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Green Building Blog

Pensive About Process

A good (integrated) design process can’t help but yield a good project

Courtesy of Bill Reed at integrativedesign.net
Image Credit: Bill Reed

In the green-building community, we talk a lot about how essential an integrated design process is to achieving a really green project. I’ve been thinking about that more and more over the last two years, ever since after I retired from chairing the USGBC’s LEED for Homes development effort.

Out of the blue, it dawned on me that developing LEED for Homes had been an integrated design process and had in fact yielded a fine green product. (OK, I’m biased. I admit it.) After further rumination – and several project experiences that bore this out – I concluded that a good (i.e., integrated) design process almost can’t help but yield a good project, so really we should focus much more on the process and worry less about the stuff, especially in the early stages of design. Revelation #1: If the process is good, the right stuff will follow.

The people factor

Months later, I realized that there is another essential ingredient: people. Voilà, Revelation #2: A good process, carried out by good people, all but guarantees a good project.

Stated the other way around, you can have a great process; but if your team doesn’t have the needed expertise, you might still miss the sweet spot or take quite a bit longer to get there. What inspired this revelation? On one of my projects, we had done everything right – we started early, involved the whole team, worked collaboratively and iteratively – but just couldn’t nail the energy system design . . . until we switched mechanical designers. Then it all fell into place. We had chosen a strong, qualified contributor, just not the right one for this project. It pays to be picky.

Choosing team members

Clients often ask what’s better: a green design professional, or one who’s good in other ways – e.g., more experienced with the type of project, shares the client aesthetic? Either can work, but given the choice, I’ll always go with green experience unless there’s a deficit in some other area. I’ve learned the “right players” lesson. The next best thing, of course, is someone who is new to green but eager and committed. Then orchestrating an integrated process isn’t like pulling teeth . . . it’s still challenging, but doable.

A note about goals

Just one more thing (I feel like Columbo): If your great integrated design process, with all the right players, is going to yield the green home project of your dreams, the process needs to be firmly grounded in a set of performance goals. More about this next time!

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