2020 AIA/ACSA Intersections Research Conference: CARBON

Fall Conference


April 22, 2020

Abstract Deadline

July 2020

Abstract Notification

Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2020

Virtual Conference


11:00am EST


12:15pm EST

Research Sessions

2:30pm EST


3:45pm EST

Research Sessions & Workshop

5:30pm EST


Wednesday Schedule

Presentation Abstracts, Session Descriptions & Authors/Presenters for Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Carbon + People

Carbon + People Opening Plenary

11:00am – 12:00pm (EST): 1 HSW Credit

A conversation between Catherine Flowers, whose new book titled Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret is scheduled to be released in November, and Lynne Dearborn, president of ACSA.

This conversation will orient people and communities at the center of the climate and carbon conversation and highlight the varied ways people are impacted by climate changes and rising greenhouse gases, from air quality issues, to water pollution and flooding, to political advocacy. Catherine Flowers will tell her personal story of her evolution of an activist, from country girl to student civil rights organizer to environmental justice champion.

Jane Frederick
AIA President
Frederick + Frederick Architects

Lynne Dearborn
ACSA President & Moderator
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Catherine Coleman Flowers
Founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice (CREEJ)

Carbon + People: Concurrent Sessions

12:15pm – 1:45pm (EST)

Leadership, Labor and Transforming Practice

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: William Bates, Carnegie Mellon University

The Paradox of Decarbonizing Architecture: How Reducing Carbon in Buildings Can Increase Its Use

Thomas Fisher
University of Minnesota

The 19th Century economist William Stanley Jevons described a paradox central to the carbon economy: the more efficient we are in using carbon-based fuels, the more carbon we produce and consume. The Jevons paradox also applies to current efforts to “decarbonize” the built environment. These efforts can increase the overall consumption of fossil fuels and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere unless we position technical innovations in buildings within broader institutional and behavioral change, as part of larger complex-adaptive systems. This paper applies research in the field of complexity science, specifically in holonistic and panarchic bio-physical behavior, to the problem of reducing carbon consumption in the built environment. The paper shows how buildings are nested in a set of carbon-dependent relationships at ever increasing scales, in what scientists call a “holarchy,” and how those relationships have affected the function and structure of buildings to become more carbon-dependent themselves. At the same time, the paper explores the ways in which architects can positively affect carbon use not only in the components that make up a structure, but also by re-positioning buildings as disruptive components of larger social, political, and environmental structures. The paper further explores how this disruption can occur in a process that ecologists call “panarchy.” Having gone through a carbon-extraction phase over the last two centuries and currently under-going a carbon-conservation phase through energy efficient technology, developed countries face an impending carbon-crash, with a highly vulnerable, “fracture-critical” fossil-fuel system. In a world shockingly unprepared for this crash, architects have a leadership role to play by designing everything – now – with a post-carbon-crash in mind and by showing what a reorganized, non-carbonized future might be like. Energy efficient technology or materials are not enough. Indeed, the more we see buildings as separate from the complex-adaptive systems of which they are a part, the more the well-intentioned carbon-reducing efforts of architects will only accelerate the crash. The paper ends by showing how architects have considerable agency when it comes to complex-adaptive systems. As participants in the many local, emergent relationships that go into the construction of the built environment, architects are also skilled at recognizing new patterns and imagining paradigm shifts, skills essential to helping complex systems adapt to new realities. The greatest function of architects in the future may be not only designing a carbon-free built environment, but also revealing and visualizing the new patterns of behavior and relationships that emerge in a post-carbon world.

Labor Histories and Carbon Futures

Jessica Garcia-Fritz
South Dakota State University

Federico Garcia Lammers
South Dakota State University

Indifference towards the politics of construction labor implicates architecture in the problematic history of colonialism, slavery, and immigration in the Americas. Seldom taught as the core of architectural education, this history is strongly linked to the effects of carbon upon climate and globalized labor forces. This paper proposes pedagogical research at the course and curriculum level. By positioning carbon footprints beyond technological deterministic outcomes, the relationship between carbon management and the politics of construction labor become central to the redesign of curricula at a nascent architecture school in an underserved region of the United States. The next ten years of curriculum design posits that long-term carbon management should be tied to core educational strategies. A faculty team is preparing a six-year, diachronically structured, undergraduate/graduate course designed to unravel the myths around the history of labor and its connection to carbon management. As a 4-credit hour course that combines history/theory and professional practice, the class investigates the role of carbon at various points in a student’s education. Voluntary and forced displacement of people across multiple territories and scales is connected to the construction of buildings, rapid-urbanization, rural communities, and public-health. In the past five years, organizations such as Who Builds Your Buildings and The Architecture Lobby have advocated for architects’ role in under examined questions about the politics of labor. Architects’ estrangement from historical labor practices produces a bright-burning nostalgia, which Albert Pope claims, serves to obscure the irrefutable evidence of an environmental crisis by alienating ourselves from the planned obsolescence of buildings. The proposal for a diachronic course enmeshes the production of architecture with the history of the movement of people to and within the Americas. Historically, the relationship between carbon management and immigrant labor has been tied to the methods of organizing industrialized building sites through skilled and unskilled labor. Following the mid-nineteenth century’s rapid industrialization – coinciding with the professionalization of architects and engineers and waves of immigration – “workers were increasingly treated as disposable machine parts and machines were treated as organism with an internal life that needed to be preserved.” Technical documents such as drawings, specifications, and calculations expose these relationships and serve as agreements that impact larger industrial technical systems. Making labor-centric aspects of these agreements the center of design education is fundamental to understanding the invisible DNA of carbon footprints, their dynamic nature, and how they may be imagined and managed in the immediate future.

