Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Value of Design - Part I


"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.]


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.  


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]


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. 


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.


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]

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Words #003

 “ Whenever you see the word ‘green’ in the name of a building code, cross it out and write the words ‘high performance’ instead.  When green criteria move into the building code we will be looking at a new normal.  And meeting the building code is not something the majority of architects is going to hire a consultant to do.  It is an opportunity for us, as a profession, to build new value for what we do.

AIANational [AIA. Design:Art+Science. Episode One.  Hosted by Jennifer Devlin-Herbert, FAIA, Principal at EHDD]

Friday, 21 June 2013

Words #002

(...) we should be wary of focusing our argument on the bottom line. Architecture and design are fundamentally useless activities when viewed through the lens of a project manager’s spreadsheet. That’s why so much bad design is commissioned: because it doesn't make any difference when it is totalled up in a column. Project managers get fired because buildings are late or go over budget, but rarely because a building isn’t very good.
[Sam Jacob, FAT, column in Dezeen Magazine]

Monday, 31 December 2012

High Performance Defined


The theme of this year’s Glass Supper is Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas (Firmness, Commodity, Delight) from Vetruvius’ elements of architecture.  The theme provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the importance of the building envelope as it combines functional requirements with performance and aesthetics.  The strap line of the event is: Where will the architectural glass industry be in 100 years time?  In times of economic and environmental challenges it is quite appropriate to consider how Architecture will undergo changes and how these changes will impact on the construction industry.  It is both interesting and relevant to consider how new drivers including legislation will bring about changes at different scales – from urban design to material science.  At the Glass Supper we will be focusing principally on architecture and glass, current challenges and future opportunities.  High performance buildings with low environmental impact require collaboration across design disciplines and supply chain.   The aim is to create durable and resource-efficient buildings of high architectural standards – More with Less is the overarching ambition.  The devil is in the detail and so besides much-needed technological progress and a deeper understanding of fundamentals it is of paramount importance that designers are empowered to adequately consider high performance solutions at the early project stages.  The designers will need new skills in the future and they will need access to the right information from suppliers and contractors.  While the need for interdisciplinary working and integrated design has been acknowledged for years, legislation is likely to require closer links between designers and supplier to meet the stricter regulations of the future.  It is well-known that building regulations will never represent cutting edge solutions – That is not the role of legislation.  The environmental policies on the other hand will drive change and we all need to reflect on our own role in a changing set of circumstances.  Thought-leaders set new standards and – by doing so – aim to secure a place in the future marketplace for high performance building solutions.  Innovate or stick with business as usual?  Lead or follow? 


One definition of a successful building project is “a project that will meet or exceed the Client’s expectations, be delivered on time and on budget”.  How do you then define high performance?  Well, it depends on the point of view.  The term high performance building will typically cover aspects of durability, energy savings, occupant comfort, and aesthetics.  The specific context and the Client’s requirement will determine which of these aspects are of high priority and which are negotiable.  Increasingly, low environmental impact is seen as high performance.  By some forward-looking designers it is even seen as a given and not really the subject of much discussion. 

Visionary clients and developers – with the help of their designers – target high performance because of its impact on corporate image, staff retention, and potential savings on operational costs.  Comparatively less visionary clients and developers will follow suit as legislation tightens the requirements.  Environmental rating schemes are meant to affect the way projects are delivered, forcing project teams to work together more closely and assess options early on in the project.

Some clients and project teams aim beyond code, and target environmental ratings which are not strictly required by legislation.  However, ambitious targets can be hard to justify unless the design team can provide evidence and demonstrate that the cost premium is not excessive.  The onus is therefore on the design team – in close collaboration with contractors and suppliers – to develop and communicate solutions, which offer design advantages without incurring excessive or even prohibitive cost premiums.  In a sector where the focus traditionally is on first costs a paradigm shift is required if due credit is to be given to high performance.

Add to the perceived cost of high performance the aesthetics and the fairly delicate discussion about architectural quality.  This is the Delight element - Venustas - which is both subjective and often difficult to define as it encompasses qualities such as light and shadow, transparency and reflection, colour, texture, materiality and form language. 


Over the past decades, highly transparent facades have become almost the default expectation in high end commercial developments.  For these systems to perform to the ever stricter energy performance requirements they are often realised as so-called double skin facades, which is an effective way of offering variable performance and a high degree of transparency when solar shading is not required.  The variability of the facade including the shading system in effect becomes an important part of the architectural expression.  Thus it is possible to offer high performance though dynamic systems.  The premium for these solutions is more often than not justified in an architectural discussion where transparency is a key performance parameter or a fundamental requirement. 

