Thursday, March 1, 2012

Low Impact Buildings - Research Project

Research Project: Building Information Modelling for Early Stage Low Impact Building Design.
Website: Low Impact Buildings Project

The Department of Real Estate and Construction at Oxford Brookes joined with a number of industry partners to carry out this multidisciplinary project funded by the Technology Strategy Board and the EPSRC. The industrial partners were: Best Foot Forward - sustainability consultants; Zed Factory Ltd - leaders in the field of low carbon design and development; ItSoWorks - cost planning consultants and Design Builder - energy modelling and simulation software developers. The current research was completed in February 2012.

The Issues
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the process of generating and managing building data during the life cycle of the building and can tell us important information about buildings and the effect the building itself and how it is being used, have on the environment.

A Low Impact Building is one which is designed to cause minimum harm to the environment. There are many benefits of Low Impact Buildings including: significant reduction in operating costs; lower energy use, reduced carbon emissions when the building is in use; no increase in building cost; shorter construction time; potential income from surplus green energy production and carbon neutral construction. The construction industry is under pressure to respond to increasingly tight environmental standards whilst cutting costs and delivering quality infrastructure and it is this complexity that the Research Project addresses.

BedZed - an example of a low impact building, photo by Tom Chance via Flickr
Although there are many BIM systems already in existence, many are expensive, lack the ability to predict the impact of alternative design decisions on multiple building performance indicators simultaneously as the design develops, address the design and construction process in a piecemeal fashion and do not interoperate with other tools.

In order to develop a solution the Research Team identified the following needs: better informed design, especially during the early stages to improve the design of individual and multiple buildings on a development site; better integration across disciplines and feedback on the impact of design decisions to improve the understanding of the relationship between design decisions and environmental impact and finally the need for integrated tools that facilitate the progress of a design from briefing through to concept and detailed design to  actual construction and building management.

The Research Project
The aim of the Research Project was to develop a software-based practical decision support tool to assess the impact of a building at the early design stage using carbon, waste and cost performance measures. A better understanding of the relationship between design decisions and environmental impact means that changes can be made to a building design at an early stage in order to minimise impact on the environment. In order to achieve this aim the Research Team identified the following objectives for the project:
  • To establish methods for measuring carbon emissions and waste from construction materials and activities
  • To develop an intergrated model to estimate carbon emissions, waste and cost simultaneously
  • To develop a decision support tool which can interact and interoperate with other Building Information Modelling software environments
The project used Google SketchUp for the building modelling - this is a free tool and is not unlike lego! The Research Team has developed the Low Impact Development Explorer (LIDx) tool which allows users to easily develop 3D models of developments and immediately see the implications of their decisions on multiple performance measures such as embodied carbon, waste and costs as the design progresses. The LIDx tool extends SketchUp into a BIM tool and it has been designed to interoperate with Design Builder software for energy modelling. A real-time link to Best Foot Forward's Carbon Footprinter software database has also been developed to allow access to embodied carbon data and carbon footprints over the web. The tool can also generate BIM data into the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange spreadsheet format being promoted by the UK Government BIM Strategy Group.

The following video is one of a series showing the use of the LIDx tool (for the full series of videos have a look at the LIB Project website).


So what's next?
A prototype BIM system has been developed and is being used to demonstrate the possibilities of the tool. The Research Team are hoping to find funding to develop the tool further and are undertaking market research in order to develop an exploitation strategy to enable designers to start using the tool.

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