Building the Future High-Performance Building Workforce

Sarah Truitt
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Demand for high-performance homes and buildings is growing due to their marketability, environmental benefits, and increasing affordability. Growth for energy efficient technologies and building upgrades has driven expansion across many traditional industries including construction trades (which added almost 21,000 jobs) and professional services (which added 35,000 employees) in 2018, according to the 2019 U.S. Energy Employment Report (NASEO and EFI 2019). As buildings become more automated, digitized and interconnected, the workforce that supports the design, build, operations and maintenance of these buildings must evolve. It is critical to advance the American job force in accordance with technological progress. Scientific discovery continues to push new, more efficient technologies into the market. Internet connected “smart” devices bring a new level of functionality and convenience to building occupants. The U.S Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office (BTO) estimated that approximately 200,000 smart devices are being connected worldwide every hour in 2017 and that the U.S. had four times more market demand for these devices that any other area of the world. (U.S. DOE). In addition, distributed energy resources (DERs) continue to be adopted by residential and commercial customers across the U.S. Today’s behind-the-meter DERs (energy efficiency, demand response, solar photovoltaics, electric vehicles, and battery storage)—are typically valued, scheduled, implemented, and managed separately. Through the Grid-interactive Efficient Building (GEB) initiative, BTO is funding research to achieve a future where buildings operate dynamically with the electricity grid to integrate DERs and smart devices while meeting the needs of building occupants. Greater emphasis on cross-disciplinary teams and multi-disciplinary degrees is needed to facilitate adoption of GEBs, particularly among engineering and architecture/design disciplines. Without a workforce that understands energy efficient technologies and how building systems interact, high-performance buildings will be costlier, difficult to build, and lower performing than they should be. The BTO is leading an initiative called the Better Buildings Workforce Accelerator to increase the level of building science knowledge in a range of professions including architecture and design, construction management, and the trades. The three-year effort will facilitate cross-sector collaborations among academia and industry to identify and fill gaps in the workforce pipeline. The overarching goals is to increase the quantity, quality, diversity, and productivity of today’s building energy efficiency workforce. This paper will summarize market trends impacting the industry, discuss current efforts to overcome the challenges facing employers looking for workers knowledgeable about high-performance buildings, and present anticipated future workforce needs based on new technologies currently being developed by labs and industry. Stakeholder engagement is critical for facilitating change in the building sector, and the BTO is a vital catalyst for inspiring major shifts in the industry that will result in healthier, more affordable, resilient, and efficient buildings across the nation. This session will be designed to be interactive with the audience to gauge interest in participating in the Better Buildings Workforce Accelerator. Participants will learn about the benefits of participation and be able to provide input that shapes the future of the industry designing and building high-performance and grid-interactive efficient buildings.

Post-Oil Environments: Responsive Design Strategies for Coastal City Landscapes of Oil

Oswald Jenewein
University of Texas at Arlington

This paper summarizes parts of an interdisciplinary research and design project on climate responsive design strategies on the scale of architecture and the city within the case-study territory of Corpus Christi Bay in South Texas. In particular, this paper assesses the challenges of the emerging process of re-industrialization along the Texas Coast highlighting major impacts of industrial growth on the city landscape of Downtown Corpus Christi, which is loacted directly adjacent to the industrial oil port. A master-plan and a built intervention are shown in this paper to demonstrate how responsive design strategies may benefit post-oil city landscapes emphasizing on storm-water mitigation, walkability, alternative transportation, and urban place-making in response to community input as it relates to the AIA Framework for Designing for Equitable Communities. This paper outlines climate adaptation pathways of the built environment describing Post-Oil Environments not as a future scenario but as the current transition-period away from carbon-dependency towards a collective ecological awareness of human-based climate change. Post-Oil Environments acknowledge the climate crisis and therefore the changing environmental conditions as a direct result of burning fossil fuels. The lifting of the US oil-export embargo in late 2015 is the premise for this work as Texas is currently undergoing a fossil fuel renaissance exploring, producing, refining, and distributing oil and gas at an unprecedented scale. Clustered around Texas’ bays and estuaries, four major regions of urban environments are scattered across the 80 percent undeveloped lands along the predominantly rural coast. Corpus Christi Bay is an excellent case-study region for the current process of re-industrialization highlighting the conflict between two critical recourses: oil and water. Both oil and water have historically been a premise for settlement and a motor for growth along the Texas Coast. The late oil-boom has increased the dependencies of coastal Texas on the fossil fuel industry and also drastically increases the demand for fresh water. Simultaneously, coastal cities are on the fore-front of experiencing the repercussions of global warming as the impacts of climate change have started to materialize: flooding, sea-level-rise, and storms threaten the fragile eco-systems within and around the case-study-cities. The responsive design strategies shown in this paper propose the implementation of an infrastructural landscape addressing these challenges. A walkable green-belt which serves multiple purposes including disaster preparation and response infrastructure, storm-water management, and alternative transportation for inner-city and city-to-city connections has been developed as a strategy for adapting Downtown Corpus Christi to the projected ecological changes. Methodologically, this paper builds upon a mixed methods approach. It includes qualitative and quantitative data gathered through Action Research which has been a successful tool to connect the research team and students to local communities, stakeholders, and constituents. The paper suggests that this era of re-industrialization needs to be seen as a transformative process enabling aging city landscapes to adapt to both changing ecological conditions and the time after this last oil-boom. Urban identity, socio-economic diversity, and healthy conditions for urban ecosystems are as essential as comprehensive built interventions which form the background of every-day life.

