It all starts with a simple little buffer says John Boyd, sustainable development expert and former President of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers. 

Maybe it’s the geotechnical engineer checking the loadbearing weight of the ground who sets it in motion, thinking to himself, “Oh, I know this architect, I better allow for a little extra because he’s no stickler for details.” Then comes the architect, who knows the electrical engineer will miss something so he adds his own little buffer.That is until the tiny buffers add up to a multi-million dollar price tag, says Boyd. 

Integrated design

“By the time you actually get to the edge of the chain there are huge invisible safety factors that are built into the whole design process,” he says. “But, the idea behind integrated design is you get a whole slew of these individuals who are going to make a contribution and you go through the whole design process and lay out objectives and how you might accomplish these objectives.” 

Sure, the design process takes a bit longer at the front end. “But on the other hand, a lot of the arbitrary decisions that tend to get made in the (standard building) system don’t get made,” adds Boyd. “You keep your options open long enough to hear from a large group of people and really get an idea of what considerations have to go into this design process overall.”

“By the time you actually get to the edge of the chain there are huge invisible safety factors that are built into the whole design process.”

For Boyd, integrated design is one of the major cruxes of green building or really, any sustainable infrastructure. It’s also critical for making buildings more energy efficient, he says, which is a pressing issue given that buildings eat up over 50 percent of the country’s electricity production.

And he’s not alone, he’s just one of a chorus of voices singing the gospel of integrated design. “Collaboration allows the building to be analyzed as a whole and all stakeholders are able to review items such as material selection, site, building orientation, etc… as it relates to sustainable design and building performance from an energy point of view,” says Kevin O’Neill, Principal Director of the Commercial Division at consulting engineering firm HH Angus and Associates.

He says integrated design has been a core component in HH Angus’ two-decade plus relationship with TD Bank.

“Because of this relationship, we have been part of the design team for many years and have helped influence their design standards to meet their overall corporate sustainability goals,” he says. “Our experience with (them) has allowed us to build on these principles and use them in our day-to-day thinking on other projects.”

New approaches

The firm is also applying the approach to renovations at the Toronto Football Club’s BMO Field stadium.

“The original design team was formed early on, due to the aggressive schedule, and we had taken on the mechanical and electrical engineering components from our partners in the U.S. early enough to assist in moving the design forward—with construction underway as well,” he says.

But integrated design is not yet common practice, says Andreas Athienitis, Scientific Director of the NSERC Smart Net-zero Energy Buildings Strategic Research Network. 

“In some provinces there are obstacles to architects and engineers working together,” he points out. “Also education is a major barrier because architecture and engineering programs have not evolved to meet this need.”

New energy saving technologies like motorized shades, advanced windows, building-integrated photovoltaics, thermal storage and advanced heat pumps aren’t covered in engineering and architecture programs effectively, creating a knowledge gap.

“The reality is that we have a long way to go in truly integrated design,” says Athienitis. “And education of architects and engineers in this process is essential.”