mentions two more criteria that are essential for good teamwork. “It really helps us if the architects view their building as a dynamic system and are not just interested in it as a static image for publication in journals. Continuity is also important. Particularly when you are dealing with large-scale projects, the planning and realisation can take many years. If the architect is prepared ‘to stay the course’ from start to finish the quality will benefit.”
This striving for quality can be quite demanding for everyone involved, as Matthias Schuler comments. “I have frequently had the experience that architects continue to make fundamental changes to their design even during the construction phase. For the engineers, that entails additional work because they have to redesign and recalculate many things. But it is fascinating to watch how many architects continue to fine-tune their designs right until the end.”
Sheila Kennedy criticises the fact that collaboration is being hampered by laws and fee structures, which rigidly subdivide the services provided by architects and engineers into individual work packages and phases. Up to now, at least in the USA, professional associations have shown little inclination to change this. Sheila Kennedy hopes that the digitisation of design processes could result in better interconnectedness between collaborators and disciplines. “If we look at the software being used in building design, we can already observe a much more collaborative approach relying on 3D models that are shared between the different disciplines, and can be worked on by multiple people synchronously.”
Architecture for human beings
Marie-Claude Dubois states that there should be clear priorities when planning buildings − people should come first, and the building should follow. “We tend to forget that we design buildings for human beings rather than to save energy. I see too many so-called passive houses with poor daylight, where people are not optimally supported by the building. This is not a good idea. We should first support people and only then try to achieve this with the least energy use possible. Sometimes we may have to sacrifice a bit of energy to create better luminous conditions.”
The impact of daylight on human circadian rhythms in particular is becoming increasingly important in design, Davidson Norris believes. “Science tells us that for our sleep-wake cycle, obtaining the right dosage of short-wave light at eye level is crucial. In terms of daylighting design, this is far more than just a technical question. We also need to focus on where people look, and try to attract their attention to the source of the light.” In order to achieve this, Carpenter Norris employ metal reflectors, diffused glass panes, dichroic glass and similar materials to create what Norris calls ‘daylight events’ on otherwise blank walls or inside facade cavities.
Transsolar has been pursuing a planning philosophy for many years that focuses on people. Nadir Abdessemed says, “instead of first designing a building and then analysing its impact on users, we start from the question of what the people working within a certain programmatic context actually need. Concentrating on people’s truly essential needs is difficult – but once you have achieved that, it opens the door to entirely new creative opportunities.”
To give one example of this, working on behalf of a major European airport Transsolar investigated whether it would also be possible to build an airport terminal that functions entirely without air-conditioning. And in Moscow, the office is collaborating with American architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro to implement their designs for Zariyadye Park, which will be opening in the autumn of 2017 near the Moscow Kremlin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Revolution. “Our basic approach always remains the same, irrespective of whether we are designing a building or an outdoor space. And most of the planning tools we use also remain the same,” Matthias Schuler explains. “The only major difference is that the principles of thermal comfort differ somewhat when you are outside.”
According to Davidson Norris, health and well-being are increasingly becoming important arguments for those who commission buildings. “There is a need to justify daylight beyond the ‘energy box’ in which it has been contained for decades. Advanced daylighting controls are costly, and the tangible but modest energy cost savings that they yield are usually not a decisive factor from a client’s point of view.” Fortunately, says Norris, some clients are paying increasing attention to the biological benefits of daylight. “The firms in Silicon Valley in particular get the idea. On the one hand, they are competing for people who are aware of this issue, know the science behind it and are conscious of their own health and well-being. On the other, these firms are also interested in advanced design solutions to solve daylighting issues.”
Matthias Schuler has made similar observations. “In Europe, companies may want to build sustainable buildings to bolster their own reputation. In the USA, it helps more if we base our arguments on the improved productivity and lower sickness absence rates. It is difficult to put a price on it but potentially we could be looking at millions of dollars.” Schuler cites the Canadian energy supplier Manitoba Hydro as an example. Together with KPMB Architects, Transsolar planned and built a new administration building for Manitoba Hydro. Since moving into the new building, every employee on average takes 1.5 days less sick leave per year than before. This has saved the company 2.5 million dollars annually.
From research to practice
Sheila Kennedy advises a more detailed – and at the same time critical – consideration of human needs. “We have to differentiate between needs and wants. Much of what is being designed today is aimed at satisfying short-term wants. On the other hand, there are a lot of needs that we do not even recognise, such as the very real need to change our behaviour and our fundamental ways of thinking. We still conceive of the human realm as something separate from nature when in fact, in the era of the Anthropocene, they are both parts of the same system.” She also criticises the current tendency to quantify all aspects of building design with numerical performance indicators. “Building design leans ever more heavily towards quantifiable aspects, and many clients think that metrics are the way forward. But how do you quantify our responsibility to the planet? It is very difficult to assign natural resources like air and water a measurable value in an economy.”
Kennedy believes that the current mainstream practice of building design is overly focused on operational energy use, whereas the embodied energy, the recyclability and the local provenience of building materials are hardly taken into account.
Partly in an endeavour to change this, Sheila Kennedy’s architectural practice, Kennedy & Violich (KVA), founded their own materials research laboratory, Matx, in 2000. Here the architects build prototypes and mock-ups for their own projects, but also conduct contract research for clients from the industry. The projects that Matx has worked on range from a thermally responsive linen textile for a French manufacturer to lamp cases and solar powered streetlights made out of Areca palm leaves grown in Western India, which the architects developed together with a local NGO. According to Sheila Kennedy, working with materials in this hands-on manner also helps to develop a sense of material resistance, which is often lacking in computer-driven design processes. She estimates that more than a quarter of the workload of Matx is funded by industry or through research grants. “But even in the case of self-instated research projects that emerge from our work in architecture, we aim to bring material research ideas to market and to industrial production.”
White Arkitekter, one of Marie-Claude Dubois’ two employers, have also set up their own facility called the White Research Lab (WRL), with a focus on research directly applied to ongoing architectural projects. However WRL also conducts commissioned research projects for manufacturers of building products and other companies. Dubois reckons that she has been able to infuse significant new knowledge into her firm through her work. “I wish I had more research colleagues doing what I am doing. However, most people do not want to have to bother with two jobs. It is very demanding and not a good financial deal.”
When asked what could be done to bring the two worlds of academia and architectural practice closer together, Dubois responds, “to ask every researcher to spend one day per week in an architectural office, as I have done for the past three years, would be a good start. They would see that many of their research endeavours are pointless given the speed demanded in the private sector. On the other hand, the role of research is to provide answers for society 20 years ahead of time, so many seemingly useless things that we do in research today might actually be relevant 20 years from now.”