Tech and sustainability: Building a cleaner, greener future

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Contact Mike Wilson-MacCormack

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Contact Ami Nigam, Head of Technology

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) have set a clear timeframe and agenda for creating a more sustainable urban environment. So how can designers and architects play their part in creating more efficient, carbon-neutral buildings?

Mike Wilson-MacCormack, Design Director and Benoy's Sustainability Lead, and Ami Nigam, Benoy’s Head of Technology, discuss the new tools and techniques being used to enhance sustainability performance across Benoy’s global design projects.

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As we mark Earth Day in 2024, we’re again reminded that the built environment plays a pivotal role in global carbon reduction. As designers we have a responsibility to our clients, communities and future generations to create solutions for a hotter and wetter climate, and critically that help reverse the climate emergency. 

We believe it is primarily the decisions we take at the inception of the design process that have profound implications for embodied and operational carbon. Today we go forward with a renewed optimism as our designers work in tandem with our Technology leads, exploring the application of new tools to provide real time data and inform better design decisions to help us meet this challenge. 

At Benoy, we’re leveraging data and technology to enhance our design processes and validate our design decisions. In particular, the tools and software we use mean our teams can really engage with sustainability. They enable us to drive improvements in energy efficiency, shading, ventilation, and heating to reduce the carbon footprints of the spaces we design. 

Two new tools are really transforming our capabilities in this area. 

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Autodesk Forma

The first is Autodesk Forma. With its deep integration with Rhino & Revit, this software enables our design teams to have sustainability data at their fingertips. It integrates with our current workflows and allows designers to use cloud computing to run sustainability analyses, helping them understand a scheme’s exposure to sunlight, or how wind moves around a building. We can then use this data to shape more sustainable spaces and minimise our impact on the microclimate. It’s essentially a sustainability engine for our design projects.

By allowing designers to view and compare proposals through environmental metrics, Forma gives us insight into how changes to spatial configurations or features can affect environmental performance. This means we can devise strategies to improve daylight levels within buildings, or prevent public spaces from becoming too hot. 

Working in environments like the Middle East, where average ground temperatures can be punishing, we’re able to make critical adjustments to maximise thermal comfort and shade within our design schemes. Using this technology at the right time can mean lowering the ground temperature by 10 degrees, or creating more comfortable outdoor spaces. And for a project in Dubai, at four o’clock on a March afternoon, these changes will make the world of difference. We also leverage Benoy’s expertise in landscape design, master-planning and architecture to further boost building performance and improve the end-user experience.

Carbon Calculation

The second technology is an in-house carbon-calculation toolkit that leverages opensource datasets and tools like Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) Database & Hawkins Brown Emissions Reduction Tool (H\B:ERT). Conceived to help us understand the carbon impacts of our design decisions, it demonstrates how, through changes in specific materials, we can achieve a reduction a building’s life-cycle carbon emissions. 

Currently in development, the toolkit is undergoing testing with several projects. The plan is to integrate the software into our Building Information Modelling (BIM) templates, which means every project will, by default, run this tool in the background.

Beyond 2030

Combined, these tools are helping to supercharge the sustainability capabilities of our design teams. The first is leveraged during the early design stages, when teams are shaping a building and assessing its interactions with the local environment. The second is deployed later, when the design is fixed and critical choices need to be made relating to materiality. Together, they provide unique insight into the carbon and commercial ramifications of our designs.

By empowering our designers with these tools, we’re able to go beyond the 2030 sustainability agenda. Through the granular insights we can achieve, we optimise our designs to ensure we’re always operating below this threshold, creating projects with truly sustainable carbon credentials. 

Increasingly, Benoy is pitching sustainability to clients as a commercial decision-making metric, as well as the right thing to do environmentally. For example, through shading strategies and structures, we might be able to demonstrate a 60% extension of asset usage on a project in the Middle East, delivering a major uplift in commercial revenue. And by working with our sister company Pragma, we bring in detailed consumer data to further enhance our benchmarking on capital and sustainability costs. 

By making sustainability a key driver for all our projects, Benoy is both deepening its engagement with international standards and improving its internal design processes. These tools are a vital part of this shift, helping to ensure our designs deliver value from a social, economic and environmental perspective long into the future. 

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