Mapping Carbon Impact

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Mario Romero, Perkins&Will

Territories of Territory Extraction: Measuring the Material Geopolitics of Southeast Asia

Galen Pardee
The Ohio State University

In 2003, Nipah Island disappeared beneath the waves of the Singapore Strait: a stand of palm trees were all that remained to mark what had once been sovereign Indonesian soil. The culprit was not climate change or a natural disaster — Nipah had been dredged out of existence by miners fulfilling Singapore’s appetite for marine-grade sand, a key component of concrete and the city-state’s ongoing land reclamation projects. After a further two dozen islands were swallowed by the sea, Indonesia banned sand exports to Singapore and dealing a crippling blow to the nation’s construction sector. In a final act of irony, Indonesia was compelled to re-dredge and reconstruct Nipah Island in order to maintain its’ existing maritime boundary with Singapore at the Singapore Strait.[1] Singapore encapsulates the international entanglements of large-scale architectural production today. Jurong Petrochemical facility, the third-largest processing center in the region, is in fact an artificial conglomerate of an existing archipelago half the size of Manhattan. Marina Bay’s reclaimed peninsulas form Singapore’s largest fresh-water reservoir, while Tuas Megaport will be the largest cargo port in the world when complete, and extends so far away from the continental shelf that it requires skyscraper-sized caissons to contain the wealth of sand beneath its’ shoreline. While these episodes in terraforming are not limited to Singapore, its’ developments are large (increasing Singapore’s area by twenty percent), well-documented, and highly exposed to scrutiny since every kilogram of sand used in their construction has been imported.[2] Sand extraction is not victimless. Sand mining destroys marine habitats, scatters fishing stocks, and erodes river deltas, and has been difficult to regulate reliably.[3] Measuring the extent of architects’ complicity in the negative side-effects of sand’s supply vectors into Singaporean megaprojects—and our agency in avoiding or mitigating these effects—is challenging to articulate and represent. Territories of Territory Extraction uses architectural tools and drawing systems to create representations of these material flows and eco-political relationships between Singapore and its hinterlands: a new type of drawing set which combines on-the-ground research conducted in Spring 2019 with archival and remote sensing data, as well as watchdog reports of environmental degradation in extraction zones. These drawing systems index time, material displacement, and likely origin of material used in Singapore’s massive coastal development over the past thirty years, reckoning with expanded definitions of sites and borders to establish new representations of architecture’s complex relationship with extractive industries. Architects must confront our entanglements with the new politics of material in a world where the zero-sum constraints of construction are becoming more evident, yet at the same time more geographically diffuse. Territories of Territory Extraction proposes that rather than generalized, rigid, and objective, new indices of externalities will be site-specific, flexible, and diverse. Designing more holistic evaluation systems to analyze building scenarios and environments before construction begins requires a fundamental re-calibration of the metrics of ecological, geopolitical, spatial — and above all — human costs of construction.

Mapping the Built Environment Process (BEP) Ecosystem via a Data to Knowledge Framework

Naomi Keena, Mohamed Aly Etman, & Anna Dyson
Yale University

According to federal scientists, understanding the consequences of climate change on the US involves studying the interconnections between the natural, built, and social systems we rely on and their vulnerability to cascading impacts. Not with standing this complexity, as pointed out by AIA’s “Designing for Integration” measure, individual design strategies can offer multi-faceted value across social, economic, and environmental systems. Managing interconnections between systems poses many challenges, including linking siloed streams of heterogeneous data, uniting various stakeholders, and necessitating intellectual agility to respond to societal, economic, and environmental shifts. This paper outlines ongoing interdisciplinary research, exploring the harnessing of big data in mapping interconnections within the Built Environment Process (BEP). By tracking carbon, energy and material flows, it aims to surpass the concept of a building, in abstraction, fixed solely in the operational phase, but rather as a system which undergoes multiple journeys of carbon, energy and material transformation in its initial construction and future dismantle. Such a system includes many stakeholders who represent each phase of the BEP. According to the Department of Energy, the compartmentalization and lack of communication between building professionals in each sector results in sub-optimal designs and less than optimal building operations while contributing to environmental impacts. A McKinsey report on the construction sector echoes this view, defining the sector’s lack of productivity and predicting that, faced with sustainability demands, the sector will need to reassess how it builds to reduce waste and abate carbon emissions.

Methodology: A Data to Knowledge Framework

Bridging the gap between building stakeholders and navigating a multi-scalar expanded scope of design may have been unforeseen in the 20th Century, but with a transition from industrial societies to knowledge societies, today data to knowledge frameworks offer unprecedented opportunities in decoding complexity. This paper attempts to map the BEP through a new data to knowledge framework named SEVA (Socio-Ecological Visual Analytics), which has been designed to link heterogeneous data. It describes the methodology used to map the BEP in SEVA. This involves the deployment of semantic web ontologies to generate a knowledge graph of the BEP; virtually connecting each phase and its associated stakeholders, thereby, conceivably acting as an overview tool for the BEP. The mapping is projected within a 360O immersive environment which acts as a situation room adding visual clarity to the multi-scalar complexity while bringing various stakeholders together.

Results: Visual Mapping and Semantic Linkages towards a Seamless BEP

Alongside highlighting gaps, redundancy and environmental impacts within the BEP, the results show cross-cutting opportunities within BEP activities.


This research has significance in multi-stakeholder engagement and evidence-based decision-making, especially within work which strives to find solutions to grand challenges such as environmental issues. By unlocking the potential of big data, it aims to facilitate in projecting future scenarios towards a sustainable and progressive future. It offers potential value to circular economy methods, amendments to policy and building codes, and the creation of incentives for cross-industry collaboration.