Progress is being made in the field of switchable glazing as a means of controlling transmission of solar radiation within the glass itself.  Liquid crystal display technology is being used in privacy applications and the potential in daylighting application is being explored.  Also here, Dow Corning is actively pushing the envelope, introducing silicon science in this new field of high performance architectural applications. 

The pressure to reduce carbon-intensive cooling in buildings has led to a reduction in the ‘default’ fully glazed facade.  Architects are finding new forms of expression, where the non-transparent (non-vision) part of the building envelope gains prominence as an alternative aesthetic for energy efficient buildings.  In this context there is growing interest in materials and geometry as ways of breaking up the building elevations and moving away from the now conventional spandrel strip and floor-to-ceiling vision glass.  We are witnessing a trend where the building envelope becomes colourful and in some instances even playful – again adding an element of delight.   

Reducing the vision area is obviously a very efficient way of dealing with solar gains and the resulting, carbon-intensive cooling.  And obviously the impact on daylight availability should always be considered to provide occupant visual comfort and reduction of energy used for electrical lighting.  As the vision area reduces and the architectural language starts to involve potentially complex detailing of the insulated parts of the building envelope, the thermal performance of the facade depends closely on how the insulated areas are detailed and in curtain walling the effect framing needs to be taken carefully into account. 

The thermal performance of curtain walling needs to be assessed for the whole assembly, including vision area glazing, insulated areas, and – crucially – the framing.  Projects with relatively limited vision area percentages and complex detailing of the opaque, non-vision areas will increasingly require high performance thermal insulation to meet performance requirements given common space constraints.  One such novel solution utilises vacuum insulation panels (VIP) as a means of offering the highest thermal performance within a given available thickness or – interestingly – compacting the thickness of curtain walling for a given performance requirement.  Dow Corning’s architectural insulation modules are based on well-known IGU technology, enhancing the performance of non-vision areas through integration of fumed silica core VIP solutions. 


In a sector where there is no ‘one size fits all’ and virtually every project is different there is inevitably an element of risk management, which stands in the way of project-specific optimisation.  In a time where the economic climate and the environmental agenda present challenges, there is an increasing focus on integrated project delivery.  Important design decisions are made at the outset of projects with subsequent changes being potentially both complex and costly.  Therefore, as environmental ratings creep up the agenda and priority is given to early stage optioneering, the relationship between the design team – or the Specifiers – and the suppliers is of paramount importance.  Why?  - Because the design team can only ever develop successful solutions if they have access to detailed information on relevant options.  The suppliers in turn need to be able to articulate in an appropriate and relevant format the characteristics of their offering, including performance metrics and design constraints.  This working relationship will eventually lead to the development of novel solutions based on feedback from cutting edge project work and the experience of highly skilled people. 


High performance is desirable for an owner-occupier due to long term benefits.  To a commercial developer, however, high performance is typically more interesting in terms of marketability as environmental performance becomes a central commercial parameter in negotiations.  Environmental ratings are increasingly seen as a differentiator in the commercial market, with prospective tenants comparing the ratings of property on offer – all other things equal.  It is likely that there will come a time where property cannot be let or sold if its energy performance certification falls short of certain thresholds stipulated by regulation.  In such situations building energy performance translates into capital value as upgrades will have to be factored into the negotiation.  This aspect will inevitably affect decision making which, incidentally, is the purpose of the policy directives.  And then there is the question of planning permission, which can depend on convincing evidence of environmentally conscious design principles.  This can be a key element in terms of technical and commercial risk as it can be costly and time consuming if planning against expectation is not granted and redesign turns out to be necessary. 

Then there is another aspect of Design, which pertains to the high end of the property market, where aesthetics and choice of materials impact on market value.  The client brief will set out the requirements and the designer will be chosen with due regard to reputation and ability to deliver such high end projects.  In these situations, the designers ability to consider appropriate technical solutions early on is likely to prove critical to proving the feasibility and avoid costly abortive work.   

In addition to the crucial durability of solutions, a key component of environmental performance is the lasting qualities of buildings.  A quality building is more likely to be looked after by its owners and users and it is more likely to be adapted to changing requirements over time.  The quality comes through in carefully crafted fabric and detailing as well as the nature of the space within and around the building.  Future proofing buildings through high performance will inevitably add to their worth and this should ultimately translate into commercial value.

