Sarah Hanson

When the AIA Committee on Design hosts “The AIA Practice Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process” at the AIA National Convention next month, its principal challenge will be dispelling energy modeling’s fear factor.

Computer-based models that simulate energy consumption and production in buildings have become increasingly popular with architects. But the connection between these tools and everyday practice has not been as easily made. The intent of the AIA’s practice guide is to help architects gain a better understanding of energy as a design topic, and to assist with bridging the communications gap between what architects call design and what many engineers and energy modelers call geometry. The includes architect-rated evaluations of many of today’s energy modeling interfaces and engines. It also includes links and a map documenting which tools work best with various CAD and 3D modeling programs.

Energy modeling represents a major paradigm shift, creating a new value proposition and a new level of service for the architectural profession. It’s about the health, safety, and welfare trinity, but it’s also about performance. Spiraling energy costs and the environmental stresses of climate change have made energy modeling more relevant. The USGBC’s LEED program and other green-rating systems have made energy modeling a requirement for earning renewable-energy credits that count toward certification.

More and more government agencies, retail developers, and universities (which drive urban and rural development) include energy modeling requirements in their RFPs. More and more state and local energy building codes contain energy modeling disclosure requirements, and, of course, the AIA’s 2030 Commitment requires energy measurements and controls.

“With energy modeling, the architect can have a longer-term role as trusted adviser to the client, counseling post-occupancy on energy consumption and performance measures that reflect back on the original energy modeling analysis done before occupancy,” says Rand Ekman, AIA, Cannon Design’s Chicago-based director of sustainability and president of AIA Chicago. “It lets us own more of the design process and expands our value.”

Ekman serves on the Energy Modeling Working Group that helped to develop the AIA’s new guide. The 10-member working group toured three U.S. Department of Energy laboratories—National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley, and Pacific Northwest—to learn about the new collaborative energy modeling tools that are in development and to provide input on what tools may be available in the future. “Energy modeling is becoming part and parcel of what it takes to get a job done,” Ekman says.

“Early modeling analysis is graphical in nature, and what gets done later by engineers is more data-driven on spreadsheets and texts,” says Oregon-based Darren Lewis, AIA, sustainable-design technology consultant at HDR and a member of AIA’s Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community. “The opportunity is for architects to get over the business-as-usual mind-set and put all the available technology to full use.”

Amidst all of the new energy tools, one thing seems clear: Energy modeling elevates the details of building science to the same level as artistic design, requiring architects to become equally skilled in both. “Firms that are incorporating energy modeling,” Lewis says, “are seen as more substantive in their commitment to providing high-performance buildings.”