Brittany Utting
Rice University

Daniel Jacobs
University of Michigan

The finish schedule specifies a material product, condition, and treatment for each surface in a building, creating a tagged data set that ties aesthetic intent to the material economies, commodity markets, and labor pools of the built environment. However, the informational interface of the finish schedule simultaneously abstracts the building material from its processes of production and circulation. By divorcing the architect’s visual intent from the profoundly resource-heavy transactions inherent in the making of architecture, the data set hides the physical extractions, logistical supply movements, and working conditions along a complex chain of financial, ecological, and geopolitical exchange. Instead, as BIM processes of architectural design layer an increasingly deep cache of product information into the digital model, could the finish schedule trace more closely these material relations? Rather than a neutral set of tags and specifications that fulfill the contract document, how can the schedule instead reveal these omissions, re-embedding architecture into its hidden infrastructures of capital, land, and labor? This paper will unpack the critical frames and practical applications of our recent research and design project entitled RE-TAGGING. The project deploys a series of site-specific notations that could literalize the finish schedule within a built environment, making visible the ecosystems of architectural sourcing. Part performance and part pedagogical project, RE-TAGGING embodies a strategy of post-occupancy literacy, reconnecting new constituencies to material usage in the built environment. Instrumentalizing a long history of tagging botanical specimens as well as contemporary branding trends in avant-garde fashion, these tags index the position of a commodity in the global flows of product manufacturing, distribution, and exchange. These tactics could explicitly reference the temporal qualities of a material product—such as durability, disposability, and permanence—not only texturing our material desires but profoundly accelerating the ecological impacts of consumer culture. Similar to today’s fast-fashion ethos, subject to increasingly high turnover and disposal rates, architectural material warranties and life cycles similarly drive our discipline’s habits of consumption. These notated tags, referencing architectural contract documentation standards, tie each material to a collectively shared digital resource schedule online. This approach offers an alternative to the traditional finish schedule, registering detailed information about each building material including point of extraction, live commodity values, constituent raw materials, embodied energy per unit, and labor footprint of production. This resource schedule begins to challenge architecture’s material and energy reliance on what Mark Jarzombek refers to as the ‘Quadrivium Industrial Complex’ of glass, steel, concrete, and rubber? While current carbon footprint databases (such as the ICE Inventory of Carbon and Energy) require membership and are difficult to interpret for non-professionals, this collective performance of RE-TAGGING the ‘Quadrivium’ works toward a new sensibility of material culture in the built environment. This paper will describe the RE-TAGGING project as a strategy for carbon awareness, aiming to provide new tools of increased ecological literacy for both the public and architects.

Transforming Architectural Education

Research Session: 1.5 LU

Moderator: Vivian Loftness, Carnegie Mellon University

Surf and Turf; Two Approaches to Teaching Resilient Design

Craig Griffen
Jefferson University

Recent reports paint an increasingly grimmer picture about the pace of climate change. While we cannot back off from efforts to reduce the waste of resources and energy, we now must recognize it is too late to stop the coming changes. Therefore, it feels ethically necessary to modify our teaching strategies to train future architects early on not just how to build more sustainably, but also how to deal with harsh environmental conditions they will encounter in coming decades. This paper describes pedagogical revisions that link a second-year studio and a building technology course with the goal of introducing and applying principles of resilient design at both the ocean shore and a rural wooded setting to cover a range of possible strategies. Specific curricular goals of the 2 major parts are outlined in the attached chart . Similar to a lecture/lab format, the tech course serves as a lecture to the studio’s lab, introducing students early on with background in sustainable and resilient design strategies such as highly-insulated envelopes, passive heating and cooling, clean energy, and daylighting. Concurrently in studio, the first project, Resilient Design on the Coast is introduced and precedent studies of coastal resilient building techniques are conducted. Since it’s sited on the ocean, this 5-week project focuses on methods to combat the effects of rising seas, storm surge and hurricane-strength winds on a building; such as a raised concrete structure and impact resistant facades. Additionally, the requirement of a ramp for the elevated floor was an excellent vehicle for introducing principles of ADA/Universal Design. The ACSA Resilience Design Challenge/Concrete competition was a timely fit as the project program. The second 7-week project, Resilient Design in the Woods, was set in a natural site to focus on resilient design issues related to a forested location; such as extreme temperatures, strong storms, drought and forest fire. The program of a Native American archeology center was chosen so students could reflect on how original inhabitants controlled their climate before the advent of mechanical building systems. To support this second project, concurrent lectures in the tech course focus on knowledge of the building envelope; including thermal transfer and insulation, and non-combustible cladding and roofing materials. To explain how their material choices will create a durable, resilient structure and envelope, each student creates a color rendered wall detail that describes the heavy-duty structure, as well as the thermal, sun-shading, roofing and wall cladding systems. This exercise unites the 2 courses by serving as both a final project for the tech course and as part of the final studio presentation boards.

