An Integrated Design Process (IDP)

Introduction: current crises, sustainable design and the emergence of interdisciplinary activity.

Today, we can sense both a swelling of sensitivity to our planet’s future being manifested through the “good intentions” of our young architectural practitioners and students, and a parallel fascination with the aesthetic potential that current “green technologies” are, in theory, now enabling. The recent influence of the “green building movement” clearly comes from Europe, witnessed three times in the last couple of years here at Universit de Montral by the guest lectures of bio-climatic engineer and founding partner of Transsolar Engineering, Matthias Schuler. The innovation is both refreshing and ingenious as it examines scientific and physics principles with the energy often associated with a parallel domain of innovation and enthusiasm: the mapping of the human genome. The following quotation from Anja Thierfelder, editor of Transsolar’s first book Climate Engineering, describes her perception of the most recent advances in the field of building physics and interdisciplinariness.

Classic building physics regards itself as a servant to architecture. Climate Engineering has a different approach. What climate engineers do is think, in cooperation with architects and taking design premises and technical demands into consideration, about how one can take advantage of the laws of physics under very specific conditions, for a one of a kind building, on a particular site and for a precisely defined purpose.

Architects and designers must live up to this impressive standard without relying on superficial aesthetic gestures, something that requires that they study and appropriate basic principles in climate engineering and building structures. Before being carried away by the latest and greatest double skin walls, students and architects must return to the modernist bio-climatic principles educators earnestly taught in the 1950s and 60s–passive and active solar design, and natural daylighting and ventilation. In Europe there is an underlying value system that is inbred over generations related to these principles, but in North America, the short term economics of a project have dominated most of the decision-making process. Architects in practice find it difficult–at times overwhelming–to attempt to convince a client that the risks, both financially and performance-wise, to incorporate hybrid natural ventilation and natural daylighting, are worth taking. This has led to actively involving the client in the design process through IDP (described below), so that sustainable concepts that are financially sound are not flippantly eliminated at a later stage. Leading architectural practices designing green buildings, both here in North America and abroad, are incorporating the integrated design team process into the majority of their projects and competitions. The exciting news is that many of these projects are as adept in design excellence as they are in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (witnessed by this year’s Canadian Architect and Governor General’s Awards of Excellence).

1. So what is IDP and what are the differences in IDPs for professional practice, competitions and university design studios?

To put IDP into context, we must first summarize the definition of conventional practice: the architect (or designer) and the client agree on a design concept consisting of a general massing scheme, orientation, fenestration and the general exterior appearance of the building. Then the mechanical, electrical and structural engineers are asked to implement the design and to suggest appropriate systems. The problem with conventional practice is that this design process is too quick and simple, often resulting in high operating costs, poor comfort performance and very few sustainable gestures that fall within the client’s restrained budget. This is often a surprise to the owners, operators and users, since the conventional design process usually does not involve computer simulations of predicted energy performance and cost. In fact, engineers have little or no enthusiasm in this context as their role is limited to applying code requirements, cost-benefit analysis and, at times, satisfying the whimsical desires of traditional designers.

The Integrated Design Process (IDP)

In professional practice, IDP has a significant impact on the makeup and role-playing of the initial design team. The client takes a more active role than usual, the architect becomes a team leader rather than the sole form-giver, and the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers take on active roles at early design stages. The team includes an energy specialist (simulator) and hopefully, a bio-climatic engineer. Depending on the nature of the project, a series of additional consultants may also join the project team from the outset (see Project Soleil below).

The primary objective is to validate the economic potential in creating and building an innovative concept that is predominantly environmentally sound. When carried out in a spirit of cooperation among the key actors, this results in a design that is highly efficient with minimal to no incremental capital costs, along with reduced long-term operating and maintenance costs. The benefits of the IDP process are not limited to the improvement of environmental performance. Experience shows that the open interdisciplinary discussion and synergistic approach will often lead to improvements in the functional program, in the selection of structural systems and in architectural expression.

The IDP process is based on the well-proven observation that changes and improvements in the design process are relatively easy to make at the beginning of the process, but become increasingly difficult, expensive and even disruptive as the process unfolds. The design process itself emphasizes the following sequence.

1. Establish performance targets for a broad range of parameters, and develop preliminary strategies to achieve these targets. This sounds obvious, but in the context of an integrated design team approach it can bring engineering skills and perspectives to bear at the concept design stage, thereby helping the owner and architect avoid a sub-optimal design solution.

2. Minimize heating and cooling loads and maximize daylighting potential through orientation, building configuration, an efficient building envelope and careful consideration of the amount, type and location of fenestration.

3. Meet heating and cooling loads through the maximum use of solar and other renewable technologies and the use of efficient HVAC systems, while maintaining performance targets for indoor air quality, thermal comfort, illumination levels and quality, and noise control.

