Vectorworks Design Summit 2018

Smart, Sustainable Vectorworks

John Hill
11. March 2019
Rendering of Nimbus Project in Cornwall, England, by Squirrel Design
Image courtesy of Vectorworks
Climate as a Design Formgiver

François Lévy (M. Arch, MSE), AIA, a partner at Austin's Lévy Kohlhaas Architects and the author of two books on BIM (one published, one forthcoming), presented “Climate as a Design Formgiver” at the Summit. Lévy’s use of BIM in the service of design, rather than just for coordination and/or clash detection, came across clearly in the talk. He began way back in pre-BIM 2001, when his firm modeled a house in Vectorworks, using the digital terrain modeling tool to model the house’s complex roof, its landscape, and used an embedded worksheet to size a cistern used for harvesting rainwater. Although the information embedded in the model was minimal given its age and the development of BIM since then, the project informed Lévy’s lasting interest in “how climate and response to climate, when it’s appropriately quantified, can inform qualitative decisions that designers make.” Nearly twenty years later, the “data opportunities in information-rich models,” as he described them, are ripe for helping architects to create highly sustainable designs.

François Lévy speaking at the 2018 Vectorworks Design Summit

A more recent project by Lévy, a simple farmhouse outside of Austin, involved numerous solar studies and solar animations that used the Heliodon tool in Vectorworks to determine window size and locations and the extent of roof overhangs. The latter was fed by local climate data focused on the time of the year when cooling-degree days transition to heating-degree days (when air conditioning gives way to heating) rather than on the shortest and longest days of the year. Colder climates would focus on the inverse (when heating shifts to air conditioning), but the idea is the same: using the data to design architectural features, such as roof overhangs, that improve the building’s own “performance” and thereby reduce the need for mechanical HVAC. Literally cutting into the model (Lévy’s presentation was entirely within Vectorworks—no slides) revealed the house design’s preliminary energy usage via the built-in Energos module, which he uses as a comparative rather than predictive tool.

François Lévy speaking at the 2018 Vectorworks Design Summit: "This diagram illustrates the quantitative analysis undertaken to negotiate competing site work concerns—minimizing cut and fill, preserving trees, and maintaining an accessible floor plan—without unduly compromising solar shading and PV collection."

Across other residential projects Lévy showed some creative ways of using data to inform design. In one case, a spreadsheet with weather data helped determine the area of a house’s roof, whose design could automatically generate the size of the cistern fed by it; this approach could be used for rainwater harvesting calculations. In another project he combined the normally unrelated Heliodon and Site Modeling tools to find the best location for a house on a generous rural site by taking into account solar orientation, cut and fill, and the retention of existing trees. Lastly, Lévy showed how the U.S. government’s PVWatts Calculator determines cost savings that an array of PV panels would yield for a particular design and site. Data, in all these instances, is available in different contexts, waiting to be incorporated into Vectorworks tools to make better design decisions.

François Lévy speaking at the 2018 Vectorworks Design Summit: "This custom thermal chimney calculation worksheet is integrated in the BIM project file to help assess the performance implications of variations of design variables, primarily thermal chimney height and inlet and outlet aperture areas."
Paragraph 55

Austin, Texas, may be home to the first green building program in the United States, but 5,000 miles away, in the UK, single-family houses built in the countryside since 2012 have had to meet a much different standard, one that demands designs of “outstanding quality” that “significantly enhance” their immediate settings. Only about half of the projects designed for such rural sites are approved per Paragraph 55 (Paragraph 79 since 2018) of the National Planning Policy Framework. Squirrel Design, from Devon, designed two projects that gained approval within a few months of each other: the Nimbus Project in Cornwall and the Hux Shard Project near Exeter. These houses were mentioned at the Summit during the presentation “Using Smart Parametric Objects in BIM” by Jonathan Reeves, architect and director of Jonathan Reeves Architects, who is also a Vectorworks trainer and assisted Squirrel Design on the projects. As described on Planet Vectorworks, the software’s modeling and visualization capabilities were especially important in obtaining the required planning permissions for the two formally complex designs.

Rendering of Hux Shard near Exeter, England, by Squirrel Design

Although Para 55, as it’s still known regardless of its number change, is not prescriptive in terms of sustainable design, the Nimbus and Hux Shard projects do their best to minimize their impact on their respective sites. The roof of Nimbus, for instance, is covered in photovoltaic (PV) panels and sloped for optimal sun exposure, while at the same time rainwater is captured from these surfaces for flushing toilets and irrigating landscape features. Hux Shard, on the other hand, is striving for “carbon negativity,” in which the building produces more energy than it consumes. Hux Shard would hit these targets primarily via the incorporation of PV panels and solar tubes, which would combine with a passive ventilation strategy to send energy back into the grid in summer months, offsetting the power consumed in the darker winter months.

Biplab Sarkar speaking at the 2018 Vectorworks Design Summit (Photo: Jason Dixson Photography)
Looking Forward

At the tail end of the morning keynote delivered on day one of the Summit, Vectorworks CEO Dr. Biplab Sarkar looked at some design trends the company is exploring. These included continuing developments in augmented reality (AR), the increased use of BIM around the world arising from government mandates (the UK is a notable example of this), reducing energy consumption and the carbon footprint of buildings throughout their life cycles through eco-friendly practices, and the creation of more livable smart cities. Needless to say, the work being done by Lévy Koolhaas Architecture and Squirrel Design definitely falls into the definition of eco-friendly practices.

Yet smart cities, in which cities use enormous amounts of data to manage resources, is particularly exciting. Often layered over existing cities, the technology behind it is also the basis for brand new neighborhoods. But how would Vectorworks be involved in such a broad trend? “We need to have facilities in Vectorworks,” Sarkar explained to me, “that can do, for example, traffic simulation.” SimTread, a program for use in Vectorworks, can already simulate pedestrian flow in buildings, but Sarkar would like to see its algorithms extended to traffic in cities. Beyond simulation, Sarkar is ultimately striving for “context-based design,” in which all of the data for the context a user is designing for—noise data, traffic data, energy data, municipality infrastructure data, etc.—is automatically available in a design environment, in Vectorworks. With that information, Lévy Koolhaas Architecture, Squirrel Design, and other Vectorworks users would be able to make informed design decisions without having to track down and manually insert the data. Exciting indeed! 

World-Architects is an Exclusive Media Partner for the fourth annual Vectorworks Design Summit, which took place November 4-6, 2018, in Phoenix, Arizona.

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