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Eco-Testing a Building Before It Is Even Built

Publication date: March 22, 2013

 Data-intensive analysis plays a key role in the design of energy-efficient buildings. Data-intensive analysis plays a key role in the design of energy-efficient buildings.
©Starp Estudi
Architects and engineers all over the world are inventing new ways to reduce the time, cost, and risk of constructing energy-efficient, high-performance buildings. Data-intensive analysis plays a key role in the design of “green” buildings—but the high cost of such analysis can be prohibitive to these eco-pioneers. Microsoft Azure Azure provides a way to help building designers perform complex data analysis cost-efficiently—and quickly—facilitating the design of energy-efficient buildings.


Using Pre-Fabricated Parts and Fast Computers

“The key to improving building performance is the ability to virtually simulate projects while they are in design—as they are taking shape

– Furio Barzon, Green Prefab founder and CEO

Despite the global demand for sustainably-designed buildings, many design businesses face practical implementation challenges, such as the time-intensive process of performing computer simulations, and the expenses of the powerful technology that is needed to reduce execution time, sustainable design specialists, and computer aided design (CAD) software. The good news: cloud computing has tremendous potential to change all of that.

Green Prefab, a small startup company in Italy, is working with Microsoft Research Connections and the Royal Danish Academy to develop next-generation tools that will one day allow in-depth simulations of a building’s performance—before it's built. This innovative approach is possible by using Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s open and powerful public cloud platform—to provide inexpensive data-intensive analysis.

Parametric simulations were used to optimize the design of this prototype—now nearing completion.Parametric simulations were used to optimize the design of this prototype—now nearing completion.
©The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Architecture, Design and Conservation
Green Prefab is developing a library of prefabricated green building components that can be used to design eco-friendly buildings. Architects will be able to access civil engineering services, via the cloud, to produce energy efficiency reports, conduct in-depth structural analysis, and view photo-realistic preview images of the building. Green Prefab has teamed up with Microsoft Research Connections to develop some of the first tools for Microsoft Azure.

One essential ingredient of Green Prefab’s industrialized approach is its use of a data model that was developed for the construction industry in the 1990s by an international consortium known as buildingSMART. The buildingSMART model is an open format that makes it easy to exchange and share building information modeling (BIM) data between applications that were developed by different software vendors.

The open format of buildingSMART's data model has made it easier for Green Prefab to model prefabricated green building components. New tools that use massive computational power to simulate building performance will help the sustainable building industry.

Developing Energy Simulations

“The advent of in-depth modeling in the cloud that simulates the performance of pre-fabricated components opens up a whole new range of fascinating building design possibilities.

– Dennis Gannon, director of Cloud Research Strategy, Microsoft Research Connections

With the goal of making it possible for engineers and architects to analyze complex building scenarios extremely quickly, Green Prefab and the Institute of Architectural Technology of the Royal Danish Academy collaborated to validate the potential usefulness of building performance energy simulations in the cloud.

The Royal Danish Academy conducted an experiment that used Green Prefab’s prototype web-based tools with the supercomputer in Barcelona, Spain, to execute parametric energy simulations of buildings by using the power of cloud computing.

The design of the test building reflected the floor space, occupancy, and environmental setting of a standard office in Copenhagen, Denmark. In order to understand the advantages of the proposed service, in comparison to conventional ways of using simulations, a parallel experiment was conducted. Starting from the same building design, the same architect conceived and tested 50 design options with a standard dual-core PC.

The cloud-based approach achieved approximately twice the potential energy savings, 33 percent, compared to only 17 percent for the conventional approach. It also reduced computing time significantly. Running the 220,184 parametric simulations on a standard dual-core PC would have taken 122 days; running those same energy simulations in the cloud took only three days.

Reducing Building Time, Cost, and Risk

New cloud-based tools will make it easier to design energy-efficient buildings like this Green Prefab single-family dwelling in Spain.New cloud-based tools will make it easier to design energy-efficient buildings like this Green Prefab single-family dwelling in Spain. ©Starp EstudiThe wide adoption of cloud-based civil engineering tools could radically reshape the green building industry; Green Prefab's photo-realistic, 3-D illustrations of buildings in design are just the first step. By producing digital, full-detailed models of a building, Green Prefab expects to be able to guarantee its appearance and performance, save construction time, and reduce costs as much as 30 percent.

Even small architectural firms will be able to control costs in the pre-construction phase and reduce uncertainties during construction as civil engineering tools in the cloud become available to small and medium-sized architecture and engineering firms around the world.

Microsoft’s collaboration with Green Prefab presents an optimistic picture of a future in which new cloud-based tools help reduce the energy consumption of buildings substantially. Such scientific breakthroughs will facilitate a shift towards building more environmentally friendly buildings that use energy and water efficiently, reduce waste, and provide a healthy environment for working and living.