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5 Firsthand Lessons on the Integrated Design Process
What is an Integrated Design Process (IDP)? A quick Google search of the term yields numerous definitions that generally describe a collaborative design process requiring multidisciplinary analysis and responsibility to meet sustainable design goals that are environmentally, socially, and financially conscientious. A primary goal of IDP is to get the right parties involved in the design early and often in order to deliver a project that achieves significant savings of energy, water, greenhouse gases, and resources as compared to a building designed using traditional methods.
There’s a lot of chatter in the design and construction industry about IDP, and plenty of folks are tinkering with the use of Integrated Design Processes on their projects. After applying IDP on projects over the last several years, I’ve observed successes and failures in our approaches. We’ve charted a course and altered it numerous times as we learn new things about IDP, a process of continuous advancement that we will no doubt continue. I’ve distilled those experiences into the following list of “lessons learned” through our practical experiences with the IDP process.
#1 - Early Involvement Is Critical
Meeting with all stakeholders on the site at the outset of a project sets the stage for design collaboration and provides valuable input from all parties, including some who are often left out of early conversations such as facility managers. A concept level site visit also provides an opportunity to collect data for use in designing the project. This site visit is of value on all projects, both domestic and abroad, but is especially pertinent in overseas projects as it can be very difficult if not impossible to collect this data via email or over the phone. Utility rates, an understanding of the local utility sources, and historical consumption data (where available) are cornerstones of the analyses we perform to design a highly efficient building. To aid in this data collection that is so fundamental to the development of the project, we have created a site survey questionnaire that is sent with our engineers on the site visit.
An early brainstorming session with the multidiscipline design team, ideally prior to visiting the site, helps the team dial in regarding the prevalent issues for the project location. This preliminary discussion, typically facilitated by our sustainability experts, helps to ensure that the team asks relevant questions and makes appropriate observations while on site to support technical analyses in later stages of the project. This early discussion can also be utilized to identify technologies or strategies to evaluate or eliminate, equipping the team to focus their efforts in the right directions during the site visit.
#2 - IDP Requires Give and Take
Any complex design problem is going to necessitate give and take, and this is even truer regarding IDP. The early and frequent multidiscipline conversations that are an inherent component of IDP bring to light many competing forces that need to be addressed - program requirements; site restraints; user and/or client preferences; designer preferences; considerations of energy, water, greenhouse gas emissions, and materials; impact on surrounding community; first and operational costs; maintenance requirements; and the list goes on and on. A willingness on each discipline’s part to see things from the others’ points of view is critical to developing a holistic and coordinated design solution that achieves maximum value (measured in many ways - total cost of ownership, sustainable prowess, etc.) while meeting as many functional and programmatic needs as possible. This includes give and take on the part of the client in coming to the design table with an open mind and spirit of cooperativeness, which allow the design team to challenge design norms and push boundaries to achieve something greater than has been previously done. Lists of pros and cons and the ability of all parties to make concessions are critical to the success of IDP and of the project.
#3 - Advanced Analyses Tell the Story
Successful implementation of IDP presents the design team with a wealth of information from which to draw conclusions and formulate design solutions. The lion’s share of this information is derived from advanced analyses, such as energy modeling, envelope optimization studies, condensation evaluations, daylight simulations, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling, and water balance calculations. Having the engineering disciplines and Building Sciences analysts all under one roof saves time in the analysis process by promoting frequent communication and coordination, allowing for the analysis and design to run near-concurrently. This colocation of services facilitates the IDP process.
Often I think I know what’s best regarding a particular energy conservation measure for a site, only to find that the advanced analyses tell a completely different story. For example, the building envelope is logically a high priority for optimization in a cold climate; however, once details are quantified about the intended operation, installed equipment, lighting design, etc., the energy model may indicate that the building is internal load dominated. In this case we need to focus not on keeping heat in but on letting heat out. Revelations like this inform the design of the building envelope assembly, which comprises a significant portion of the project first cost. The impact of over-designing the building envelope in this case would be increased cooling loads, higher mechanical and building envelope first costs, and higher energy consumption and cost over the life of the building. It is so important to take the time to perform thorough scientific analyses, founded on accurate inputs and assumptions, to understand the project needs prior to developing design solutions.
#4 - A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
We can model and analyze and generate data all day long, but if we cannot synthesize this data and display it in a logical and easy to understand format, we will fail to get our point across. We have scientists, engineers, and architects working on the design of these projects, and I’ve found that it really helps to have someone with writing and/or marketing background involved to help us tell our story. If you can’t make your point understood to your client, the design suffers and the effort is wasted. I often have to ask myself “how do I take these 100 data points, or 1000 data points, and turn them into something meaningful and easily understood?” I realize that the clients who hire us to implement IDP are busy people. If I can make my point in a paragraph, they might actually read to the end. If I can front-load my executive summary to give them the most important points in a concise and complete synopsis, I arm my client with the knowledge they need to make decisions and move forward. Infographics and thoughtfully designed tables and charts offer more value than pages of dry textual or numeric analysis (that’s what appendices are for). Developing these types of communications can be very challenging for technical staff who are used to thinking and writing in a highly scientific and detailed manner. Someone who can bridge the gap between the technical staff and the reader really adds value to the project.
#5 - Communication is Key
When I look at the projects where we were most successful at integrating sustainable design features to meet performance goals, I notice that we utilized weekly meetings both internally and with external design partners. These regularly scheduled opportunities for communication allow the designers to become aware of decisions being made by other trades, to identify synergies and tradeoffs, to discuss the implications of various design options, and to provide a better coordinated and more cohesive design in the end. Even with a multidiscipline staff under one roof, it is still a challenge for us to stay coordinated and to continuously communicate as we design. The difference in results between projects where we have implemented weekly coordination meetings and those where we have not proves to me that it is worth the investment in our time to commit to these meetings. Seeing the success of these meetings internally, we have extended the concept to engage in weekly external meetings with design partners and have seen similar success.
Applying the concepts of an Integrated Design Process has yielded exceptional results for projects that we have taken from the earliest stages of conceptual design through construction administration and on which we have shaped the scope of work to include a unique combination of sustainability measures specifically optimized for the client, site, and programmatic needs. These are the most exciting projects from my perspective. As designers we have the opportunity to see the project from conception through fruition, to be directly responsible for the innovation and performance of a building that will exist, consume resources, and house occupants for the next 50 years or more. It is clear to me that IDP and sustainable design go hand in hand, and that the cohesion and communication that exist among a team utilizing IDP breed innovation, creativity, and better results for our clients.
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