Does this sound familiar? An architect wants feedback on design options during schematic design. She wants to avoid making a costly mistake, or ensure the project is on track to meet its performance goals. But the engineer demures. The design is changing on a daily (or even hourly) basis, and the engineer doesn’t have the budget to invest in analysis until the design is “settled.”

“Give me a set of drawings,” says the engineer.

“By that time it will be too late,” says the architect.

Fortunately, there’s a solution to this impasse — some simple practices that can make this early-stage collaboration workable for both parties.

1. Establish clear goals, metrics, and questions.


First, define your objectives in terms that will resonate with the client. Do you want to tell a story about significant operational energy savings, about a big reduction in the cost of the mechanical systems, or maybe about excellent daylighting and thermal comfort? These objectives will inform the specific questions you ask during early design — emphasis on specific.

The engineer or specialist consultant can be most efficient with time and budget if given clear direction. A well-defined question can be answered more quickly than “What should we do here?” or “What is your recommendation?” Instead, ask, “Which design option has the best EUI?” or “Which option would have the smallest mechanical system?” or “Which glazing ratio provides the best balance of daylight and energy?”

Sheppard Robson studied a number of design iterations in order to optimize the shading design of an office building.

2. Identify design options.


In the early phases of a project, little about the design is fixed. This makes it tempting to treat every aspect of the design as a variable to be analyzed — building form, glazing ratios, lighting efficiency, etc. But this would create more options than can be reasonably analyzed. Better practice is to clearly define a handful of options that are related to the central question you are trying to answer, and hold the other aspects of the design constant.

3. Explore internally, then ask for review.


If the design team wants truly open-ended explorations, these are often best conducted by the designers themselves, with engineers or internal specialists in a supporting role. For instance, the specialist could help set up initial baselines and analysis settings — providing a firm basis for the architect to freely explore options. At the end of the exploration, the specialist can help to review results, summarize the conclusions, and suggest next steps.

This process is described in more detail in our previous post on a collaborative workflow for early-stage analysis.

4. Avoid duplicate work.


One of the biggest time investments for engineers or consultants is “the geometry” — re-building the architect’s model in their own analysis platform. One solution is to train architects to create the geometry themselves in their preferred modeling platforms, such as SketchUp or Revit, then share analysis-ready options with engineers. This is one of the primary benefits of using Sefaira in a collaborative context: architects get more, faster feedback; engineers save time and can explore more options.

Create analysis-ready geometry and collaborate with engineers quickly and often

5. Establish the rules in advance.


While the above bullets provide general guidance, ultimately the process needs to be ironed out between architects and engineers — before the design begins. Set clear expectations, with a clearly-defined scope of work. Document what worked well and what didn’t. And, as with all new processes, keep an open mind and be willing to go beyond typical practice.

The benefits are there for firms willing to take the leap. Firms that have implemented collaborative practices like the ones above:

So pick a project, assemble your favorite collaborators, and give it a try.