Bloggin in Blacksburg

I was reading Engineering News Record (ENR) a few days ago, a weekly magazine that I’d recommend to anyone interested in the current issues in the fields of Engineering, Architecture and Construction. This is especially true if you need to find out what firms are leading the industry and gain insights into their practices that you wouldn’t be able to get from most other sources.

Besides tracking costs of materials and labor across the U.S. (and around the world) ENR faithfully reports the challenges facing professionals involved in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) segment of the economy. This means ENR is not touting the firms, or producers that advertise in it’s pages, but reports on the problems in the industry. Key reports on the collapse of bridges, or buildings, or cranes as well as the implications of these events on upcoming legislation and regulations.

ENR has been actively covering Green, Sustainable and Leed Certified construction practices for some years now. Because owners increasingly expect their project to meet the LEED standards, these sustainable-oriented practices have transformed the way Architects, Engineers, and Builders operate. It’s a hard issue to be against… who doesn’t want to help the earth…raise your hand!

But given the adage “no good deed goes unpunished” sustainably-oriented practices are beginning to increase the liability of Architects, Engineers, and Builders. In the July 14 issue of ENR, there is an article everyone in the AEC community should read. The title is “Insurers Worry About Green-Building Risks”. Like most of ENR’s articles, this one is a well-written two-pager by Gary Tulacz.

The article points out things we all knew about the risks of changing our practices… new innovative materials that don’t have a long track record in our combination of climatic zones, building types, owner expectations, and maintenance practices can perform in unexpected ways…fading, delaminating, outgassing (what happens to a person with food allergies when wheatboard outgasses?) and other behaviors that owners see as failures.

Our (U.S.) product testing requirements usually only test for the bare minimum of discrete performance, deflection, strength, flamespread, smoke contribution… and as an isolated component. Only U.L. and other fire testing agencies conduct “assembly-based” testing where all the components of a wall, floor, column or partition are tested to measure how they behave together. So new products and discrete testing means our building culture doesn’t really know how these materials will behave when interacting with people and the chemistry of our environment….and whoever specified those materials will be seen as being responsible for their performance…whoever installed them and manufactured them are likely to be included in the claim too.

The article also points out something most design professionals know…don’t over-promise…especially on issues out of their direct control. Which means if an owner’s rfp says LEED silver certification is required, but the budget, timeline, and constructor’s contract are not configured to support LEED silver, the designer can’t deliver….and is being seen as responsible. It is well known that there are additional costs in time, and dollars needed to track the credits, and follow through with user-evaluations. Designers stopped guarantying costs over forty years ago, we have to remember that LEED certification requires a team effort… and that the owner is a key part of that team.

The industry move towards Green Building is a good thing, but like any major change it will require some time before our building culture can deliver in a predictable, seamless way. Overall Green Building needs a higher level of integration than our previous (what’s opposite of green? Quinacridone Magenta?) way of making the built environment then it makes a lot of sense to me to only conduct green building in the context of integrated project delivery where the owner, designer, and builder share risk, reward and accountability.

I remember a line from Forrest Gump “Shrimpin’ is hard” and feel the same way about change…if we don’t view change in a large context and try to just green up materials, then we make problems, if we just green up the envelope of the building we make problems for the mechanical system, like if we daylight without shading…

I’ll be making some changes soon, and hope to be bloggin from Brook Hollow in a few weeks. Change is hard…but seems to be an inevitable part of life.

Leave a Reply