Outcome-based design: The future of high-performance buildings

TD Bank Group Toronto Office - WELL Certified

TD Bank Group’s office in downtown Toronto, which was the first project in Canada to receive WELL Certification at the Gold level.

As assessing building performance becomes a long-term endeavor, clients and architects may find themselves increasingly linked

Architects pride themselves on their ability to design buildings that operate at a high level of occupant satisfaction. Yet the complex interplay of variables, which can’t always be predicted or managed, may create the perception that these buildings are not performing as advertised. The building owner might not service a high-performance building's heating and cooling systems regularly; tenants may set thermostats too low or high, or leave the doors and windows open at inopportune times; or an unexpectedly cold winter could diminish a building's advertised efficiency.

The introduction of building rating systems and certification standards has been a significant market driver for high-performance buildings, but their effectiveness is contingent on a tenant’s commitment and ability to stick to building targets such as energy use goals. Emerging rating systems like LEED v4, the Living Building Challenge, and the WELL Building Standard™, however, aim to raise the ante for both owners and architects by verifying actual performance outcomes.

A focus on outcomes

For Z Smith, AIA, director of sustainability and building performance at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, the architecture profession is moving to what he calls an “outcome-based ethos,” and it’s long overdue.

In the 1990s, when the high-performance building concept began to gain currency, there was no template and no experience set from which the profession could draw upon. “Who would want to be on the hook for trying this," Smith asks, "when it had never been tried before?”

But the move to outcome-based contracting and codes—exemplified by the Living Building Challenge and the WELL Building Standard™—has begun to change the equation of risk. Unlike their predecessors, these systems require rigorous performance verification documenting whether the performance of a building meets the design intent. For example, LEED v4 requires documentation confirming that operational performance is monitored and reported after post-occupancy. WELL goes further by requiring onsite performance verification of air quality, lighting levels, acoustics, thermal comfort, and water quality every three years to maintain certification. As such, building performance becomes an ongoing target as compared to a single point in time pre-occupancy.

Certification of high-performance building takes extra time and effort for the architect and the owner, especially when actual energy bills and post-occupancy surveys are required documentation, Smith says. “We’re seeing the buyers of buildings increasingly willing to want this building to really work; in some cases, they structure contracts so that there’s shared benefit.”

Indeed, for the client, regular performance verification incentivizes efficacy and commitment to the design intent of the project. For the architect, outcome-based systems like LEED v4, LBC, and WELL set the stage for prolonged client engagement and satisfaction.

From client to collaborator

According to new research by Dodge Data & Analytics, 67 percent of US building owners consider the health impacts in their design and construction decision-making; that number is expected to increase over the next five years. Forty-two percent of owners surveyed are interested in partnering with architects to help achieve their performance goals.

This is good news for architects. Risk is minimized when the client, building owner, or landlord is already onboard with a performance-based approach. That was the case with TD Bank Group’s LEED and WELL Gold certified 25,000 square-foot office renovation within Cadillac Fairview’s Toronto Dominion Center, designed by HOK. From the start, TD and the design team were intent on creating a space that would promote the health and well-being of employees.

“The challenge will be how to we mainstream this outcome-based approach.” - Z Smith, AIA, director of sustainability and building performance at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple

“People are our most important asset,” says Martha MacInnis, design director of enterprise real estate with TD Bank Group. “We’re committed to being an extraordinary place to work, so it made perfect sense to look at our existing design standards and figure out a way to elevate them to the next level.”

The HOK team married TD’s existing corporate design standards and WELL’s New and Existing Interiors typology to renovate the 23rd floor of TD’s headquarters. “In looking at the WELL principles, we looked at what is air quality of the current floor and the building. This is where the engagement of the landlord was really pivotal,” says Genny Rose, vice president and interiors team leader at HOK.

That engagement involved adding technology to the mechanical systems for more fresh air and adding another layer of water purification. “The engagement of the occupant is just as critical,” Rose says. “They’re living it every day. They’re the ones who can make or break the recertification when we go back to get WELL recertified.”

The risk of inaction

As the profession begins to enter an outcome-based world, architects are steadily approaching a state where not designing a high-performance building is risky.

“There are a number of architects who are actually, legitimately worried about signing on to being responsible for how a building actually works when the legalese hasn’t fully been developed,” says Clark Brockman, AIA, principal at SERA Architects.

“But if we can unpack the risk and get everyone in the game, so clients are more willing to ask for teams to stay involved without fear of reprisal, and teams are more willing to stay involved because they’re not afraid of reprisal, the teams are going to learn more about how they design buildings, and clients are going to definitively get better buildings,” Brockman says. “We have to move away from narrow risk and talk about the risk of inaction.”

For Smith, that means culture change. Right now, such a long-term relationship between architect and client is a cost borne primarily by the architect. “The fear with an outcome-based world is that we’re married to the occupants and we don’t want to found responsible for their actions; we want to be held responsible for our own actions.”

In the future, the profession needs to move away from this pricing model. “Ten years from now, outcome-based contracting will be common, as outcome-based certification is with very committed owners,” Smith says. “It gets us out of the world where we’re just waving our arms and saying, 'Trust me, it will all be beautiful.' The challenge will be how to we mainstream this outcome-based approach.”

John Schneidawind is the director of public affairs and media relations at the AIA.

Image credits

TD Bank Group Toronto Office - WELL Certified

Tom Arban

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