Bryan Smith: The Disruptive Design Interview
THEN & NOW – TEN YEARS GONE
It’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years since design started for Penn State’s Hort Woods Child Care Center. What’s your take-away over that time period? 〉 Well, I was in my early/mid-thirties and now I’m in my early/mid-forties! Jokes aside, those ten years have made a huge difference. I was a newly PE’d engineer with some ideas and passion for sustainability trying to prove those idea to others…and to myself. Since then, those concepts have held water in multiple instances. I can present myself as experienced and the concepts as legitimized. The apprehensions and doubts have reduced.
Did you have a specific approach to address your own apprehensions? 〉 Not intentionally! I think maybe because of those concerns, I dotted my I’s and crossed T’s….and then did it again! I learned that what’s needed to approach these concepts is getting back to basics – basic physics and thermodynamic fundamentals instead of just accepting industry norms that have maybe become a bit morphed or tweaked over the years for one reason or another. The Yoda, you must unlearn what you have learned thing.
Deconstructed engineering… Can you think of a good example? 〉 Great term and yes, the ReeSource article I wrote in July 2010, while designing Hort Woods, when we had just a few LEED projects and energy models behind us. “Nothing But Net Zero Energy Building” that you asked me to write. Read More
I can really see it in the application of infloor radiant heating and cooling at the Discovery Meadows Child Development Center too. Can you explain how that was “sold” to the team and how it works? 〉 Well, I had to sell it to myself first! I knew only first and foremost that it would be uber efficient but heard loud-and-clear everyone’s initial responses of “cold floors?” and “won’t it linger?” or “what about condensation?”. Read More
So there’s a psychology here too? Much like mixed-mode or “hybrid” ventilation. 〉 Absolutely. People tend to think of infloor heating’s high quality comfort in terms of winter, when our bodies are radiating our heat out rapidly to the cold outdoors – when we want to snuggle up to something warm and cozy. Well, the reciprocal is true in cooling – Read More
INTEGRATED DESIGN – COME TOGETHER
How about the integrated design concept and process? How do you think it’s developed and changed over that time? 〉 Ah. Well, I think slowly and surely towards the process by which it was initially defined and envisioned. There are realities that the kid-me ten years ago was a bit doe-eyed to: tools like energy modeling not being so easily iterative to provide the feedback loop the process demands…and still aren’t; Read More
So you were knocked back down to Earth a bit. How was this confronted as a team on each project and how did we most contribute? 〉 In the case of both child care centers, we had a green building consultant at the start of the projects in the form of the 7group guys – who we both know as renowned experts on all things green building. Read More
Did you feel pressure to champion sustainable measures on the projects, or was it driven by personal passion or professional goals? 〉 All of the above? When you’re in a seat that is arguably responsible for the largest share of LEED credits, certainly the most contributing single credit in energy performance, you really don’t want to tell the team that points are peeling away as design progresses – even if it’s because of something not resulting from your own decision that was shaved for cost or comfort level. So you get creative AND persuasive.
There have got to be some good stories in there? 〉 Yes, yes there are. It’s hard to pick a favorite actually! At Hort Woods, we were advanced in design enough to have pricing and alternates developed. We had gone through the options of what PSU facility folks were comfortable with for mechanical systems and it gave us a few energy boosts, such as highly efficient condensing boilers maximized by infloor heating – but this was somewhat offset by traditional VAV cooling. For this reason, the hybrid ventilation was key in reducing cooling energy use by over 40% in our energy model to maximize that big credit given the P word (platinum) was being kicked around. Read More
So it required some pot-stirring and confrontation? 〉 It did, but that just meant taking a deep breath and developing a new skillset – The Jedi Mind Trick! No, really it meant honing communication skills and guiding folks to your viewpoint, all while recognizing AND respecting theirs. This is why I just love that our AIA presentation we take on the road to current and prospective clients is titled Disruptive Design. It sort of demystifies and humbles the integrated design process and admits to the getting dirty aspect of it – and the importance of it. Read More
Do you have any concerns as the sustainable design world continues to develop towards net zero? 〉 Absolutely. My concern is primarily that beyond airtight, well-insulated envelope, such as prescribed in a program such as Passive House, other passive endeavors may be forgone. Beyond this, as on-site renewable system costs continue to drop, there’s more tendency to get good results numerically but without true integration. Read More
THE BIG PICTURE – WHERE ARE WE NOW?
We’ve talked in the past about some of the take-aways you’ve realized going through the process and insights you’ve made about what it’s meant and what it could mean going forward as a profession. Could you review those again? 〉 I’ve come to really put all this in an almost philosophical framework that essentially looks at the development of humankind and how buildings have aided and prohibited it. Carnegie Melon architecture professor Vivian Loftness, another renowned green building mind, said something brilliant that grabbed me at the GreenBuild convention in Boston in late 2008. She said there should be no such thing as a glass skyscraper in Phoenix, Arizona. Read More
So it’s the larger values beyond cost and energy savings – occupant benefits that improve quality of environment. Could you provide some examples? 〉 I’d love to. These are the Maslow’s self-actualization kind-of experiences that yield the greatest professional payoff for me. The warm-and-fuzzies from all the blood, sweat, and tears. Read More
More examples? 〉 I have two others that pertain to Hort Woods and are just precious for me. Read More
So what hurdles do you see moving forward and applying these kind of results on other projects? 〉 I think we just need to hammer home this case – it’s more than energy, it’s more than efficiency, it’s also about quality of environment. Much like interior design and architecture, we too can up the ante in spaces and in new, unfamiliar, and exciting ways. We’re creatures too that need the outdoors as much as we need protection from them. And I think we’re going to turn that corner culturally soon. Read More
This means designing to maximize outdoor potential. That’s a bit of redirection of profession isn’t it? 〉 Potentially, yes…and there’s the rub. Our industry is set-up with a project delivery method that doesn’t typically allot the time for this analysis and iteration. Our fees are often based on percent of construction of the systems we design. So what if we design out all mechanical cooling? That’s entirely possible in certain climates. Read More
Any last thoughts on all this? 〉 Just one really. I think overall what this really takes at the end of the day is an open-mind, hearing everyone out, and resisting doubts. Looking forward. Leaving the ego at the door. Going back to music, anyone who knows me knows how huge a Beatles and David Bowie fan I am. There’s reason. They both pushed the envelope fearlessly and broke new ground doing so. Influencing culture in very open-minded ways along the way. Being inclusive while being fiercely independent. Bowie had a slogan in the late 70’s of “tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming”. Same is true for us, we just have to manage more senses when designing buildings! Thanks for giving me the legroom to take a stab at it over the last ten years, John. It’s been fun, and here’s to more to come. Cheers!
Bryan is a Licensed Professional Engineer, LEED Accredited Professional, and Senior Mechanical Engineer for Reese Hackman.