Design Efficiency Can Reduce Construction Costs, Carbon Footprint

Dieter Greiner is the principal architect of Plan X Enterprises Inc. an international design efficiency consultation firm based in Vancouver, Canada. He is currently working on projects across the United States and Canada as well as in Germany and Austria. In addition to his original German architecture license, he obtained licenses in several states in the U.S. and Canada, as well as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. Plan X has developed a method to optimize design of buildings and parking structures in order to save construction costs. Recent projects include the Olympic Village for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games 2010 in Vancouver, several shopping centers and commercial and residential buildings.Dieter talks to MHN’s online news editor, Anuradha Kher about design efficiency and reducing carbon footprint and the ways in which the efficiency of a building can reduce costs dramatically. MHN: What is design efficiency?Greiner: It comes down to the basic question: How much can you build for your dollar? It is the cost-effectiveness or economics of the project. For example, a typical floor plan of a residential building contains units and common areas like corridors, staircases, elevators etc. The efficiency factor is the ratio between saleable/leasable area to total area. The goal is to maximize the saleable/leasable area and minimize the common area. Sometimes the staircases are placed in an inefficient way creating long corridors. In an average residential tower, we usually come up with three percent additional saleable/leasable area without increasing overall size or construction cost. In a high-rise building containing 100 units at 1,000 sq. ft. each, design efficiency would provide an increase of about 3,000 sq. ft. or three additional units by maintaining the construction cost. The second example is the parking stall layout. The efficiency factor is the ratio between actual usable parking stall size to total area including drive aisles, mechanical and electrical room and elevators, stair cases etc. On the projects we worked during 2007 we added exactly 7.29 percent additional parking stalls. We developed a special software system to identify the layout, which works best for the project. MHN: How developed is the understanding of this concept in the U.S.?Greiner: Every developer in the U.S. is well aware and concerned about the design efficiency of his project. It is about his money. Design efficiency consultation is a great way to boost efficiency. Usually architects do a very good job and provide good efficiency. MHN: Can you give examples of how design efficiency can reduce construction costs?Greiner: There was a design in place for seven underground parking floors on a large residential mixed-use tower. We optimized the design and were able to fit all required parking stalls according to all local codes and regulations on six levels. The savings were huge.  MHN: How much money is lost due to design inefficiency?Greiner: That is difficult to estimate. Assuming 3 percent additional saleable/leasable area and 7 percent additional parking stalls, certainly means several hundreds of millions, if not billions, throughout North America.MHN: Plan X developed a method to optimize the design in order to save construction cost? What is that method?Greiner: Since we are specialized architects and consultants we streamlined our work based on a drawing software. After we put the current design of the project into our computer we identify the areas of improvement and are able to discuss potential savings within 24 hours with the client.MHN: Can design efficiency reduce the carbon footprint as well?Greiner: If 7 percent more parking stalls can be achieved, it means also that you can keep the ‘before’ parking count and reduce the structure by 7 percent. In addition, to save money also means less energy and resources to build the structure. Or imagine 7 percent less pavement on a shopping center surface parking lot.   MHN: How was design efficiency achieved with the Olympic Village for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games 2010 in Vancouver, B.C.?Greiner: The Olympic Village was certainly one of the most challenging projects. Of course, it is on fast track and does not leave room for any delay in order to meet the tight deadline. When we came on board, the unit layouts were already designed. So, we concentrated on the parking layout. By providing alternative layouts, we could provide to the developer more than 60 additional parking stalls for this project.