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    Credit: WILLIAM STEWART PHOTOGRAPHY

If you receive the AIA’s biweekly newsletter, AIArchitect, you’ll know by now that the Institute has just published An Architect’s Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process.

I don’t usually engage in marketing, but this is different. It’s different because all the talk about how design can control the uses and costs of energy can be dismissed as just that—talk. Or even worse, as “greenwashing.” Clients don’t want promises. They don’t want a plaque on their wall. They want to know if the claims we make to them really work. What’s the standard of proof? To put it crudely, what they want is red meat.

For the sake of how our services are valued, this is not a dish to excuse ourselves from digging into. What we design—buildings—uses 40 percent of the nation’s energy. If we turn the question of building performance over to the engineers to figure out, what does that say about us?

By not making a credible, evidence-based claim for performance, we are abdicating our responsibility to both the client and the user. This will erode our reputation as well as the value of our work. Furthermore, if we do not have a firm grasp on how our buildings will actually, not theoretically, perform, it will have a negative impact on the quality of what we design.

What’s the alternative? A good beginning is to learn the ABCs of energy modeling.

This is the point where eyes glaze over. Energy modeling sounds boring and wonkish. Yet, architecture is not just the thrill of shaping form; it’s also the science of delivering value. We do ourselves, our profession, and, frankly, other members of the building team a disservice if we acknowledge only the aesthetics and leave the question of performance to someone else.

Being able to say how a design works has historically been part of what we do for our clients. These days it may be the leading question clients ask. The challenge of climate change and the smart allocation of limited and increasingly scarce resources offer new opportunities to reassert our responsibility. The AIA’s guide to energy modeling is the latest and one of the best resources that the AIA has yet produced to equip architects to test their design decisions and to show how their buildings are likely to perform. That’s the information that clients have been waiting for.

Jeff Potter, FAIA, 2012 President