Informed Forms: Introducing Climate-Response into the Early Design Studio

Kristin Nelson
University of Detroit Mercy

James Leach
University of Detroit Mercy

A 2017 article in Architect Magazine identified climate change as “the fundamental design problem of our time.”1 This article described the impact – nearly 40% of annual world carbon emissions2 – that buildings contribute to this problem, and called for change in the industry. In February of 2019, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) publicly endorsed the Green New Deal, and in September, the AIA board ratified Resolution 19-11, referred to as The Big Move, which “declares an urgent imperative for carbon reduction.”3 This resolution also advances the Awards Common Application, which will require the disclosure of building energy performance metrics, and adopts the Committee on the Environment Top Ten Measures for ethical and responsible design, in the consideration of all AIA design excellence awards submittals. 4 These policy developments indicate a recognition within the architecture industry of the necessity to mainstream climate action and zero-carbon design. More recently, the NAAB’s new Conditions for Accreditation emphasize the same responsibility for educational institutions. The NAAB identifies “Ecological Knowledge and Responsibility” as a key criteria of program evaluation (PC.3). 5 This is reinforced by the addition of requirements that student work demonstrate “the ability to make design decisions” while considering “the measurable environmental impacts” and “the measurable outcomes of building performance” within the framework of the architectural design project. 5 Despite the apparent recognition of the importance of environmental issues in architectural practice and education, there is a gap between the desire to effect big changes, and the ability to disseminate the technical knowledge required to do so. This is perpetuated by a situation in which too few instructors have the requisite knowledge, and too few courses incorporate climate responsiveness and building performance in substantive and fundamental ways. These topics are usually explored in advanced or technical courses, relatively late in architectural curricula. Barring a substantial turnover in instructors or mass re-training of existing faculty, there will be no rapid or significant change in this situation. This paper proposes one possible strategy to address this circumstance – by integrating “small doses” of climate-response and energy literacy into all design studios. Coordinating focused topical workshops, taught by qualified instructors, within mainstream studio courses, offers a powerful opportunity. Issues of energy and building performance can be incrementally integrated, both into the early design education of every student, and into the early design process of every design studio, rather than treating these concerns as a “tacked-on” in later studios, when students’ core design processes and a project’s primary drivers are already well established. The paper will detail the coordination of such workshops and will examine case studies, wherein first-year and second-year architectural studios, supported by technology instructors, utilized this approach to introduce solar geometry, daylighting, and climate-responsive building envelope design as primary drivers in early studio work. The authors offer this approach to meet the urgent need to embed climate-responsive, low-carbon and low energy waste approaches into the foundational design processes of all beginning design students within the considerable, entrenched constraints of higher education.

Lessons Learnt from Delivering a University-level Course on Sustainable Design to 10,000 Learners Worldwide

Christoph Reinhart, Alpha Yacob Arsano, Portia Freeman, & Rowan Elowe
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The growth of online education is a global phenomenon, enabled by widespread access to the internet in many parts of the world and driven by a need for skilled workers [1]. While courses in math, engineering and science rely on established modes of content delivery via lectures and testing via single solution assignments and quizzes, architecture and design classes, along with classes in the arts and humanities, have struggled with verifying learning objectives since there is no single correct answer. And yet, there is an immediate demand in the design and construction sector to house a growing world population with a global shortage of workers. The U.S. only is expected to need about 0.8 million more employees by 2028 [2]. In this manuscript, we are describing content delivery and lessons learnt from teaching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on sustainable building design to about 10,000 learners world-wide via the EdEx platforms. The course first ran from January to April 2020 and is an online version of a required introductory class on climate-responsive design, daylighting and energy for graduate and undergraduate students in architecture at MIT [3]. The course is also an elective for MIT’s Energy minor for undergraduate students and thus attracts a variety of additional students from across the institute. The online version was developed in collaboration with the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and will form part of a MicoMaster in Energy. A particular challenge when developing the class was how to test skills applied to an architectural problem such as modeling the shading caused by an object. Usually those tasks are performed using powerful computer with computer-aided design (CAD) and environmental performance software. Given the diversity of background for the MOOC with participants being based in 159 countries, including 12% stemming India and Brazil, and professional experiences ranging from high school students to certified architects, the authors developed a two track evaluation system for the MOOC. Participants could use either track to submit weekly assignments and a final two week course project. The first track largely mirrors the residential version of the class and is based on state of the art software such as Rhinoceros 3D combined with ClimateStudio for geometry modeling and environmental performance analysis. The second track required a minimum technology approach requiring participants’ mere access to internet connected device with a web browser. For that track the authors developed a web based tool called ClimaPlus that provides recommendations on simple sustainable design solutions with very few inputs such as the location of the city and the building use [4]. Learners can use the tool to understand local climatic conditions for thousands of sites worldwide. A so-called climabox module further allows users to conduct a one zone thermal analysis of a small building or part of a larger building. Using either simplified or state of the are design tools, all learner can thus explore the complex interactions between building design decisions, operational energy costs and the impact of a building on climate change.

Carbon + Design

Carbon + Design Plenary

2:30pm – 3:30pm (EST): 1 HSW Credit

After an overview of what embodied carbon is and how it effects the design profession, Kate Simonen from the University of Washington and Carbon Leadership Forum and Billie Faircloth, partner at KieranTimberlake, will discuss the speed of change in relation to carbon accounting in architecture. They will also discuss the latest innovations and reveal questions being asked in the field. From their respective lenses, they will address the challenges architects still need to tackle and where the research needs to go next in order to lower the carbon impact of our built environment.

Andrea Love

Billie Faircloth

Kate Simonen
University of Washington

Carbon + Design: Concurrent Sessions

3:45pm – 5:15pm (EST)

New Baselines

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Chris Flint Chatto, ZGF Architects

