Rising to the Challenge

The AIA+2030 Professional Series, Session IX Review

By Melanie Como Harris, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Posted on April 23, 2014

aia2030_logo_tm_webAttendees of the AIA+2030 sessions have, up to this point, met at the Bruno Building for an intimate knowledge exchange. However, Session IX – Hand-Off + Staying in Shape – took a provocative turn. This time around, class was held on the Phipps Conservatory campus. The first half of the evening consisted of presentations by John Greenwald, President of Mechanical Operations & Consulting (MOC), and Jason Wirick, Director of Facilities and Sustainability Management at Phipps.  The second half of the evening involved a tour of Phipps’ newer buildings from the facilities operator’s point-of-view. Together, the unique learning experience enlivened the often mundane topic of building operations and maintenance. 

Series moderator Marc Mondor, AIA kicked off the session by introducing John Greenwald, explaining that Greenwald has been managing building operations for decades, but before that he was educated as a musician. This detail was particularly relevant to the presentation as Greenwald proceeded to use music and concepts within the world of music to explain how building systems management works. The metaphor starts by likening the building design to a musical score. The architects and engineers are the composers. The way a building performs can be compared to symphonic performance of a score. Recalling the often used phrase of “passing the baton” in reference to building startup, he argued that the facilities manager is the conductor with his baton. The building’s devices, equipment, and machines are the instruments and the building operators are the musicians.

Taking the parallel further, Greenwald explained that all orchestras have the fundamental role of the first chair violin. It is the first chair’s responsibility to conduct tuning during rehearsal. Therefore, the first chair sets the tone for the sound. In building operations, the first chair could be several different things. It could be a piece of equipment that is not performing at the right frequency or a security guard who leaves the garage doors open at the loading docks thus making the HVAC run more often than anticipated. Conversely, it could be a building operator who has been properly trained as to when to intervene in the building automation system and when to let it adjust itself. Systems balancing, testing, and commissioning is the rehearsal. These are the opportunities to get the system playing in the right key. Lastly, the hand-off is opening night. The important thing to remember, though, is that opening night for a building is not just one night. It is four seasons. It is also the building in both occupied and unoccupied states. The O&M team has to be prepared to monitor and make adjustments during this prolonged timeframe.

He concluded his talk with a few pieces of advice. Measurement is the key to energy management: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Look for energy reduction opportunities in operations, lighting, building envelope (annual thermal imaging), HVAC and power distribution, HVAC equipment, and domestic & site water. Audition your musicians. In other words, know who building operators are going to be and what training they need. Know who your first chair is.  Stay involved with your projects so you can learn by “listening to your own song.”

Prior to leading the tour of Phipps, Facilities Director Jason Wirick provided background on Phipp’s master plan and sustainability goals.  All phases of development since the Welcome Center (2006) have been conducted under the guiding principle “In pursuit of zero impact.” While Phipps had incorporated numerous sustainable design strategies into their LEED-certified Welcome Center, Tropical Forest, and Production Greenhouses, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) endeavored to achieve the highest levels of sustainability. The project pursued several environmental certifications, including the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The integrated design process allowed for the building operators to be engaged early in the design process. Wirick stated that the year of performance verification required by LBC has been instrumental in not only making the building as energy efficient as possible, but also in keeping the occupants involved and satisfied. One of the biggest challenges he cited is in interpreting all of the data the building automation system tracks. The facilities team reviews the data daily and shares the pertinent information with the occupants weekly. Staff meetings include a discussion of water, energy, comfort, purchasing, health, and plants every week.

During the tour, Wirick touched upon some of the successes and failures the building has demonstrated thus far. One success has been the operable window design. Windows at clerestory height are automated. Windows at desk height are manual. Giving the occupant some control over windows has resulted in higher satisfaction and comfort. The windows presented a few shortcomings as well. Speed of the automated closing had to be quickened and shades on clerestory windows had to be added in a few classrooms to deal with glare. The biggest challenges, though, have not been related to the energy performance. Instead water processing has been the hot topic.

In total, the evening’s experts presented an engaging and enlightening perspective on building operations and maintenance. Greenwald reminded us that “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring.” Wirick furthered that sentiment by mentioning that “meters cost nickels” and the information you glean from those meters can result in significant energy savings over the lifetime of your building. Finally, 84% of the building’s lifetime energy happens during operations; it is worth focusing more attention on the building even after the hand-off.

Session X will be the endcap of the inaugural AIA+2030 Series hosted by AIA Pittsburgh. It will be held on April 24th in the Bruno Building once again. The session – Putting It All Together: Achieving 2030 Goals on the Project and at the Office – will include a local case study that incorporated many of the sustainable strategies and utilized the tools introduced in the other nine sessions. In addition, the local firms who have made the AIA 2030 Commitment will talk about their experiences implementing the actions of the Commitment. To conclude the session, Robert Sroufe, Director of Duquesne University’s Sustainability MBA program, will introduce metrics and methods from the supply chain side of sustainability that have been successful in garnering buy-in from stakeholders. It promises to be an inspiring evening.

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, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is an architect and project manager at IKM Incorporated. She is also a member of the AIA Committee on the Environment.

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