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High Performance Building Design - Forum BuildIng Design Experts

High Performance Building Design

1 year ago
High Performance Building Design-1High performance design encapsulates energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity.

We have already touched upon high performance building design in our previous article on whole building design. Let’s dig further into what this means and how it’s implemented by designers.

The energy policy act of 2005 defined high performance buildings as “buildings that integrate and optimize all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity”. The whole building design guide1 also goes some way to describe more about this concept detailing how high-performance buildings are energy efficient, have limited environmental impact, and operate with the lowest possible life-cycle costs.

The guide provides suggestions for designers such as conducting life-cycle cost analysis, implementing integrated design processes between design team disciplines, and adopting integrated energy solutions for the building envelope as important aspects of high-performance design. Let’s look further into how high performance design emerged and is implemented. The main pillars of high performance building design are outlined below.

High Performance Building Design-6
The Key components of High Performance Building Design

High Performance Concept

High performance design relates to many aspects of building design and includes numerous stakeholders including government/local authorities, owners, designers and tenants. Client goal setting and governmental legislation as it relates to high performance building design measures is the first key component. This sets the foundation for design goals for all aspects of the design team relating to building energy use/generation, indoor environment quality, material and design system selection, commissioning, operations and maintenance.

The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) established the High Performance Building Council (HPBC) following on from the 2005 energy policy act. This organization was established to assess the existence of guidance and technology for achieving higher performance buildings, identify what research needs to take place and to accelerate the pace of high performance building design generally. The HPBC is a mix of a multitude of private and public sector organizations which set about developing benchmarks to existing buildings standards on topics related to high performance building attributes. You can read more about this here on the  NIBS online platform6.  

Green Building and Sustainability

As we’ll see further is this article, out of all the components of high performance building design, energy efficiency, sustainability and the green building agenda have emerged as some of the main attributes to really take a foothold. Green building and sustainable thinking in design from cradle to grave is hugely important. Societal demands have pushed this element of high performance design to the fore and Various industry organizations have been set up so as to facilitate bench marking and establishing metrics that help prioritize green strategies.

Many of these are also backed by local and national government initiatives which help push the green agenda. Here at Building Design Experts we have covered this topic in previous articles on green building, whole building design and Building innovations/trends so be sure to have a look to find out more about this key pillar of high performance building design!  

Building Safety and Security

Safety, security and resilience are some of the key pillars of high performance building which have not seen as much attention as other areas such as energy efficiency or sustainability. One of the first products of the HPBC was the report on High Performance Resilient Buildings and Related Infrastructure2. The report focused on the importance of building resiliency and their robustness to withstand forces developed during a catastrophic events either manmade or natural.

At a stakeholder summit  buildings design experts helped develop recommendations for increasing resiliency by focusing on  six areas including codes/standards, research and development and education. The same report references how high performance requirements that affect building resiliency have come under development through the initiation of an advanced materials program that helps universities and federal research centres to develop advanced materials that exhibit high performance attributes.

The report also references programs that have initiated the development of metrics, benchmarks, and verification standards for design and engineering communities. The NYC green councils building resiliency task force  has provided several recommendations related to improving building resiliency as outlined in the image below. You can read more about this in a report on High Performance Building Guidelines by the City of New York Department of Design and Construction3


High Performance Building Design-1 Design-3
Components of Building Resiliency (Courtesy of Urban Green Council, Building Resiliency Task Force Report, 7. Reference 7.)

Another example of directives relating to HPBD resilience is a technical report entitled High Performance Based Design for Building Enclosures4. This is another initiative of the HPBC, NIBS, the Disaster Management Division and Department of Homeland Security related to high performance building design, and resilience.  focusing on the first line of defence –  the building enclosure.

These reports and other directives have focused more attention on building resiliency and robustness to catastrophic events. As designers we are starting to see more and more focus on ensuring buildings are able to cope with such extraordinary events.

Cost Effectiveness, Functionality and Productivity

Another often overlooked aspect of high performance building design are the occupant benefits, in terms of productivity and wellness with a subsequent financial benefit to owners. A report by STOK (who provide value aligned real estate services to developers), on The Financial Case for High Performance Buildings5 provides an interesting insight into this. Reduced energy and water consumption, and increased asset value are often cited as the strongest case for building developers to strive for high performance building design. This report outlines how occupant experience is enhanced in high performance buildings.

Looking specifically at commercial real estate this study showed how productivity, retention and wellness are enhanced in high performance buildings. This has a significant impact on business profits. The report outlines how over 80% of total value of high performance building design comes not through maintenance and utility cost savings but is due to employee productivity and employee retention. I thought this was an interesting insight into how owners and developers can come to understand the importance of occupant-focused design aspects of high performance building design.

High performance building guidelines published by the City of New York Department of Design and Construction3 also makes reference to this. Mentioning that building occupants enjoy an improved sense of health and well-being that can be attributed to improved daylighting and indoor air quality. This has led to increased worker productivity and has dwarfed the buildings combined capital, operational and maintenance cost savings. This is a good example of how aesthetics and building functionality, key pillars of high performance building design, relate to productivity and cost effectiveness.

How effective has this whole Initiative been across all sectors?

I think many designers would say that they see aspects of high performance design impacting design decisions they make. Blast analysis, design integrity and robustness has been a more prominent design concern for clients and structural engineers in particular ever since 9/11. LEED credentials are sought after by designers and clients understand the benefits of achieving LEED and WELL standards in their buildings. Life cycle analysis are also now commonly conducted by design team members.

That said I think there still remains a large gap between the aspirational goal of high performance design and actual building performance improvements. A report by Legrand entitled Where is “High Performance” for Buildings Headed?8 does a great job of explaining some of these shortfalls. The report outlines how performance mechanisms are weighted heavily toward sustainability, energy efficiency and occupant productivity whilst resiliency and security are lagging behind.

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The performance considerations of various Building Codes and Standards (Legrand, "Where is High Performance” for Buildings Headed? Reference 8)

We have touched upon several key aspects of high performance building design, but there is so much to this topic as it relates to building design that hasn’t been covered here. We hope that we have gathered some useful information so designers can get a snapshot of what this is all about, and what it could mean to the future of design. Thanks for reading and please share your comments!



  1. Whole Building Design Guide. https://www.wbdg.org/resources/whole-building-design
  2. Designing for a Resilient America: A stakeholder Summit on High Performance Buildings and Related Infrastructure. https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/designing-for-a-resilent-america-11302010-12012010.pdf
  3. High Performance Building Guidelines. City of New York Department of Design and Construction. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/downloads/Sustainable/high-performance-building-guidelines.pdf
  4. High Performance Based Design for Building Enclosures. A Resilience Application Project Report. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/IRDP/DHS_BIPS10_HPBDE_020112.pdf
  5. The Financial Case for High Performance Buildings :https://stok.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/stok_report_financial-case-for-high-performance-buildings.pdf
  6. National Institute of Building Sciences –High performance Building Council https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/docs/nibs_factsheet_fps_hpbc.pdf
  7. Urban green council Building Resiliency Task Force https://www.urbangreencouncil.org/content/projects/building-resilency-task-force
  8. Where is “High Performance” for Buildings Headed? https://go.legrand.us/edp-white-paper-hpb-download

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