4. Iterate the process to produce at least two, and preferably three, design concept alternatives, using energy simulations as a test of progress, and then select the most promising of these for further development (most often done in one- or two-day design charrettes).

Numerous clients are putting energy performance and green marketing ahead of design aesthetics, and thus it is crucial for the design team to understand and incorporate energy and structural systems within their building design aesthetics if they do not want to be limited to specifying colors and materials.

IDP is not a mechanized design approach that stunts creative iterations; in fact it can help evaluate the potential of numerous schematic design approaches with corresponding bio-climatic strategies at the earliest design stage possible. More specifically, it is the realization that more than 80% of the poetic, economic and ecological potential of a design approach is defined at the earliest stage, and thus it is crucial to have as much input from as wide a cross section of disciplines as possible, involved even at the most embryonic design stage. In fact, IDP in the context of architectural competitions relies overwhelmingly on the creativity and compatibility of the bio-climatic engineer and the architectural design team. A critical aspect is the capacity of the
engineer to appropriate and integrate the architectonic schematic design directly within the bio-climatic design approach in as transparent a fashion as possible.

Similarly to competitions, a university design studio context differs from professional practice: Canadian architecture students do not have vast practical working knowledge of the various engineering disciplines, although they do have the enthusiasm to learn, respect and integrate bio-climatic principles into their design sketches. This task seems overwhelming at times but exhilarating as well, especially as new computer simulation tools (ECOTECT and ENERGY-10) and innovative experimental design studios (from Halifax to Vancouver) are being continuously tested and ameliorated across the country.

2. Practice (L’OEUF charrette and competitions with Atelier Big City)

The Project Soleil IDP design process was centred around an intensive design charrette where the client, architect, engineers and other specialized consultants were brought together to collectively examine and eventually establish a primary design direction for a project on Sainte-Catherine Street West, one of the most important commercial arteries in Montreal. The client’s primary objective is to validate the economic potential in creating and building an innovative development that is predominantly environmentally sound.

This particular charrette distinguished itself from previous ones by its inclusion of a wider range of concerns beyond energy efficiency. It included urban integration, commercial operation requirements and the questioning of the program itself. Other notable components included recycling of existing buildings and heritage issues, embodied energy and urban ecology. With respect to building energy performance, the discussion was similarly widened to include a number of technologies that have not yet been widely applied in the Canadian context, such as underground earth pipes and double-skin ventilated walls/faades.

The post-charrette work allowed a more precise evaluation of the different ideas raised during the charrette meeting, and some technologies such as a geothermal exchange loop, passive underground earth pipes for fresh air intake, natural daylighting and passive solar design. Other technologies such as green roofs and breathing walls, although promising and vital from an environmental perspective, were not shown to provide direct economic benefits that are indisputably quantifiable, due to our particular context.

Although the energy performance numbers are quite impressive, even beyond expectations (as much as 70% energy savings beyond a base case building design), they still only reflect a component of the charrette goals. By having pre-designed various scenarios, and having both financial and energy performance feedback on these scenarios before the commencement of the design charrette, as well as having identified and researched numerous green technologies (specialized items) in advance (leading to the selection of quite an eclectic group of participants), more time was spent on exploring the potential synthesis of divergent concepts than may typically be the case. By providing an opportunity for socio-cultural, historical and contextual design considerations to be considered within the charrette exercise (alongside the pragmatic and ecological goals), the architectural team had an easier task of developing the final design after the charrette without having to restart from scratch.

While each of the four design charrette groups worked individually, the resultant esquisses were quite similar in three of the four cases. This probably is a reflection of the amount of pre-charrette preparation and participant interaction during the two-day event.

While the client/developer was present and active throughout the charrette, the final users/tenants that will eventually occupy the project were not. With respect to program and simulation results, it is quite clear that further changes to the project’s eventual program could have profound effects on the project’s environmental design and energy efficiency performance. Nonetheless, by pursuing one frozen scenario (with numerous variants) as far as we could, the project team is now equipped to better understand the ramifications of future programmatic changes, and will do so with a more comprehensive understanding of the resultant ramifications. In fact, this knowledge may lead to a complementary tenant profile where the needs of one tenant are met by the excesses of another.

The presence and influence of European participants (Matthias Schuler and John Hand, natural and hybrid ventilation expert) played an important role in our charrette. Many ecological principles are just not incorporated into our North American projects for numerous reasons. We do not have the knowledge and experience amongst our professional consultants and builders; there are few built examples, if any, where the client can verify the performance results; the costs are unpredictable; and the energy savings are simply theoretical. So our European consultants were able to respond to these concerns instantly, and they were able to clarify which concerns were more legitimate and which were simply not valid.

The Life Cycle Costing economic analysis of specialized items was an exhausting exercise to carry out, but it has given the project a solid framework from which to work. Many of the primary specialized items are clearly economically viable even when evaluated in the relative short term (under eight years). Since the stated goal of the developer was clearly to prove that green commercial projects can be viable economically, then Life Cycle Costing must be used as often as possible, while still understanding its limitations.