Carbon Denominators

David Fannon
Northeastern University

Michelle Laboy
Northeastern University

Mitigating future climate change demands rapid reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of the built environment. Research and practice initially emphasized emissions associated with buildings’ operating energy, but increasingly seek to assess the global warming potential of the materials, construction process, maintenance, and end-of life: the so-called “embodied carbon” of buildings. As the design and construction industry improves tools and techniques for adding up buildings’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (typically in equivalent mass of carbon dioxide, or simply “carbon”), it must also consider and critique the methods used to normalize these data for analysis: how to divide them. Using Life Cycle Assessment methods, we developed detailed accounting of the carbon emissions for four case study buildings, each endemic of a different primary structural material: steel, concrete, masonry, and mass timber. Drawing on building data from practice, lifecycle emissions were calculated both cradle-to-gate for initial construction, and cradle-to-grave, including materials for maintenance and end of life. Because these absolute values are difficult to compare across buildings, it is tempting to divide by floor area (kgCO2eq/m2) as with cost and energy. While this spatial carbon intensity might be useful, it neglects the urgent temporal and ultimately human dimensions that drive the importance in these metrics in the first place, including the fact that some materials sequester carbon for the life of the building. To provide a more critical understanding of the role of these denominators in making comparisons and decisions, we expanded the analysis and visualization of conventional assessments of lifetime carbon using novel metrics more closely associated with buildings’ purpose to shelter people over time. Attributing carbon to generations of people, rather than buildings offers a meaningful and nuanced basis for comparison. On the simplest level, considering the dimension of density clearly shows that as the occupancy increases, carbon intensity per person declines. Attending to the human complexity inherent to architecture enriches analysis, for example considering carbon through the metric of net area reveals that as building systems become more spatially efficient, their carbon intensity decreases, while simultaneously increasing the potential density. Recognizing the urgency of climate change, the concept of the time value of carbon acknowledges that future emissions reductions may be worth less than the present emissions to achieve them. A related but different dimension of carbon in buildings is generational—the carbon attributed to each successive cohort of occupants whose continued use extracts ongoing value from the same past emissions embodied in the building construction. As buildings remain in use longer, the temporal carbon intensity (per year, or per generation of service) declines. The long tail of the lifetime carbon intensity curve emphasizes the carbon value of adaptation compared to even the least carbon-intensive new construction. A critical reassessment of the denominators used to normalize carbon challenges any short-term consideration of life cycle assessment, and suggests carbon reductions in buildings demand an architecture of persistence: designed for human use and reuse, for adaptation and maintenance.

In Practice: Making Life Cycle Assessment Work for Design Teams

Alex Ianchenko
Miller Hull

Brie Jones
Miller Hull

Scientist-led think tanks have warned the world of environmental and socioeconomic damage caused by climate change since 1988 [1], [2]. Thirty years later, members of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have come to a consensus that this damage will become irreversible if average global temperatures increase by 1.5&[deg]C above pre-industrial levels. This can be averted if annual global greenhouse gas emissions are halved by 2030; however, the building industry is not on track to meet this goal [3]–[5]. To quantify their environmental impact, building industry academics and professionals are rapidly adopting life cycle assessment (LCA) tools. In practice, three gaps remain – (1) the communication gap in effectively conveying LCA results, (2) the method gap in negotiating with uncertain data, and (3) the knowledge gap in understanding upstream emissions from other sectors. This paper describes three LCA analyses performed by [firm name] during, after, and before the project design process. The lessons learned illustrate how communication, method and knowledge gaps can be addressed when integrating LCA and design. CASE STUDY 1: LCA DURING DESIGN During schematic design of a project, the design team used Tally to investigate the global warming potential (GWP) impact of three alternative structural systems using concrete, steel, and wood. After an initial comparison, the client requested to understand how wood procurement and certification would affect the GWP. The design team partnered with the nonprofit Ecotrust and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington to provide the client with a range of GWP impacts, as affected by varying forestry and transportation practices [6] (figure 1). CASE STUDY 2: LCA AFTER DESIGN Opened in 2013, the Living Building-certified [project name] has been operating at net positive energy; however, its embodied impact was not quantified at time of design [7]. Performed in retrospect using Tally, a whole building LCA of the project reveals that the top contributor to its embodied impact was [material/element], accounting for [xx] kgCO2e out of [xx] kgCO2e. CASE STUDY 3: LCA BEFORE DESIGN In the early stages of master planning a campus, a client requested to understand the relative impact of high-level decisions in transportation, energy use, and material procurement. Using carbon as a common currency, the design team communicated the existing, proposed, and high-performance design case in all three areas simultaneously (figure 2). Quick access to LCA-derived benchmarks informed further decision-making. CONCLUSION In practice, LCA tools are only useful when design teams consciously overcome the communication, method, and knowledge gaps. These case studies show that raising teams’ level of comfort with data collection, visualization and use is key to overcoming the communication gap; the method gap can be addressed by performing sensitivity analyses and providing a range of results to clients, and finally, the knowledge gap can be closed when practitioners engage with scientists and professionals in adjacent sectors.

Net-Zero Architecture: Proetus and Panacea

Ihab Elzeyadi
University of Oregon

Even though over 200 net-zero energy buildings are operating or are in construction, getting to zero can seem an insurmountable goal to many districts. How can we remove non-energy barriers to net-zero architecture design and delivery? This paper presents a conceptual framework to net-zero architecture design in terms of process and product. This framework is built on a comprehensive research project that took a deeper look at a sample of exemplary Net-zero commercial buildings constructed within the last decade to specifically answer this question. The project compiled a data base of verified and emerging Net-Zero buildings in the US and documented them on a number of building performance metrics that included their design process, design strategies employed, performance goals, as well as their designs for the site, building, envelope, and indoor environmental quality performance that impact occupants’ comfort, satisfaction, and wellness. In addition to evaluating the verified buildings as products, the study uncovered the processes of which design teams followed with the various stake holders and economic analysis to design and deliver these exemplary educational buildings. The project employed a comparative case study survey design to systematically collect building and site design and performance data for the studied commercial buildings. Out of 41 verified buildings, the study on seven cases representing a wide range of net-zero buildings. While directly focusing on buildings that represents and impacts the building industry of this growing building type, the paper will provide lessons and conclusions that are applicable to a larger framework of Net-zero buildings design and delivery on national level. The study highlight best design strategies and metrics to set as design targets on six major categories: Design Process, Design Strategies, Site Performance, Building Performance, Envelope Performance, and Indoor Environmental Quality/Occupant Performance. The findings are summarized in crosscutting best practices, patterns, and detailed case studies that provide added-value to architects, engineers, and architectural educators by empowering them to instill these lesson in the next-generation of building designers.

