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Buildings & Infrastructure

A Model of Sustainable Design

Trimble technology combines the power of analysis with the creativity of design to improve building performance

According to a recent poll of design industry leaders by the Design Futures Council, approximately 40 percent of all U.S. architecture firms have adopted the Architecture 2030 Challenge. Launched by the research organization Architecture 2030, the initiative calls on industry to design in a way that ensures all new buildings and major renovations are carbon neutral by 2030––a deadline that has since been accelerated to “now”.

JLG Architects, a Minneapolis-based firm with a 30-year history and 13 North American offices, did not just accept the 2030 challenge, it decided to truly live it. Each team member embraces the company’s “Design for Life” vision, values, and approach, and understands the actionable steps they need to pursue on every project to make life better for all stakeholders. 

One of those actionable steps is to embed sustainability in each team member's design process for every single project. 

“Instead of designing a building like a stack of pancakes and then pouring sustainability syrup on after the fact, we’re mixing sustainability into the design ‘batter’ from the beginning on every project,” said Patrick Thibaudeau, principal sustainability officer at JLG, which designed the first LEED Platinum building in North Dakota. 

To support its goal to make sustainable design as routine as turning on the computer, the company deployed Trimble’s Sefaira energy analysis software firmwide in June 2020, which is integrated with Trimble’s SketchUp 3D modeling software and helps ensure smart, sustainable design choices can be made from the beginning of the creative process. With Sefaira, JLG can quickly and easily examine building shape, form and size, layout, and materials options along with natural ventilation and HVAC systems to choose the most energy-efficient design. 

Within three months of adopting Sefaira, they had developed a framework for Design Excellence (FDE-10) spreadsheet for every project, and every 2030 reportable project had an energy model with performance targets established. Today, every project starts with an FDE-10 high-performance plan and an energy model; and each model has a net-zero design option. 

“We have produced nearly 200 energy models in less than a year, and we have seen the benefits, including improved design and positive financial return,” said Thibaudeau. “Using Sefaira, we find that performance informs form. As we conduct design analysis, the performance simulation gives useful information that designers can leverage when determining building form.”

With the speed, cost-effectiveness and flexibility of SketchUp and Sefaira, JLG can seamlessly move from ideation, to iterative refinement such as daylight optimization and to final modeling. 

Across JLG Architects, starter models in the Sefaira web app have been developed for each primary building type, making it easy for everyone to hit the ground running without starting from scratch. A custom script launches Sefaira when SketchUp launches, so the energy and daylight plug-in is on automatically, ensuring that energy analysis is always top of mind and accessible when design work is being done. And as SketchUp models are created, building performance analysis can be run in minutes to inform each design choice. The models are kept up to date to match project development, and they are reviewed each month and at the end of each design phase.

When teams finalize their SketchUp model, they can then export it as an IDF file or as a linked file in Revit during construction documentation, providing building owners better value.

Based on their concerted effort to embed sustainability in every project, JLG’s 2020 report achieved a 55 percent energy reduction compared to the 2030 Challenge baseline.

Combining the power of analysis with the creativity of design teams to improve building performance, JLG has created a lightweight, collaborative workflow that is giving them the insight and the forethought to design for life.