The EPA is ahead of me on this one. Imagine that 65 engineers and scientists convened a conference in 2003 with the goal of defining the principles of green engineering. They looked at processes and products which would protect human health and least impact the environment. I was most impressed by their expressions of concepts like holistic, systems analysis, and integrated environmental impact assessment tools. I was intrigued by the engineering of the processes…
I was still thinking of this as I read an article about green engineering, which went into more detail about the selection process of structural building materials based on embodied energy. The focus was on the selection of the material, the calculation of its’ environmental impact. The materials to support what someone else had designed. I wondered, is construction the only industry left which has not tapped into the engineering skills to identify solutions at the design phase?
Think of the potential impact. For example, the engineer on the LEED Platinum Banner Bank building was challenged to find the most efficient structural system which would offer the most benefits, green or other. The solution was to relocate the exterior bearing walls in from the edge by about 15 ft, and cantilevering the slab floor out to the new exterior curtain walls. The total lineal footage of the concrete bearing wall was reduced, interior supports were eliminated, and a thinner slab took up less room, resulting in one extra floor within the given height of building. Fewer materials, less embodied energy. This was an engineering solution which optimized design and materials.
The construction process in the U.S. doesn’t facilitate the involvement of engineers in design. So-called value engineering is, in fact, a request to do more with less, but the word value is a misnomer. The owner “values,” or the design values are not in consideration at that point. My engineering colleague confirms that engineers are taught to design to constraints, and the software is meant to analyze given materials, but is not equipped to help determine the selection of materials.
So, engineers out there in Blogsville, can we get more Banner Bank solutions? What parameters would need to first be defined in the conceptual design stage to inform your selection process of “process and product.” Can we engineer solutions?