Defining a “Smart” Energy Retrofit

Lori Ferriss
Goody Clancy

Elaine Hoffman
Goody Clancy

In order to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, we must reduce global emissions by at least 45% in the next decade. Building reuse is a critical two-part strategy to meeting this goal; it reduces embodied carbon emissions by reusing resource intensive structural and envelope elements, and it provides opportunities for dramatic reductions in operational emissions through energy retrofit measures. Best practices assume that deep energy retrofits represent the most sustainable way to reuse a building; however, the industry has neglected the embodied carbon emissions associated energy retrofit measures as well as the real-world constraints of cost and occupancy as owners work to retrofit entire portfolios of buildings. This research uses a case study of a prototypical higher education campus renovation to investigate what a “smart” energy retrofit looks like – one that considers the carbon payback as well as the cost payback of the renovation to target strategic energy retrofit measures that provide maximum carbon reductions with minimum carbon and cost investment. This project tested an innovative process that utilized multiple types of interrelated performance analysis during the feasibility study phase to inform the recommended renovation scope. These included thermal analysis to quantify the thermal resistance of complex envelope sections, energy modeling to calibrate and determine whole building performance, and life cycle assessment (LCA) to calculate embodied impacts. The use of these tools in concert with cost estimating allowed the design team and owner to evaluate the financial and environmental return on investment of potential interventions in the existing building envelope, building systems, and primary energy sources. The first iteration of modeling used thermal analysis to explore approaches to mitigate the most prevalent thermal bridges present in the envelope and energy modeling to understand the relative impact of a wide range of energy conservation measures (ECMs) independently. Measures that made a relatively small impact or required a disproportionate cost or carbon investment were excluded in the next steps. Parametric energy modeling was then used to understand the interrelationship of all ECMs; simultaneously, LCA was completed to understand the upfront environmental impact of envelope ECMs. Additionally, the LCA process identified how the original ECMs might be improved through smarter material use to achieve the same energy savings while reducing embodied carbon, or even storing carbon. This case study demonstrates a highly replicable process to optimize renovations for both embodied and operational carbon through early collaborative and iterative analysis. The process illustrates that not all energy conserving measures are worth pursuing when taken in the context of life cycle carbon and cost – a deep energy retrofit is not necessarily a smart energy retrofit. Additionally, energy retrofits should consider solutions that are appropriate to make immediate reductions while enabling further future reductions as greener energy sources become available. It is crucial that the design and construction industry rigorously analyze the quantitative tradeoffs of embodied versus operational impacts to significantly reduce the emissions of our sector rather than defaulting to best practice assumptions in order to meet critical climate targets.

Design Tools and Techniques

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Mahsan Mohsenin, Florida A&M University

Towards Mitigating Climate Change through Building-integrated Carbon Sequestration Techniques

Jayati Chhabra
Georgia Institute of Technology

Tarek Rakha
Georgia Institute of Technology

There is enough scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is a reality of our times. According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences, “By mid-century, the world needs to be removing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the air each year. That’s equivalent of about twice the yearly emissions of the U.S.” In order to achieve this goal, the act to cease the emission of greenhouse gases alone is not enough. It is important that the structures which cover a large area of the earth start contributing in carbon sequestration (the process of capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it securely) at a massive scale. To accomplish that, a thorough understanding about building-integrated Carbon Sequestration techniques, including their mechanism, pre-requisites as well as consequences, is essential. This paper provides an overview of building-integrated Carbon Sequestration (CS) techniques focusing on their potential environmental impact and associated costs. CS techniques are classified into three categories (Figure 1): 1) Landscaping (vertical greenery systems (VGS), green roofs and algae facades); 2) Materials (carbon-negative building materials using biomass); and 3) Equipment (filter towers). This study found that green roofs and vertical gardens can capture 150gC/m2 – 650gC/m2, while algae facades go up to 6709gC/m2 – 7110gC/m2. Biomass and filter towers could absorb a relatively high amount of approximately 1 x 1015 gC and 687.5 x 109 gC, respectively (without normalization). By analyzing and summarizing each CS technique based on performance indicators like pre-requisites, initial and maintenance costs and area required (Figure 2), various schematic design considerations are laid out. Green roofs and VGS being the most economical can be applied to a structure’s roof and facades for a large range of projects having low to high budgets. The algae facades with higher CS potential and slightly on the expensive side must be used in place of glazing systems. Biomass must be highly encouraged to be mixed with all the construction materials which can sequester up to 1015 gC. Equipment, which has one of the highest potentials to sequester carbon and are highly expensive, can be used in urban spaces like parks and markets. A comparative analysis is finally done specifically showing both the CS potential and costs associated with the Landscaping CS techniques (Figure 3) to allow architects and designers to evaluate these technologies and analyze their integration potential in architectural practice based on both the factors. This research reflects the need to study recently developed techniques like biomass material and equipment for the proper schematic level design integration of CS techniques. Also, an in-depth investigation for each technique, including carbon storage and its system dynamics that was not pursued previously in the literature, will be required to reach detailed design considerations. In conclusion, this paper presents a framework to employ CS integration in the built environment, and discusses advances needed in order for buildings to not just limit the catastrophic effects of climate change, but also mitigate it for a better future for our built environment.

