High-Performance Building

High-Performance Building

by Vidar Lerum

ISBN: 9780471775355

Publisher Wiley

Published in Calendars/Architecture

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One


The research leading up to this book is, to a great extent, inspired by the scientific approach that is inherent in the tradition established by Reyner Banham in his environmentalist articles on Frank Lloyd Wright and Sir Joseph Paxton (Banham 1962; Banham 1966). In his 1966 article "Frank Lloyd Wright as Environmentalist," Banham demonstrates how we can investigate the buildings that this great master left behind. This approach to the accumulation of knowledge becomes a necessity because Frank Lloyd Wright did not leave much behind in terms of documentation of his environmental systems design. He did not speak much about this side of his practice, and there is little evidence in his drawings.

Banham explored a claim that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the first air-conditioned building. The investigation of this claim led Banham to this conclusion:

[H]ow easy it might be to miss other innovations which do not produce effects that show up immediately in the printed record. What I have in mind particularly are the environmental innovations which Wright appears to have introduced in his domestic architecture of the Prairie House period (1900-1910), which seem never to have been discussed in the literature and are only likely to be discovered by direct observation, preferably residential, of the houses themselves. (Banham 1966, p. 27)

Banham's examination of Wright's prairie houses began one evening when a group had gathered in the living room of the Baker House in Chicago to rehearse J. S. Bach's Mass in B Minor. From his position by the fireplace toward the back of the room, Banham noticed that the conductor, who was standing on the window seat near the large bay window, was "perspiring far more freely than the Kyrie would seem to justify." The fireplace was not lit, so there had to be another heat source. Banham discovered that the heat was coming from the grill under the window seat:

The complete assembly, indoors and out, can be regarded as a single environmental device, controlling heat, light, view, ventilation and (with the help of the overhang of the roof) shade as well. (Banham 1966, p. 28)

In our investigation of the performance of contemporary buildings of great architectural significance, a wealth of information is available in architectural magazines and journals. In addition, the World Wide Web offers a wealth of information for anyone who can operate a networked personal computer. For most contemporary buildings, the architects and engineers behind the design also represent a valuable source of information. So why is it still necessary to investigate the building itself?

Although all these sources may provide valuable input to the process of understanding how great contemporary buildings work, magazine and journal articles tend to miss essential properties of a building-properties or features that do not "produce effects that show up immediately," as Banham stated. Architects and other members of the design team are often the best sources to draw on when seeking knowledge about the properties of the design, since it is the design that is most commonly the focus of architects and engineers. But if there is a discrepancy between the building as designed and the building as built, or a discrepancy between the predicted and the actual performance of the building-and this happens quite often-the ultimate truth can only be found in the building itself.

The seven buildings that are represented in the second part of this book have all been investigated as physical built objects. A site visit to each of the seven buildings, from the west coast of Greenland (shown in Figure 1.1) to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, was the essential pivot point of the investigation. With one exception, interviews were arranged with the architects for each building. The author also talked to engineers, owners, and users. The interviews generated valuable insight into the design beyond the published sources of information, but at each site visit something unexpected happened. Unknown or hidden features, characteristics, or details about the building were discovered. These features were all relevant to how the actual performance compares to the predicted-or publicized-performance.

Some architects speak volumes about the environmental significance of their building designs. Others are more humble; they quietly let the architecture speak for itself. Does this mean that buildings designed by the most vocal architects are more carefully tuned to the environment than architectural works produced by the silent and the humble? In most cases, the answer to this question can only be found in the built works by the contemporary masters of architecture. If you go ask the building, the built object will provide the answer. As you listen to the building, you will gradually gain the ability to hear it speak!


The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Robinson UNCED, et. al., 1992) defined sustainability through the concept of carrying capacity. Earth's population is growing exponentially, placing an ever-increasing demand on nature's capacity to carry the load. As the economic system that serves this population continues to deplete nature's resources and dump the waste into nature's sinks, there are warnings that the economy is about to grow beyond the limits of what nature can carry. One of the most challenging tasks in today's world is, therefore, to reshape the global man-made system of economic development in such a way that it does not extend beyond the limits of the carrying capacity of the natural system.

