April Fools

AIA-Certified Projects Pulling Ahead of LEED

Pilot AIA-certified green projects are changing the rules for “green,” throwing sacred cows out of the many, many windows.

April 1, 2015

Copyright BuildingGreen, Inc.
The green building cognoscenti are chopping off their rules of thumb as projects certified through a pilot American Institute of Architects (AIA) program are showing unexpected benefits.

“Architectural solutions pioneered by our members haven’t been getting proper recognition in programs like LEED,” Robert Ivy, FAIA, CEO of the AIA, told BuildingGreen. “Our new pilot certification program has proven more friendly to those solutions.”

DEEL: Design Elegance for Energy Leadership

The AIA Design Elegance for Energy Leadership (AIA|DEEL) program focuses on four “forms”:

  • Process: Design teams must vision, revision, and, finally, re-imagine projects.
  • Dematerialization: Structures must borrow a metaphor of texture and symmetry.
  • Architectonics: Recognizing that traditional measures are outmoded, designers will redefine a commitment to design excellence that conceptualizes new rubrics.
  • Experience: Articulation is uniquely responsive to client needs while foregrounding attributes shared by catalyzing spaces.

Details of the first crop of AIA|DEEL-certified projects are confidential pending the conclusion of the standard 12-month pre-litigation period running from April 1, 2015, to April 1, 2016, but BuildingGreen obtained some initial lessons learned.

New weather data favor glass façades  

Although it has been accepted that all-glass façades are energy-wasters (BuildingGreen is hereby retracting Rethinking the All-Glass Building), a design-first/model-later residential high-rise in Miami persisted—and found that climate change has changed the rules.

“The increased incidence of hurricanes as well as lower-level atmospheric systems—particularly in shoulder seasons with lower-angle sun—has translated to no cooling-load penalty from the glass,” explains a project brief. “What’s more, the smog suffuses the façade with gentle daylight.” Project photos show clean lines unencumbered by shades, frits, louvers, or shelves—earning the project points under two AIA|DEEL categories: Dematerialization and Experience.

Balconies like these have long been poo-pooed by green architects as energy-wasters, as steel and concrete structural elements suck heat out of the building. But architects have figured out how to “flip the thermal switch” and collect solar energy for endless showers and other occupant- and eco-friendly features.

Photo: SEIER+SEIER. License: CC BY 2.0.
The architect chose a north-south orientation to maximize the biophilic benefit of ocean views, which fresh climate data again supported. Climate-change-enhanced coastal storm patterns power elliptical-axis wind turbines on the roof. To counter vibrations entering the building, the turbine uses governors (mechanical devices that reduce rotational speed) to dampen vibration with a 75% loss in output. Defending the predictable result (actually still relevant: The Folly of Building-Integrated Wind,) the project brief states, “In a state where the Governor has banned the phrase ‘climate change’ in official use, the project’s selection of a governor that slows renewable energy output is a tangible statement that is sensitive to place.”

Overall, “we appreciate that the data validate what we told the model,” the project brief states.

Thermal bridging offers heat exchange

Even as heat loss through thermally unbroken floor plates extending out to balconies has been well documented, many architects haven’t changed that detail. But in Chicago, an AIA|DEEL project with air-to-balcony-to-water heat exchange (see diagram) is showing that the architects were right all along.

The project followed occupant comfort all the way outside: the radiant floor heating system in the conditioned space also heats the balcony. Although that results in an energy penalty, the effect is overridden in the summer when the design flips the thermal switch.

“Elevated summertime temperatures due to climate change were making these balconies uncomfortably hot,” according to AIA|DEEL documentation. “By reversing the radiant flow from the balcony to the interior and tying it to the domestic hot water system via a heat exchanger, the balconies are now providing 88% of the building’s hot water needs through nine months of the year.”

The balconies are now pushing the entire building into net-positive energy production, and the project is considering piping steam into a district system.

Although some judged him impractical, Frank Gehry has used projects such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall to field-test new concepts in concentrating solar thermal energy systems. A Gehry project is now AIA|DEEL certified and is out-performing similar LEED projects.

Photo: Carol Highsmith. Work is in the public domain.
That would be used to serve neighboring LEED-certified buildings whose outmoded, thermally broken balconies (kindly ignore our recent article, Thermal Bridging Can Degrade Wall Performance 70%) limit their energy upside to only the solar thermal production on their small rooftops.

Solutions by architects

“While it’s true that engineering wizardry is a resource in providing our energy needs,” Ivy told BuildingGreen, “in this changing climate, there are solutions that only an architect would think of.” Noting that AIA|DEEL has grown beyond expectations, he said, “Based on mockup uptake alone, these concepts are spreading.” Ivy admitted that his vision might be blurring, however: “I think I’ve seen the same mother and child in the last dozen renderings that crossed my desk.”

AIA|DEEL pilot projects have attracted some of the biggest names in design:

  • A Gehry-designed parabolic stainless façade has repurposed the swimming pool in an adjacent building as a solar thermal storage system.
  • A new Calatrava design translates potential energy stored in the structure to kinetic energy, using unanticipated periodicity to dynamically adjust natural breezes for occupant delight.
  • Sustainability historians are now naming Frank Lloyd Wright the inventor of “micro-rainwater harvesting.” Hairline cracks in a project’s concrete façade are capturing rainwater for room-by-room evaporative cooling. Thanks to the thriving ecosystems this rainwater has helped engender, the project is aiming to be certified “Living” under the Living Building Challenge in addition to AIA|DEEL.

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April 1, 2015 - 9:46 am

I had to read it twice to pick up the tongue in cheek (sorry, I'm an engineer, and I hear silly stuff like this all the time from architects, only they are serious).

Happy April Fool's Day!

April 1, 2015 - 9:48 am

Brilliant example of integrated design, but I don't think'll work by April 2nd, so we better mobilize today.

April 1, 2015 - 10:32 am

Happy April Fools everyone. Ya did get me.  ;-)   

April 1, 2015 - 11:34 am

Got us!  The whole office was weighing in until we realized that DEEL was LEED backwards!  Good one!

April 1, 2015 - 11:59 am

a great parody to architecture and engineering building envelop science!

April 1, 2015 - 12:10 pm

You only had me for a second...it was that balconey diagram that did me in. The engineer in me was really trying to suss it out, then the proverbial light bulb snapped on. A key factor was also architectonics. Now, that's a true SAT word to be.

April 1, 2015 - 7:20 pm

This market is rife with opportunity; you've but scratched the surface. I can imagine all sorts of building case studies revealing the counter-intuitive favorable outcomes we all overlooked.

Well done!

April 2, 2015 - 12:46 pm

Such a well-done article -- you had me laughing from the first line, but I had to re-read it to catch all of the jokes!  Sadly, some of the terminology and reasoning could fit in an actual, serious project discussion.