Conversation: Atelier 10

Today I met with Ben Shepard from Atelier 10. Atelier 10 is “a visionary consultancy providing integrated, full service engineering and consulting on environmental design, building systems performance analysis, lighting and daylighting design, fire engineering, benchmarking environmental masterplanning and strategic sustainability planning.” -from Atelier 10’s “about us” webpage.  Ben is the leader of the planning practice, and teaches courses on environmental design.

 Q: What sort of scope does Atelier 10 work on?
A: Atelier 10 was founded in 1990. TheNew Yorkoffice opened in 2001, and is a consulting firm (as opposed to a full engineering firm, like their office in London). A large portion of their work deals with energy and mechanical systems, as well as façades. Lighting is the next large portion of work. Their work often includes reports, illustrations, graphics- for example environmental section drawings. They do analysis and modeling for environmental, lighting and energy factors, using mainly software from the Department of Energy called E-quest.  

Q: In regards to modeling: if you are knowledgeable about the principles of design, you would think you can predict what a model would tell you.  Are there times where you were surprised by what the model suggested?
A: One example for this is an airport they initially thought would be driven by air conditioning loads.  In fact, the largest factor was the heat loss through the glazing on the façade. So they shifted additional attention to the façade. The modeling took what they already have some ideas about, and let them understand relative importance of different factors to improve the design.  In the iterative modeling, you can see all of the systems come together. This gives a picture of overall savings and the paybacks on the systems- it combines the environmental and economic aspects.

Q: After working with the various rating systems from various regions: BREEAM from the UK, US-GBC LEED, and Estidama from the Middle East- what are the most significant differences? Do they rating systems seems to reflect different conditions of their region, ie local environmental challenges or political cultures?
A: Estimdama seems to really take climate into account. For that reason, it will never expand outside the Middle East, but can be more effective within. It is also an easier system to use (like LEED).  BREEAM is hugely complicated and because of that often gets passed over. Even though some systems are critiqued for being too easy, or too developer driven, they constantly move the market and will develop over time.  A system like the Living Building Challenge might now be implemented frequently but will serve to push the envelope.

Q: How does Atelier 10 develop benchmarks for projects?
A: Benchmarking is not a design tool, but they help project teams define where they are, and where they are going. It can give you latitude to push certain elements of a project, create accountability and maintain a level or quality in construction.
Atelier 10 works with both a “framework,” the organizational structure of a project, as well as the “masterplan,” the physical structure of the project. They develop benchmarking systems that may work well with LEED or another guide, but are more specific to the project. For example, at NYU they were already doing a lot of good things, but the measures weren’t necessarily organized. For Harvard’s Allston campus, the university had 4 or 5 main sustainability goals, but what did they really mean for the development of a new campus?

Q: It seems like Atelier 10 is involved in both the large, conceptual thinking for new projects as well as the detailed technical aspects such as energy modeling and calculations for LEED points.  It seems that we’ve come along way in understanding building performance.  Now, aren’t designers are starting to look at larger scales and systems, such as planning and other larger systems?
A: Yes.  People wanting to understand the bigger picture, and are realizing that the way you get to carbon neutral, net zero, and all these big issues is by thinking at a larger scale. Part of it is practical. In today’s economy, when you don’t have funding to start building a project, when you don’t want to outlay that much, design is still relatively cheap in comparison. In a way, it is a really opportune time to be involved in environmental master planning.  People are taking more time to think about what they want to do- and as they see things like energy prices and news about global warming, there is real interest in it. Any maybe everything doesn’t get integrated at first, but as the plan evolves and gets updated more is integrated.

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