Designing a beautiful building means caring about what you can’t see

Starting out her career as an interior designer and decorator, Northrop’s Fairouz Ghanem always saw buildings from the point of view of how they were used or how people interacted with the space.

“While I cared about where building materials were sourced and their impact on human health, the materials were ultimately a tool to achieve functionality and beauty,” says Fairouz.

Only later, when Fairouz shifted careers becoming a sustainability consultant for Northrop, did she appreciate that beauty in a building needed to be more than skin deep. It meant looking closely at the life cycle impacts of the construction and operations, and working to eliminate or minimise those impacts.

Increasingly, investors, tenants, and other stakeholders are demanding transparency when it comes to carbon footprint and other environmental impacts. And this is where a Life Cycle Assessment can be useful.

“We look at a project’s entire life cycle in terms of sustainability,” says Fairouz.

“This includes raw material extraction, material production, transportation, construction and installation, the use phase and end of life.”

Assessing the environmental impact at each stage produces an overwhelming amount of data and spreadsheets. And this often results in Life Cycle Assessments reports that are complex and difficult to understand.

“At Northrop, we’re continually thinking about how we can do things differently. Looking at ways to communicate this information in a way that makes sense to a client and ultimately helps them to make better business decisions.”

A recent example of this was an office building targeting 5 star Green Star.

“Working closely with the client in the design concept phase, we set targets and explored the project’s potential to achieve these goals.”

“Detailed Revit models and the bill of quantities were used to gather architecture and structure information about the project. Working with Northrop’s services team, we also gathered detailed information about the mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems, together with the energy and water consumption assessments of the building.”

“Detailed modelling resulted in lots of great data, but being able to communicate these results effectively was key."

The graph below was presented to the client, with a discussion around possible design strategies.

Can't see this graph clearly? Click here for a larger version.

The client could clearly see the impact of each design strategy and that an efficient internal lighting design would make the biggest difference reducing environmental impact by 73 per cent.

Overall, the project could achieve a 235% cumulative improvement in the environmental impact categories considered within Green Star certification through operational energy and water savings along with better material choices.

Our suggested strategies were ambitious, yet the client adopted most of them and is well on the way to achieving 5 stars Green Star. This process allowed the design team to work together to create an integrated and coordinated design.

Given the imperative we have as designers to address climate change and the many other environmental impacts of building construction and operation, we need to embrace an ecological design aesthetic, and this means using Life Cycle Assessments to inform design decisions.

Fairouz is part of Northrop’s Sustainability Team and a Life Cycle Assessment Specialist. She has been with Northrop for almost two years during which time she has worked on everything from code compliance modeling, Green Star ratings through to strategic planning for portfolios of assets. 

 

Contributor(s)
Sustainability Consultant
Author(s): 
Fairouz Ghanem

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