Rising to the Challenge

The AIA+2030 Professional Series, Sessions III & IV Review

By Melanie Como Harris, LEED AP Posted on October 9, 2013

aia2030_logo_tm_webThe fifth installment of AIA Pittsburgh’s AIA + 2030 educational series will take place this week, building upon the contents of its predecessors. All of the sessions thus far have been inspiring while featuring a variety of useful strategies and tools to implement in our projects. Given that the two most recent sessions provided the knowledge base upon which Thursday’s session will build, it is worth reviewing those previous sessions.

Session III – Accentuate the Positive: Climate Responsive Design

Held back in June, the evening started off with a presentation from Christine Mondor, AIA of evolveEA. Her approach to climate responsive design is rooted in three elements: energy efficiency, thermal comfort, and climate-adaptive responsiveness & resilience. Reinforcing the strategies of the previous session, Mondor emphasized precedent research and goal-setting as critical initial steps. Tools such as the New Building Institute research report, CBECS, EPA Target Finder, and the CBE Thermal Comfort Tool for AHSRAE-55 were advocated. The fundamental site analysis tools we all learned in school are still instrumental in developing a climate responsive design. She briefly walked us through a demonstration of the computer program Climate Consultant, which can lead the design team to a deeper understanding of the site conditions. This understanding is an essential knowledge-base for energy efficient design.

Erica Cochran, Adjunct Associate Professor and PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, expanded the list of decision-making tools useful to site and energy analysis. Reducing the anticipated energy load is a critical early design step. Cochran suggested a list of common yet often ignored energy consumers in building system equipment and, most notably, user electronics.

The session was capped off by an enlightening case study of The Tower at PNC Plaza, commonly known as PNC4. The presentation was conducted by the team of Lisa Adkins, AIA from Gensler and Jeremy Snyder from the engineering firm Burro Happold. Adkins and Snyder focused on the energy analysis and climate responsive design process for the project. The pair reviewed the range of energy-reduction strategies vetted during design. It was as helpful to hear about the strategies dismissed as it was the strategies implemented. With “the world’s greenest skyscraper” listed as a guiding principle, the design team was encouraged to go beyond the typical best practices. The synergistic solution of natural ventilation, an active double skin, and integral occupant education used on the project was described in detail. The presentation certainly reinforced the ways in which PNC4 exemplifies PNC’s three pillars of Community Builder, Workplace Innovator, and Climate Responder.

Session IV:  Skins: The Importance of the Thermal Envelope

After a short summer hiatus the series was restarted in September. For the first time in the series, the presentations specifically focused on an architectural component – the building envelope. The roster was packed with experienced educators and practitioners. The first presenter of the evening – Steve Lee, AIA, Professor and Head of the School of Architecture at CMU – qualifies under both categories. Lee started with references to three books he considers to be the quintessential texts for envelope design: Ron Brand’s Architectural Details for Insulated Buildings, Joseph Lstiburek’s BSD-106 Understanding Vapor Barriers, and Ed Allen’s Fundamentals of Building Construction & Architectural Detailing. Suggesting that insulation should be renamed “outsulation” so everyone would understand the material’s best location in an exterior wall assembly, Lee divulged his favorite mnemonic: SPAIGR. He contends that all buildings, regardless of climate or skin material, can utilize SPAIGR [which stands for Structure, Panel, Air Barrier (vapor barrier & drainage plane), Insulation, Gap, & Rainscreen], and presented several wall sections that demonstrated his point.

Next, Gary Gardner with Bayer Material Science presented an interesting study Bayer had conducted. Bayer assembled an energy modeling team to examine a series of building types and attempt to address how materials and building systems affect energy consumption. Combining a reduced energy load, an improved building envelope (designed to ASHRAE 2007), and an integrated design resulted in significant energy savings. However, the most salient point was that even with the three-fold strategy, reaching net zero by 2030 will require us to go well beyond the conventional sustainable strategies utilized in the case studies.

While the first two speakers primarily addressed the vertical elements of the envelope, the next two segments shifted to the roof. Kristin Kennedy of Florida Consulting presented a rapid yet rich discussion of roofing assemblies and their potential for increased contribution to the thermal characteristics of the envelope. The pros and cons of vapor barrier use in the roof were considered. The final speakers of the night were Ray Sinagra and John Buck from CEC. These two took the confab on green roofs to a deeper level than the typical green roof presentation. Phipps CSL and the Allegheny County Office Building were two case studies used to demonstrate the value of green roofs through empirical data. The most important observations pertained to the insulating value involving the emissivity properties of green roofs and the reduction in stormwater collection. Case in point, the Allegheny County Office Building roof has shown an 85% reduction in stormwater run-off.

Next up is Session V – Aggressively Passive: Employing Passive Systems for Load Reduction on October 10th. Session speakers will be Khee Poh Lam, another esteemed educator and practitioner from CMU’s School of Architecture; Laura Nettleton, AIA and Michael Whartnaby of architecture firm Thoughtful Balance; and Mark Dietrick, AIA, LEED AP, of Case Technologies. Given that list of local experts, the session promises to advance the quest for energy efficient building design.

More information about AIA Pittsburgh’s AIA+2030 Professional Series can be found here. A concise description of the 2030 Challenge can be found here.

Melanie Como Harris, LEED AP is a local architect and member of the AIA Committee on the Environment.

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