The traditional energy modeling paradigm is fundamentally misaligned with the design process. Designers need a completely different way of thinking about performance — an alternative that we at Sefaira call Performance-Based Design. Here’s the difference, and why we think it will shift the AEC industry.

Performance-Based Design: Feedback, not Analysis

The problem with traditional energy modeling (as I discussed in my previous post) is that it’s designed to analyze a single, fully-detailed model. That means that it ends up happening after a design is complete.

Performance-Based Design, on the other hand, aims to be part of the design process. Feedback can’t depend on a finished design — instead, the feedback needs to be continuous, helping designers explore the design space, understand their options, and make informed decisions.

performance-based design process

If energy modeling is a slow, one-design-at-a-time, input-heavy approach, Performance-Based Design is the opposite: a real-time, multiple-options, results-first paradigm. Each of these capabilities is critical for aligning performance feedback with the design process.

  1. Real-time. Sefaira provides immediate feedback on energy, daylight, and other metrics, with a strong preference to delivering these in the architect’s native design environment. We want feedback to be always available to the designer — a fundamental departure from the idea of “analysis” as a separate, after-the-fact activity.
  2. Multiple options. Sefaira is built on the idea of exploration — of testing out different design ideas, whether through real-time analysis within the 3D modeling environment, via comparison of options or iterations, or by quickly investigating the impact of many different design strategies. Exploration is key for answering design-oriented questions like “What’s important in my design?” and “Which option is best?”
  3. Results-first. With only two inputs — space use and location — architects can start seeing feedback on design decisions. The feedback is designed to be actionable — helping designers understand how the building is operating and what they can do to improve. This allows designers to shape the design based upon results, rather than simply analyzing a design that’s already complete.

What’s revolutionary about this approach is that it makes achieving performance a creative endeavor — no different from meeting the constraints of program, context, and site that have inspired architects for generations. By making performance accessible, it opens up a new design space, and empowers architects to address performance as a standard part of the design process. This is the future of performance: a seamless, essential part of design.

Using Performance to Inform Design

What does it mean for analysis to inform design? Here are a few ways of going about it:

exploratory shoebox modeling

Exploratory modeling: Explore building form, floorplate dimensions, glazing ratios, etc. with simple models before moving on to specific designs (i.e. prior to sketching & ideation). Understand what’s driving energy use and daylight potential, and what elements of the design are important for moving these in the right direction. These elements can become design constraints — inputs for creating an actual design. (For a live demonstration of this, see our webinar on Making the Most of Real-Time Analysis.)

energy and daylight comparison of design options

Design comparisons: Quickly compare different design options to understand the type and relative magnitude of performance impacts. Comparisons can help to inform design decisions large and small — from massing shape to facade design to shading strategies. (For more on comparisons, see our eBook on Creating High-Performance Concepts.)

sensitivity of energy and operating cost to design parameters

Sensitivity analysis: Use parametric analysis to see which design parameters and passive strategies have the biggest impact on performance. This early knowledge makes it possible to integrate these strategies as core aspects of the design. (Read more about how to do this analysis in our eBook on Performance-Based Design, or in this blog post on Predictive Modeling.)

Getting Started with Performance Based Design

The Performance Based Design approach is already aligned with how architects work — but like any new practice or technology, it requires effort (and strong leadership) to transition from “business as usual.” The following resources can help you or your firm get started with a performance based approach: