environmental performance. Such incentives can include permission to develop more area, tax benefits or other benefits in connection with planning process. Finally, high performance solutions may offer ways of exploiting the real estate, for example through use of more compact facade systems.
In addition to the economic value of design as pointed out above, other metrics include the environmental impact ratings such as LEED and BREEAM, which are increasingly used as a marketing instrument, attracting environmentally conscious tenants and buyers. Energy Performance Certificates are also widely expected to become a commercial factor as prospective tenants or buyers will start to negotiate on the basis of energy consumption or even the likelihood of required energy upgrades to the building fabric and plant.
In addition to the environmental drivers, there are plenty of potential commercial benefits of high performance building.
Add to the environmental benefits and the marketability the potential worth and longevity of well-designed buildings and a new paradigm is emerging – Or is it new, really? Create high performance buildings and spaces of high architectural quality their worth will last. The challenge remains how to manage and deliver projects where longevity and worth are valued along with cost and price. Perhaps new columns are needed in the project manager’s spreadsheets and new measures are needed for clients to assess their options. Educated clients and developers realise that good design – including high performance – is good business – Green is the colour of money ...
"What works good is better than what looks good. Because what works good lasts." [Ray Eames]