How to tell your high-performance building story

The AIA (American Institute of Architects) reports that building performance can be improved significantly through early energy modelling simulation. ASHRAE Standard 209 (Energy Simulation Aided Design for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) provides a meticulous framework on how to integrate early energy modelling into the design process. As simulations gain wider application, the next step is ensuring that they can truly inform designs rather than just be used as a compliance tool.

This webinar features team members of Project Stasio (Standard Simulation Inputs and Outputs), a crowd-sourced simulation graphics platform organized around ASHRAE Standard 209. The speakers – Alejandra Menchaca (Thornton Tomasetti), Michael Sawford (Environmental Design Solutions) and Amarpreet Sethi (tk1sc) having led exemplary high-performance building projects shared the significance of using graphics for effective storytelling along with sharing examples through the Project Stasio platform.

The webinar emphasises that early energy modeling is key to meeting the Architecture 2030 carbon neutrality goals. Currently, it is largely being used for demonstrating compliance to various rating systems and Codes which means it is used much later in the design process timeline. This is a missed oppotunity for an impactful outcome. Some of the ways this challenge can be overcome is enumerated as follows:

1) Building simulations should be used a decision making tool to utilize the full potential of the process for an effective outcome. This is possible early in design process timeline. Hence the timing is crucial.

2) Asking right questions is very important. The key question to be answered will help identify what type of simulation is required to be run. So it is essential to step back and assess what information is exactly required rather than just asking the team to run an energy or daylight simulation.

3) Simulations should be used to provide insightful information. Rather than confirming what we already know, the output should bring out something of value.

4) A clear and concise energy performance narrative strengthened with strong graphics is essential for the  project team to comprehend the analysis data to take the right design decisions. Ensuring the information is presented effectively is also important as the data sets begin to grow larger.

Project Stasio is a nifty portal which defines the value proposition of early performance simulation, thus aligning with ASHRAE 209 standards. The platform provides supporting content on inputs, outputs, and case studies around the first three ‘modeling cycles’ (i.e simple box modelling, conceptual modelling and load reduction). It showcases examples of presenting complex information in a lucid manner. Users will find curated graphics and thoughtful case studies from across the world, that offer inspiration, ideas and possibilties of different graphical representation to answer key questions. Designers can contribute single-aspect analysis and whole building simulations in the form of graphics or case studies.

One of the tips shared by the expert panel was the ‘Three-second rule’ to determine the effectiveness of the graphic in communicating the key idea. What information can the architect or the client gather in the first three seconds of having observed the graphic? This question can be a guiding rule in deciding how much data goes on the graphic and how well it tells the story.

The webinar will get you thinking about how to synthesize your results into a compelling graphic that answers key design questions. Project Stasio urges to provide an engaging narrative and communicates the high-performance story effectively. It is not about compiling all possible outputs from a building simulation process into a voluminous report, but providing pertinent information for taking design decisions.

Michael Sawford

Micheal is a building simulation specialist with over 10 years of experience and is the Vice President at EDSL USA, Inc.

Alejandra Menchaca

Alejandra is a Senior Associate at Thornton Tomasetti, where she co-leads the Sustainability Practice for the Boston office.

Amarpreet Sethi

Amarpreet is a Principal at TK1SC, an engineering firm and leads the Energy and Sustainability team.

Q. Are the graphics on the Project Stasio website editable? Can they be used in other projects by the patrons?
The intention of the website is to offer inspiration to create insightful, engaging graphics which answer relevant questions and not focus on the results or actual data. Hence, it is not editable.

Q. Does the website provide information on the various tools and software used to create the graphic?
The interface of the website allows people to click on the question which the graphic is trying to answer. This link transports the user to an array of questions including the tools/software which were used to create the graphic.

Q. Does the energy modelling team require a dedicated graphic designer to create engaging content?
While the creation of insightful graphics is a time consuming process, these images can be used as templates for subsequent projects. Moreover, the creation of the graphics enables the energy modeling team to think clearer about the simulation. This has the potential of changing the energy narrative of the project. Hence, while it could be helpful, having a graphic designer on the team is not a necessity.

Q. How can architects ask pertinent questions to the energy team?
The architecture team should be looped in the entire process of the energy simulation. The energy modeler should effectively communicate the questions which the team is trying to answer through a simulation. This is to ensure that the simulation are highly relevant and insightful so that crucial design decisions can be taken. For example, a daylight simulation might not be helpful to analyse the total energy savings through adequate daylighting. For this purpose, an energy simulation would have to be run.

View webinar presentation-Project Stasio