It is not all doom and gloom as progress is being made on many fronts including materials science, building envelope technology, and design tools.  High performance building solutions will require new solutions bridging sectors perhaps not conventionally or traditionally associated with construction.  The ability to modify the properties of construction materials will cater for enhanced performance and durability, provided that the materials are used appropriately.  Outside of sealants and structural glazing, silicon science is a field which is not widely considered part of the high performance building arena.  Well, that may change as Dow Corning continues to collaborate in pursuit of high performance solutions with low environmental impact on the route to the net zero buildings of the future.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Curtain Walling Energy Performance - Next Generation

Energy consumption in buildings account for approximately 40 per cent of the global energy consumption and regulations are getting ever stricter in an effort to meet targets set at international and national level.  Ultimately, near zero carbon emission buildings will become the norm and this puts pressure on the building envelope to perform to higher standards than current practice.
In a time of ever stricter energy codes, high performance is seen as a means to an end – Empowering the Designer to deliver high quality architecture with low environmental impact.  We are talking about Design Freedom.
Novel solutions include architectural panels – robust products which can be handled during assembly and installation.  The technology is that of insulating glazing with vacuum insulation panel (VIP) inserts offering enhanced thermal insulation in compact units.  The finish is optional and the thickness is driven by performance requirements.  Or – as is often the case – the solutions offer maximum thermal insulation where a thin envelope is desired or required.  Potentially the thermal performance of a conventional wall is achieved within the space of a conventional glazing unit opening up new opportunities for architectural design.  The first projects have been realised already, spanning from retrofitting of historical buildings with architectural and space constraints, to new build rain screen cladding solutions with high performance.
The fact that vacuum insulation panels offer the performance of a conventional insulated wall contained in a glazing unit opens up new architectural avenues and breaks down some of the barriers otherwise posed by stricter energy regulations.  Examples of design freedom offered by high performance include the ability to increase the percentage of vision area, additional play with geometry such as layout and 3D form language – all due to enhanced performance in the insulated areas, offsetting the performance of vision area, increased transmission area, and linear thermal losses.
In a time where the energy performance of buildings needs to be addressed not only by visionary designers and clients, but across the board, the challenge is to not sacrifice high design freedom and quality architecture.  The performance of curtain walling has been enhanced incrementally over the past decades and it is reaching certain limits mainly due to the need for vision area and the inevitable effect of the framing.  Well, a step change in insulation performance may quite possibly offer new opportunities for curtain walling in a world of High Performance Building.

The Decade of the Facade Engineer

“This could be the decade of the facade engineer.” I took over the chair of the Society of Facade Engineering in 2009 and made this bold statement at my annual address in 2010. During recent years, there has been much talk about integrated design and the need to work across traditional boundaries between disciplines. It is generally accepted that collaboration from the early design stages is a prerequisite for integration and successful design. The impact of the building envelope on building performance and architectural expression – together with the fact that the building envelope easily represents up to 25 per cent of construction costs – means that the focus on this field is increasing. Clients and investors need to manage risk and control costs, while meeting the energy performance standards set out by ever stricter regulations. The more visionary investors have long ago latched on to Sustainability as good business, while comparatively more conservative investors gradually follow suit as a result of legislation and market pressures. It is the classic stick and carrot analogy. Financial pressures combined with Sustainability as a relatively new driver together lead us towards a paradigm – a new way of designing and delivering buildings. The building envelope is where the disciplines overlap and this, incidentally, is where a multitude of different inputs need to be considered to achieve a product which satisfies the many often conflicting requirements.

The building envelope fascinates because of its obvious impact on architectural expression and the spaces we design. Successful design, engineering, and production of building envelopes require integration across disciplines. The building envelope has an unparalleled impact on the perceived qualities of architecture – in terms of both aesthetics and performance. Besides performance and aesthetics the building envelope represents very considerable risks in terms of all of the things that can go wrong and delay the construction and/or lead to costly problems during the in-service life of the building. The value of assets is affected significantly by the building envelope and so its durability is of paramount importance to owners of building portfolios and owner-occupiers.

Facade Engineering is a term covering the specialist field, which bridges across more conventional disciplines and potentially both overlaps and integrates them. The successful integration in sector such as the construction industry is a big ask by any standard, but as benchmarks are changing the disciplines are forced to wake up and smell the coffee. The hope is that more people in our industry will recognise the importance of facade engineering as a means of delivering integrated design, more young professionals will see a possible career in this exciting field, and more clients will come to expect and begin to request – as a matter of course – that accredited professionals work on the delivery of their projects.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Shading in Ventilated Facades

Solar Shading and Intelligent Facades Conference (BRE, Watford, UK, 29 September 2011).

Dynamic shading systems and ventilated facade systems require coordination between disciplines and often specialist advice is required throughout the design process. Performance characterisation is not straightforward and needs to account for the behaviour and preferences of the end users, i.e. the occupants. In this video, Dr Kragh provides an overview of different types of facades and shading systems, while the design process and approaches to performance assessment and specification are illustrated through examples.