Apples-to-Apples: LCA Tool Development and Façade System Selection

Melanie Silver

Luke Gehron

As Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) become more important for carbon reduction goals and tools allow designers to compare design decisions, it is still difficult to perform an apples-to-apples comparison when it is most beneficial – in early design phases. Typical workflows and digital tools require modeling of a partial or full building in order to be analyzed; if this happens late in the process, LCAs document rather than drive design changes. The industry needs easy ways to synthesize this complex data before 3D models are even created. Material choices often start on the first day of design. Through a research project within our architecture practice, a rigorous process was developed to create an accessible apples-to-apples LCA web tool for specific building components empowering early, informed design decisions. Due to its impact on a building’s embodied carbon and design, typical façade systems were studied first. Other design options will be added to the tool, such as partitions, and flooring. Facades are unique to compare with LCA as they also have an operational energy component due to their varying R-values. This study eliminates that variable by introducing THERM software for heat flow modeling. This ensures that each wall type modeled has the same R-value and can now be directly compared to each other for carbon impact. In order to share the research and results with the industry, a web app is being developed in parallel with the research project and will be publicly available to allow anyone to dynamically interact with the data. This will be accessible as an opensource tool which simplifies the building science data and allows for embodied carbon decisions to influence more projects without the need for complex software. The data is presented as a series of bar charts, wall details, and other data graphics which clearly show direct comparisons between the different systems. Cross communication between research and tool development teams was critical to ensure a singular product outcome that can be used to clearly present and understand the relative impacts of the various LCA metrics. Presented will be the research process, the lenses used to interpret LCAs, and how to turn research into a public web tool, as well as sharing insight from with the façade system comparisons which is applicable to all project types.

Early Facade Design Performance Targets for Local Law 97

Wenting Li
Kohn Pedersen Fox

Carlos Cerezo Davila
Kohn Pedersen Fox

Shreshth Nagpal
Elementa Engineering

James Perakis
Elementa Engineering

The increasing concern for climate change is expediting building emission regulations in cities across the world. In 2019, New York City enacted Local Law 97 (LL97), which places buildings on a path to either meet specific emission limits by 2024, 2030 and 2035 or pay fines proportionate to their emissions. Because of its financial implications, LL97 compliance has become an important driver for commercial development of both existing and new buildings in NYC. In commercial buildings, façade performance can have a significant impact on the reduction of energy use and emissions through solar heat gain control, heating peak mitigation, if properly integrated with advanced low carbon heating and cooling systems. However, understanding its contribution to LL97 targets in early design is complicated, as the full building energy models needed to understand that integration are rarely available, and interactions between designers and engineering consultants are limited. To address such limitations, this paper develops a set of performance guidelines for facade design focused on the early design stages of commercial buildings in NYC. First, a baseline energy model of an average commercial office building is created to evaluate the emission reductions achievable through non-façade energy conservation measures (ECMs) in the context of LL97. Next, four HVAC packages of increasing efficiency are defined, and façade performance requirements regarding peak thermal loads are defined for each one. Using these requirements, a large parametric design space of facade alternatives is studied through thermal simulation, and associated heating/cooling emissions are calculated for 2024, 2030, and 2035 grid projections to estimate fines under LL97. Results are clustered to generate a table of thermal and solar performance requirements guide by compliance year and HVAC package. Results provide an effective façade design guideline that identify minimum performance requirements for LL97 compliance, enabling designers to quantify the cost and implications of a 2030 and 2035 ready building in NYC.

Does EUI Accurately Capture HVAC System Performance? A VRF System Case Study

Vicki Rybl
University of Washington

Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are an increasingly popular technology for heating and cooling buildings in the United States due to their energy efficiency. VRF systems run on electricity, with no onsite fossil fuel combustion, which makes them attractive in the context of building electrification and emissions reductions through grid decarbonization. VRF systems require large volumes of refrigerant to operate, and leaks occur at an estimated 3% by mass annually. Current hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants are potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) with very high global warming potentials (GWPs), making fugitive emissions a major contributor to GHG emissions globally. While life cycle assessments (LCAs) have been performed on HVAC systems, this is the first known cradle-to-grave LCA of a VRF system. The study aims to quantify GHG emissions for a VRF system in use at a LEED certified office building in Seattle, WA. The LCA examines carbon impacts in three key categories: the materials required for system assembly, operational electricity, and refrigerant use. Preliminary results show that electricity use represents 58% of the carbon footprint and refrigerant use represents 39%. System materials are a less significant contributor to carbon footprint at 3%. The results suggest that energy use intensity (EUI) is not a sufficient metric to quantify the carbon footprint of VRF systems and that a greater focus on refrigerant management is needed. Building designers should design VRF systems with a focus on optimized energy efficiency and low-impact refrigerant strategies, and not on equipment quantity, in order to minimize the carbon footprint of VRF systems over their lifetimes. A scenario analysis demonstrates that emerging low-GWP refrigerants can reduce refrigerant carbon impacts by up to 70% while maintaining energy performance. In addition, regional electricity sources and material-end-of-life pathways play a significant role in the footprint of the system. These scenarios are dependent on advancements in design and public policy, which will be discussed alongside results.

Embodied Carbon

Workshop: 1.5 HSW

This workshop will be a deeper dive into the tools that measure and model embodied carbon and how they’re being used today in project work. We’ll hear about the origin of Tally® as well as its latest features and see demonstrations about how it can be used on real projects. These firm leaders and researchers will talk about where innovation in tool creation needs to go next and how AIA’s Design Data Exchange can help.

ModeratorAndrea Love, Payette

Efrie Escott

Z Smith

Eric Corey Freed

Interactive Session

Research Connections

5:30pm – 6:30pm (EST)

ModeratorsCorey T. Griffin, Pennsylvania State University & Erica Cochran Hameen, Carnegie Mellon University

Join our Research Connections session for a chance to discuss with fellow architects, researchers, and educators, topics of common interest. Our conference co-chairs, Corey & Erica, will kick-off the sessions with an overview of the conference and research. Then we will breakout into small themed areas for casual, unmoderated discussions to broaden networks, build relevant connections, and find ways to collaborate!


Nissa Dahlin-Brown, EdD, Assoc. AIA
AIA, Director of Higher Education

Eric Wayne Ellis
ACSA, Senior Director of Operations and Programs