Starting Sustainable: Gathering the Data

As more data becomes available about climate change, there is an increased demand for more sustainable design. From urban farming to organic produce, many people around the world are interested in sustainable living and wellness already. On top of this trend, populations are increasingly moving from rural to urban areas for the social atmosphere. This move to the urban environment relieves the pressure on suburban sprawl and places more responsibility on architects in cities to design more responsible buildings sensitive to the natural environment. In this blog series, we explore the considerations, tools, and techniques architects and engineers use to design more sustainable projects.

Starting sustainable starts like any other project, with data. In addition to gathering data about the program, budget, schedule, zoning, and site it is crucial to collect environmental data as well. From sun path and wind to average temperature and rainfall amounts, this data will be used to make sustainable design decisions during the design process.

Gathering Sun Data – provides an understanding of site position relative to sun movement. Knowing which areas of the site are shaded versus bright during various times of the year will later provide guidance for design decisions. Combining a survey with a sun diagram can get us started. Your surveyor will need to provide the team with topography, tree locations, and any edges of surrounding buildings to get an accurate sense of shadows on site. Beyond the initial survey and sun diagram, using sun study software can help visualize the sun’s impact more accurately. Such software becomes more important as the project progresses to gather specific sun data relative to building orientation and shape.

Gathering Wind Data – provides an understanding of site position relative to common wind direction and speed. Data diagrams like a wind rose can be collected from local weather stations. This data will help make decisions related to wind-blocking during the winter or areas of the project with great natural ventilation opportunities. On more rural sites, it can be difficult to find a weather station close by. In this case, a mobile weather station can be used to collect data for the project.

Grasshopper/Ladybug Modeling Screenshot
Environmental Modeling – During the schematic design, algorithmic modeling engines like Grasshopper and Ladybug are used in conjunction with Rhino 3D to produce diagrams of building form relative to the sun and wind data collected from the site. These diagrams begin to identify key locations on the building for solar panels, additional insulation, glass and window locations, wind blocks, and more. More detailed considerations like R-value, heating and cooling systems and more are used further in the design process to identify specific energy demands. We will dive deeper into the modeling software in future posts. Stay tuned…

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