by Kate Bubriski, AIA
Getting to a carbon neutral future, buildings need to have ultra-low energy loads. The key to reaching this goal is not technology or smarter design; it is people. Building occupants play the biggest role in how much energy is consumed in a building. Occupant engagement in the planning and design process is critical to achieve carbon neutral goals.
While part of user engagement is discussing culture change with future occupants, engagement goes beyond by meeting occupants’ needs. Success is when design meets occupants’ programmatic and operational requirements while conserving energy.
There are simple techniques that can be utilized by designers to effectively engage occupants. Being aware of these methods and incorporating them into the design process can help occupants to better understand and embrace energy reduction goals. Engagement must start early in the planning process. The first step is to develop a plan outlining when and how to connect with occupants in all phases of the project through post-occupancy.
Two projects that highlight this approach are the Douglas & Gates Schools in Acton, Mass. and the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools & Community Complex in Cambridge, Mass. Both projects have a net zero emissions goal, but the engagement process is the same whether the goal is net zero emissions or just energy use reduction. For the Douglas & Gates Schools, we facilitated several community charettes during the feasibility phase to listen and identify the vision for how the school would serve the community and how users saw energy as a part of that vision. For King Open, we met multiple times with over 30 groups throughout a year long programming process. After the feasibility phase of each project, a small group of “Net Zero Champions” was identified to work closely with the design team to identify energy saving measures which were then reported back to the larger constituency group. This allowed the smaller group to work through the specifics while keeping the larger group engaged in the process.
The King Open complex includes many programs that operate beyond normal school hours. Through hands-on planning sessions, we identified operational needs and adjacency requirements that led to a two-winged strategy for the building, allowing mechanic systems to be shut down in areas not in use. We learned that the faculty’s vision was to collaborate with grade level cohorts, be available to students, and efficiently access support services. Through storytelling, we gleaned how the faculty work, what spaces they need and when, and what equipment they use. The design team developed planning strategies to meet these needs while greatly reducing equipment plug loads. It also allowed the ventilation system to be programmed more efficiently and allow systems to be setback when not needed.
Kate Bubriski, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Fitwell Ambassador, is the director of sustainability & building performance at Arrowstreet, an architecture and design firm based in Boston.