Uniquely trained to integrate individual building components into holistic systems, engineers are now being invited to transform the roots of yesterday's green designs into today's sophisticated and cost-effective, sustainable facilities. In the early stages of the sustainability movement, many green projects contained more hype than substance.
Uniquely trained to integrate individual building components into holistic systems, engineers are now being invited to transform the roots of yesterday’s green designs into today’s sophisticated and cost-effective, sustainable facilities.
In the early stages of the sustainability movement, many green projects contained more hype than substance. In several cases, modest gains in energy efficiency were achieved with questionable economic benefits.
Today, however, the USGBC LEED rating system and the interest in net-zero energy buildings have advanced the green movement to an age where quantifiable results count. This plays specifically to the strengths of the MEP engineer.
Successful, substantive green solutions and their computations demand that engineers take leadership roles in overall project designs, as we touch all aspects of sustainable facilities. We interface with architects to optimize the skins of buildings. We work with interior designers to right-size natural and electrical lighting systems. Collaborating with projects’ civil engineers, we design and integrate potable water, irrigation, and gray water systems. Teaming with structural engineers, we minimize floor-to-floor heights and conserve materials. Working with owners and building managers, we design cost-effective MEP systems that are maintainable.
Engineers interact with building occupants, as well, to ensure that the indoor environments where they live, work, and play are healthy, comfortable, and productive. We also have a responsibility to buildings’ surrounding communities by way of the buildings’ environmental impacts. And, as we now know, local engineering impacts have global implications.
One project, a 1.5 million-sq.-ft expansion of a bank headquarters, particularly demonstrates the opportunity for engineering leadership that sustainability offers. In order to create a truly sustainable facility, the bank brought all stakeholders together for a workshop that outlined its vision for design. During this workshop, we worked with the architect to specify characteristics of the building’s curtainwall system, lease span, and energy consumption. We also helped optimize the amount of natural light entering the space.
Furthermore, through early participation and with an eye on energy codes and a LEED certification, Environmental Systems Design (ESD) was able to do something that otherwise might have been missed—we collaborated with the owner to create a triple-duty stormwater retention system. Initially designed to recapture water for plumbing and a decorative fountain, ESD engineers found a third function for the recycled liquid: to use it as make-up water for the chiller plant. This measure will enhance the plant’s reliability and save water.
On another project, which included the largest underfloor air distribution (UFAD) system in the nation when it was built in 2003, ESD worked with the architect and developer to specify a cold-air distribution system to complement the UFAD system. The colder air delivered to the space saves energy, reduced air shafts on each floor, and eliminated a penthouse mechanical room. Engineering leadership increased rentable space, reduced energy bills, and reduced emissions.
As engineers, we have the knowledge and tools to develop substantive design solutions. The leadership opportunities are there if we choose to accept them.
Raj P. Gupta, PE, LEED AP, president, ESD, was trained as a mechanical engineer and leads the company’s 230 engineering and design professionals on complex and interesting projects. Gupta is a member of Consulting-Specifying Engineer’s Editorial Advisory Board.