The AIA recently released the Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan — a document that identifies four areas in which architects have the opportunity to play a leadership role: Energy, Materials, Design & Health, and Resilience. Energy is worth delving into further, because it is often seen as a technical rather than design issue. But I believe that energy actually presents an important design opportunity for architects.
According to the AIA, Energy presents a number of market opportunities for architects:
- opportunities to win a bigger slice of the growing green building market,
- opportunities to expand their scope of services to include additional energy- and sustainable design offerings, and
- opportunities to take a leadership role in an area of growing global significance.
The Leadership Scan also notes that energy performance is quickly becoming a requirement: as we’ve discussed in previous posts, there are significant drivers pushing architects to deliver on performance, from energy benchmarking regulations to performance-based codes. In this light, leadership in this area is not only an opportunity but also a necessity.
These opportunities and drivers are important — but I believe there is another, perhaps more fundamental opportunity related to energy: the opportunity to achieve better designs. And yes, I mean “better” from an architect’s perspective — the conceptual clarity and tectonic rigor that are the hallmarks of good design.
Energy is often seen as a “technical” issue that is, at best, unrelated to design, and at worst opposed to it. But if form can follow from function, can’t it also follow from performance? From responsiveness to climate and place? The problem of performance deserves as much creative insight as program, contextuality, aesthetics — the design constraints that have inspired architects for generations.
If architects can bake performance into the core of their designs — into the decisions about siting, massing, facade design, and glazing — they will not only achieve far better performance (likely at lower cost), but will also have a more coherent, unified design. They will be able to more elegantly integrate mechanical systems, work more collaboratively with their consultants, and avoid the sort of late-stage performance-related design changes that muddy rather than clarify designs.
As Sefaira CEO Mads Jensen argued last week, design matters when it comes to performance. Proving this should be a primary mission of architects — not only because of code requirements or market opportunities, but because it reaffirms the role of design and the designer in solving real, significant problems. This is an opportunity too important to miss.