François Lévy, AIA, a principal architect at Lévy Kohlhaas Architecture in Austin, Texas, recently jumped at the opportunity to create a residence for Hope House, a nonprofit that started out housing special-needs children who’ve now become adults thanks to advances in medicine. With this one project, Lévy found a chance to combine his personal philosophies of enriching a community, creating something site-specific, and implementing sustainable design strategies by using an exciting tool that makes efficient building envelopes more feasible than ever before.
“The fact that buildings, in their operations alone, contribute to about 40 percent of greenhouse gasses is a significant incentive for me to want to do better,” Lévy says. However, sustainability is only one environmental aspect that influences Lévy’s designs. “When I was a young designer starting out, I was looking for a design voice. Over time, I came to understand that there was a very rich vein of form-giving to be mined if you really looked and listened very closely to a project’s site. Whether it’s an urban or a rural context, you’re going to get a really different response when you listen to the site: a response that’s appropriate for Austin will certainly not be appropriate for Chicago. So every time I take on a new project, it’s fresh.”
In the dynamic, and sometimes challenging, climate of Liberty Hill, Texas, 30 miles from downtown Austin, Hope House aspired to add duplexes to its sprawling rural space and render them accessible for people with disabilities. As Lévy explains, “A lot of the population have aged out of the original setting, become adults, and now need a place to live.” But Hope House had needs of its own, as well. For many nonprofits, finding initial capital for major construction projects is easier than attracting continued donations that will pay for upkeep and — something especially important in an area with long, intense summers.
Lévy needed to create a building that performed, excellently, to the extent that paying electricity bills would not be agonizing. Through many iterations of the initial design, he found there was an incredible synergy between the specific needs of this project, his own personal philosophy, and his access to Vectorworks Architect 2016 design software as a beta tester. Using the program’s new energy analysis tool called Energos, Lévy finally arrived at a long, thin building that would connect to the outdoors and admit natural daylight and ventilation while reducing energy usage at the same time.
Based on the Passive House calculation method, Vectorworks Architect's Energos tool gives designers a dynamic gauge of energy performance and efficacy, meaning, for this project, that each new design could build on practical solutions. “It’s not necessarily about being predictive,” he says. “Rather, it’s about making better design decisions for real-world performance.” Specifically, Lévy was able to manipulate thermal bridging, have more detailed calculations of a material’s impact, and, even, rotate the model in relationship to the sun to clearly see how slight repositioning could change efficiency — all without needing to export files or run time-consuming comparative analyses.
“So I would look at alternatives,” says Lévy, “What if we increased the insulation of the walls for our envelope? Is it going to be cost-effective? Maybe we should spend the money on higher quality windows ... That’s what Energos is about. It makes it easier to see all that iteratively within the design process. If you’re constantly going back and forth between two different software applications, it discourages you from doing truly thorough investigations. Having that built in under the hood encourages you to do as many iterations as you want.”
By helping Lévy to improve on each iteration of his design for both the upcoming construction and continued efficiency in the future, Vectorworks Architect's Energos tool will allow him to create something sustainable for Hope House residents, a home specifically built for them that is unique in context. But it’s only one of the many benefits Lévy has found among the over 100 improvements in the new Vectorworks 2016 product line release he says have already made his work easier. “Every time I beta-test a new version, I think, ‘This is so much of an improvement, what are they going to do for their next trick?’”