Sustainability is a serious challenge for the entire economic system, from agriculture to space exploration. In architecture, sustainable design is about developing built forms-buildings and urban spaces-that are tuned to their context, to culture and climate, and to the natural resources of the place; creating designs that are functional; and designing buildings that are aesthetically pleasing. Architectural design for sustainability cannot reach its goals unless the new solutions, the future innovations in building design, are embraced by their owners and users. Design for sustainability must therefore reach toward excellence not only as it is measured against environmental impact, but also in terms of comfort, utility, and beauty.

Approaching building design with a focus on building in harmony with the environment is not an entirely new phenomenon, but it has gained momentum as we enter a new millennium. What started out as a passive solar design movement in the early 1970s has now evolved into a widely accepted interest in sustainable design and green buildings. As these concepts of sustainability in architecture are entering the mainstream, there is a growing concern that the terms sustainable and green are being co-opted into modern architecture as a style: a new modernism with a touch of green. In the acceptance into the mainstream of environmental concerns and aspirations lies also a possibility that issues that may turn out to be life-threatening on a global scale are treated superficially.

Building rating systems have been developed as a way to formalize and regulate the use of labels for certified green buildings. Many rating systems have initially focused on building design rather than on architectural objects as built. In the process of achieving certification, buildings are awarded points for good intentions rather than for evidence of actual postoccupancy performance. In this context, the following questions must be addressed:

* Where do buildings that claim to be green or sustainable rank on a scale relative to benchmark buildings of the same type?

* How do these buildings contribute to sustainable development in terms of their demand for energy and natural materials?

* Do these buildings provide a high level of thermal comfort for their users?

Buildings designed for sustainability in the twenty-first century should draw on natural resources responsibly, and should provide a comfortable environment for their users. Any building that claims to be recognized as great architecture should also qualify as a high-performance building in terms of energy efficiency. Although energy efficiency is only one of many indicators that may be used to evaluate architectural designs for sustainability, it is still one of the most significant indicators. This position is now recognized by the building sector. In a press release by ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the main goal of the "Architecture 2030" initiative is stated as "reducing energy use" in buildings:

The 2030 Challenge, a global initiative officially launched by Architecture 2030 in January 2006, calls for all new buildings and major renovations to reduce their fossil-fuel GHG-emitting energy consumption by 50 percent immediately, increasing this reduction to 60 percent in 2010, 70 percent in 2015, 80 percent in 2020, 90 percent in 2025, and finally, that all new buildings would be carbon neutral by the year 2030. (ASHRAE 2006)

The group recognized, however, that it is meaningless to establish goals if methods of substantiating achievements are lacking or poorly developed:

A critical component to the success of this effort is the definition of a baseline by which all reductions will be measured. A complete regional data- base of actual energy use for all building types is not currently available. (ASHRAE 2006)


In this book, performance will be defined mainly as annual specific energy use. This definition, however, needs to be accompanied by a broader view of performance as a form-generating design principle. In addition to their aspiration toward increased energy efficiency, high-performance buildings should provide comfortable and enjoyable work environments for their users, and should be easily maintained within a reasonable budget. In Chapter 13, Tim Christ of Morphosis explains how performance seen as a design parameter becomes a tool that can be used to generate new architectural prototypes.

The rising concern for improved energy performance in buildings has led some countries to consider legislative regulations. The reasoning behind this effort is that higher standards and stricter building codes will lead to more efficient buildings. This assumption has, however, not always proved to be true. There are numerous examples of buildings by highly acclaimed architects that use two to three times more energy than what was predicted during the design phase. This does not mean that attempts to introduce stricter regulations are futile, but demonstrates that the focus needs to be on the actual performance of buildings rather than on the predicted performance.