Competitions with Atelier Big City

Concordia Science Pavilion Competition, Loyola Campus $58 million

(L’OEUF in collaboration with Atelier Big City, ARCOP, and Fournier Gersovitz Moss)

In this non-winning competition submission, the design process between the four firms was nourished by a continuous presence of the bio-climatic principles, directly through l’OEUF’s partners, and indirectly through Martin Roy, an innovative local engineer with extensive experience in bio-climatic design. The perspective and section show how the new pavilion incorporates the quadrangle as the source of its system of natural ventilation. Trees provide filtering of fresh air and summer shading for the glazed Trombe wall. Air is drawn into the building near its south face in the quadrangle and is warmed or cooled with geothermal and solar energy. The Bamboo Garden provides humidity for the air that is distributed through the building by the principles of displacement ventilation theory.

3. Education (Canada and Universit de Montral Solar Decathlon, Seville project and general changes to the curricula)

The key to applying an IDP model to a design studio is to go beyond the initial grafting on of a methodical design checklist that stresses energy efficiency and ecological conscientiousness. The design studio experience must entice students to attempt the heroic gesture of simultaneously uncovering the specific contextual qualities that most sensitively respond to program, siting and cultural idiosyncrasies while distilling and then interweaving the most promising bio-climatic design principles. This acrobatic task is difficult for the most talented and experienced practicing designers, let alone an emerging university-level designer.

School is still, first and foremost, a place of learning, exploring and developing a design vocabulary and a series of skills that takes years to master. It is precisely because of this unique lateral thinking quality in architectural education that we hope to convey the creative opportunities afforded by interdisciplinariness directly within the Bachelor and Masters programs at Universit de Montral.

Not only must we encourage students to master both basic low-tech and high-tech ecological principles, we must provide them with the economic and rhetorical skills to sell these concepts to their clients, and we must e
xpose them to an entirely new way of coordinating the overall design process.

The experimental third-year design studio ARC3012 (done as part of the second Greening the Curricula to be held at the RAIC Festival in Quebec City on June 17 and 18, 2004).

Universit de Montral’s School of Architecture attempted three experimental components in a third-year Bachelor design studio in the Fall of 2003, taught by Daniel Pearl and Stephan Chevalier.

1. An Integrated Design Process (IDP) project in which engineering students from Concordia University and Industrial Design students from Universit de Montral collaborated on a four-week competition (the 2005 Canadian Solar Decathlon Team’s vision for the design and construction of a solar-powered house). The project will continue to develop over the next year.

2. The design studio will incorporate the use of a 3D design software called ECOTECT, where feedback on the earliest design iterations allowed students to better understand decisions regarding geometry, materials and siting when it was most important.

3. Different green consultants participated in intensive one-day teaching exchanges, where students were exposed to some of the most recent developments in green design principles (including natural daylighting design and evaluation with Christoph Reinhart and bio- climatic engineering with Martin Roy.

Although the design experience was rewarding and fruitful for the students, the task was somewhat difficult. Their undertaking involved the synthesis of climate engineering, ecological construction and adaptive reuse, all while mastering a new 3D environmental software. All this in addition to responding to the usual studio design themes of program, siting and cultural context. We are now attempting to put in place a concerted academic strategy to gradually integrate the apprenticeship of IDP tools and skills over the entire five-year program, while still maintaining a direct or indirect link to the design studios, so that the creative interdisciplinariness is always nurtured and explored. This apprenticeship will include, as it did 40 years ago (albeit with a different medium but a similar message) a grounded basis in both science and art, since ultimately, the built fabric is only as good as its weakest trait.

The Future of IDP

Much thought and discussion has been generated with various colleagues over the last few years, some of whom include: Nils Larsson, previously with NRCan and heavily involved in their C2000 program, and now Executive Director of iiSBE, the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment; Matthias Schuler, also a member of the IEA Task 23; Sandra Marshall, senior researcher at CMHC; colleagues of the CAGBC; and my own partners at l’OEUF. It is clear that advancing the Integrated Design Process as a fundamental tool for significantly improving the environmental potential of any renovation or new green building is the most productive and cost-effective tool available.

The following quote from Nils Larsson, summarizes the current status and immediate hope for advancing the IDP penetration globally in the near future.

“We foresee a wide application of the IDP around the world. A generic international version has been developed within Task 23, a working group of the International Energy Agency. What is needed now are the resources to develop supporting software and to develop an educational campaign for international use, especially to developing countries.”

Danny Pearl is a founding partner of L’OEUF in 1992 (Pearl Poddubiuk et associs, architectes) and teaches at the Universit de Montral. Special mention goes to Nils Larsson of iiSBE who helped to develop the IDP process.