Fan the flames of innovation

With green becoming as ubiquitous as denim in the fashioning of buildings, what’s the next buzz that will have substance and credible empowerment for engineers? Innovation. For this assertion, I have more reasons than space, so here’s a few and the rest are on my blog at www.csemag.com. Market forces are compelling owners and other financial decision makers to move toward lifecycle ...

11/01/2007


With green becoming as ubiquitous as denim in the fashioning of buildings, what’s the next buzz that will have substance and credible empowerment for engineers? Innovation. For this assertion, I have more reasons than space, so here’s a few and the rest are on my blog at www.csemag.com .

Market forces are compelling owners and other financial decision makers to move toward lifecycle analysis (LCA). Costs for energy, metals, minerals, water, and labor are increasing, and in some cases, too fast for annual budget cycles and conventional project management practices. Meanwhile, the economic penalties are increasing for missing occupancy dates and overrunning budgets. And there is an expectation by many businesses and building owners that environmental regulations will put greater restrictions on energy, emissions, and water use through penalties or incentives. All of this points to increasing risk.

With LCA ascending, decisions like this will become normal: Design A, although it costs X% more, was chosen because it has a higher return on investment (ROI). It uses less energy and water, pollutes less, is easier to operate and maintain, and has features that will result in better IAQ and comfort. LCA teases out the high ROI of engineering services, making it easier to justify—and get paid for—things such as modeling and (gasp) thinking. Design A required custom engineering, not plans rehashed from previous jobs. First-cost realities will persist—“X% more” will have an upper limit, and that limit will be a log on the fire of innovation.

LCA obviously is aligned with sustainability. Green buildings catalyze innovation because they require coordination of professions; integration of the site, structure, and systems; commissioning; metering; and solid operations and maintenance. Services that engineers provide are weaved into all phases of the building lifecycle, not just design. Engineers are gaining intimate knowledge of how buildings work and what design approaches and equipment solutions are working over the long haul. Their measurements and observations will inform future designs.

Also, I foresee a change in the DNA of the engineering gene pool that will stimulate new definitions of problems, not just solutions. Based on college-enrollment data, women have more affinity for life sciences while men gravitate toward the physical sciences. As the built environment is harmonized with the natural environment, more women will choose engineering disciplines involving buildings. Furthermore, as the American population becomes more multicultural, so will the population of engineers. So look for innovation on the definition of functional and performance requirements, as the gene pool responsible for buildings is better represented by the gene pool that lives with them.

Send your questions and comments to: Michael.Ivanovich@reedbusiness.com





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