When evaluating the energy performance of buildings, those making the evaluation should compare the type of building to a baseline. As of the year 2007, no international standards for energy performance have been established, but several countries have introduced stricter standards in their building codes. Figure 1.2 illustrates the new energy performance standards for various types of buildings in Norway. Residential and educational buildings are required to meet a predicted annual specific energy use of between 100 and 140 kilowatt hours per square meter (32 to 44 kBtu/[ft.sup.2]). Cultural buildings such as performing arts centers, museums, and also physical education buildings and light industrial buildings, should not use more than around 160 kilowatt hours per square meter (52 kBtu/[ft.sup.2]). Care facilities, hotels, and restaurants are expected to use around 200 kilowatt hours per square meter (63 kBtu/[ft.sup.2]), with a maximum allowed (predicted) annual energy use of 280 kilowatt hours per square meter (89 kBtu/[ft.sup.2]) for a hospital.

This new energy-efficiency standard is limited in its impact, since it was just recently signed into law (2007), will not be fully implemented until 2009, and represents a single country where the climate is predominantly cold. The new energy standard for Norway, however, still has value as a reference for statistics on the actual energy performance of most buildings today.

Figure 1.3 illustrates the actual energy use of commercial buildings in the United States (ASHRAE 1999). A closer look at the category "office" shows that the annual energy use for a building of this type in the United States averages 320 kWh/[m.sup.2] per year. The new proposed standard for Norway is 140 kWh/[m.sup.2] per year, which is just above 40 percent of the actual average energy use of a U.S. office building. Many countries in Europe seem to be willing to set even more ambitious goals. There is a trend toward a goal stated as one quarter, which means that the goal is to reduce the annual energy use of a new building to 25 percent of the actual energy use of existing buildings of the same type.

When evaluating the specific energy requirement for a building, measured as kWh per square meter per year, we should also take into account the people density inside that same building. The gas mileage of a minivan with seven passengers in it is not directly comparable to that of a small two-seater with one person inside. When evaluating the energy efficiency of people transportation, it is more commonly accepted to use the fuel consumption per passenger mile as a standard. If the same line of thought is applied to building energy efficiency, the annual energy requirement per person occupying and using the building should also be taken into account.

Figure 1.4 shows the annual energy consumption of three houses in Norway designed by the author and built since the year 2000. The graph shows that these three houses use from 47 to 101 kilowatt hours per square meter annually, all included. The figure also shows that each house checks in well below the new energy standard for single-family homes in Norway (125 kWh/[m.sup.2] per year). When the annual energy requirement per person is calculated, however, the three houses rank differently from the picture created by the columns for annual specific energy requirement. The first house (A) is occupied by nine persons: a family with three children and two rental units with two persons in each. The second house (B) had only one person in it during the year when the utility data were acquired. The third house (C) was occupied by three persons: a family with one teenage boy.

The same considerations need to be made when comparing office buildings in Europe and the United States. Due to German legislation concerning labor issues, the Post Tower in Bonn (Chapter 11) has a lower population density on a typical office floor than the San Francisco Federal Building (Chapter 13). If these two buildings were using the same amount of energy per unit of floor area annually, the San Francisco building would use less energy per person on a typical office floor, since the population density in the U.S. building is higher than that of a modern office building in Germany.


Since the actual performance of many good buildings does not meet the expectation generated by the predicted performance based on codes and standards, there needs to be a way to address this discrepancy. The European Union is now developing legislation that will require that owners of large buildings report the annual energy use of their buildings. These reports will be used to produce statistical information and should be made available to the public. In some countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, it is already required that certificates of annual energy use be issued for any building that is put up for sale. As energy-use certificates become more common, it is likely that the energy efficiency of a building will become a factor that could significantly influence its market value.


Excerpted from "High-Performance Building" by Vidar Lerum. Copyright © 0 by Vidar Lerum. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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