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5 Reasons Why Building Design Is More Important Than Ever

Our insight into the benefits of high-performance design shows that architects have an essential role in building our future through sustainable design.

SketchUp model showing light/heat on building floor

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  1. More control, more choices
  2. The urgency of sustainable design
  3. How forms determine performance
  4. Designing with sustainable budgets in mind
  5. Tools that unlock the future of sustainable building design

It is difficult or impossible to control many of the variables that affect building performance. Each building has variations in usage, occupant behavior, and external factors like weather patterns that can change over time. Given the many parameters that influence a building after the build, it is impossible to create designs that anticipate all likely scenarios and truly deliver optimum performance.

Over the past decade, we have had tremendous advances in high-performing materials, technologies, and systems. Rather than designing the perfect building, we could simply equip our buildings with the most advanced technologies so that buildings respond dynamically and adapt over time. Discussions of advancing technologies like AI can convey that architects aren’t as crucial as they used to be when creating high-performance buildings. 

However, the architect's role as lead designer of a building project has never been more critical to building our future. Here are five reasons why.

Woman working on a SketchUp model on a computer

1. More control, more choices

We have an incredible array of new technologies to help us deliver high performance. It is precisely because of this that design has become not just more complex but also more critical. Better building technologies will fail if they are not well-designed and integrated from the get-go. Great design puts all the elements together correctly to ensure excellent results.

UI showing PreDesign climate insights

2. The urgency of sustainable design

Buildings are responsible for as much as 39% of global carbon emissions. Retrofitting existing buildings offers a great opportunity, but we can only reduce our global emissions if we also tackle the performance issue in new buildings. The UN expects global urbanization to increase by nearly 2.5 billion people between now and 2050, increasing the concentration of people in our cities by over 60%. All these people need homes and buildings to live and work. With such a phenomenal amount of building activity ahead of us, we need to get to very high-performance standards quickly. We need more than incrementalism: we need a sea-change in design sensibilities to achieve the goals of the 2030 challenge. Only when everything fits together perfectly in the design stage can we deliver buildings and building performance that is genuinely great and sensitive to our environment.

UI showing PreDesign season insights

3. How forms determine performance

Building shape/form alone can influence energy use by 10 to 15% on a typical building project. Combine that with the influence of glazing, which can often influence building performance in the 15-25% range. When considering daylight performance, we can create buildings that deliver a much better occupant experience without additional capital cost. In the case of the Iowa Nest project, changing the building’s form cut construction costs in half and achieved a 30% reduction in heating and cooling loads.

SketchUp model showing light/heat on floor

4. Designing with sustainable budgets in mind

In a futuristic nirvana, we can quickly put the very best technology to work in every part of a building. But in the real world, we constantly have to make choices around tradeoffs, and in particular, we have to be cognizant that the vast majority of the world's buildings will not instantaneously have budgets for installing the highest-performing technology. We need to be very smart at deploying capital on building projects by crafting designs that carefully balance all the conflicting priorities using the least possible capital.

5. Tools that unlock the future of sustainable building design

SketchUp model showing Sefaira insights

Software like PreDesign helps designers make good decisions from the earliest stages, while Sefaira provides in-depth performance analyses on building designs. When we combine advances in cloud computing, building physics, and user interaction design, we can make software that can analyze design performance in real time so that it can be embedded directly into the design process itself. This makes it easier than ever for the architect to use important building performance metrics to create a building design that is sustainable, functional, and beautiful. 

Based on these five reasons, high-performance building design is more critical than it has ever been.

How will you leverage the latest modeling tools to meet today’s needs for high-performance, adaptable, future-friendly buildings? Explore the possibilities with a free trial of SketchUp, which includes access to tools like PreDesign.

About the Author

Mads was the CEO and founder of Sefaira, a start-up that is now part of the Trimble SketchUp family. He now uses his passion for technology, entrepreneurship and business development to invest in and mentor other tech startups.