#12.007.1: Cars, CBECS, and ZEC

Editors note:

#12.007.1 is part 1 of 2 on understanding and evaluating a building’s energy use written by Chad Edwards. This post dives into a background to the metrics used to understand a building’s energy use, while the second post will examine a case study example. Check back next week for #12.007.2!

Author: Chad Edwards

Just as cars can be judged based on their fuel economy, buildings can be similarly measured and compared against the national average.  The Energy Use Intensity (EUI) rating is a standard metric for a building’s  energy economy. By taking the building’s annual energy use and converting it to kBtu[i] per square foot per year, the building receives an EUI rating. This EUI is helpful in understanding how efficient the facility operates and can be compared to a national index called CBECS.

The Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) is used as a standard reference point for commercial building energy usage. The CBES is performed every four years by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. The most recent complete survey is actually the 2003 survey. Data problems were discovered in the 2007 survey which prevented its publication, while the 2011 survey was canceled due to budget cuts. CBECS finds the average EUI for a variety of building types including higher education, office, medical and manufacturing. This allows building owners and their facility managers to understand how well their property performs against the norm. This data can also be important into Energy Star’s Portfolio manager to help assess how buildings compare across the company’s entire fleet of buildings. These scores can ultimately assist in getting a building Energy Star and/ or LEED Certified, as well as suggest if a building is Net Zero Energy Capable.

While Net Zero Energy is not a regenerative/ healing proposition, it offers a good benchmark and target in our collective design work. Net Zero Energy refers  to a property that uses only as much energy as it generates onsite over the course of a year using non fossil fuel resources. Due to annual and daily peak loads, often times the utility power grid is used for balancing annual energy needs. The most cost effective method for achieving NZE begins with conservation and efficiencies. This is where the calculated EUI helps in understanding if a project is Net Zero Energy Capable (ZEC) or NZE Ready.

While the industry is referring to these buildings as ZEC, I prefer NZE Ready. Any building is technically Net Zero Energy Capable if enough renewable technologies are thrown at the project.  A NZE Ready building has gone through the more cost effective conservation and efficiency strategies to be better positioned to spend less on the renewable technologies. A NZE Ready building is designed and operated so that its total energy use per square foot is low enough that there is the potential for achieving net zero through onsite or offsite renewables. This also allows structures to be designed to a bench mark in preparation for a renewable energy retrofit as financial resources or incentives become available.

If a automotive company wants to make a car with better fuel economy, then the car can have a more efficient engine, be designed to reduce wind resistance, or be made lighter. How can a property owner get a building that performs just as well, but with a better EUI rating? So, how does this work in a real life scenario? Is it possible to achieve a higher performing building with a modest budget?  The next blog entry will look at energy modeling, integrative design approach and the Greater Cincinnati – Dayton Region American Red Cross headquarters as an example of becoming Net Zero Energy Capable, or NZE Ready.


[1] kBtu= Kilo British Thermal Unit. BTU is a traditional unit of measurement for energy. 1 BTU is roughly the amount of energy needed to heat 1 lb. of water from 39-40 degree Fahrenheit.

#12.006 The Proper Size of a Flying Pig


-Andreas Lange

Twenty thousand people gather in the streets between Paul Brown Stadium and the Ohio River. Dressed lightly for the expected heat and humidity of a May morning in Ohio, the runners scurry around in last minute preparations for the race.

A system of temporary architecture has been arranged to accommodate the masses.  Chain link fences limit movement, a large banner marks the starting line, platforms are arranged for speakers and power songs to be blasted over the crowd, and most importantly for the runners, plenty of Port-a-potties stretch as far as the eye can see.

The gun goes off and the race starts. A river of bodies bounces off into the city. Twenty minutes later the starting line is empty.  The temporary architecture will be removed and the street returned to normal before the Monday workday begins.

What do such mega events mean for the architecture of the city?  How can a city as a space provide for all the needs of an event for tens of thousands of people for a few hours on a Sunday morning while at the same time remain appropriate to the everyday functions of the city?

What would happen if design assumptions of the typical architectural design process were applied to the layout of an event like the Flying Pig?

One of the most typical restraints in architectural design is the program.  A program is a list of needs or desires for a project.  You want to build a school in Ohio? Look up the OSFC to find the required square feet per student. Want to build a new downtown office tower?  Check the zoning requirements for parking spots per building square feet and see if it will fit. But what if the program was pushed to an extreme?

Imagine if space was given for all of the runners to start on the starting line like the horses in the Kentucky Derby.  When the gun goes off, everyone is released from the gates at the same time.  Equal access for all.

With 20,000 participants lined shoulder to shoulder at 18 inches per runner, the starting line would stretch 30,000 feet or 5.7 miles wide.  The starting line would extend from the River to the Norwood Lateral.

This is an impractical way of running a large race, however, the desire of providing equal access is not uncommon for design problems.  What if everyone in an office tower got a corner office?  What would that look like?  What would a school look like if every classroom had light and air on four sides?  What if our sports stadiums created box seating for everyone?

Building and zoning codes are written based upon worst-case scenarios.  Once you determine the “guts’ of the project, you have to then set all the limitations for egress, travel distance, fire ratings, allowable areas, door operations, stairway widths, etc. and check to see if the design works.  The requirement of designing for the worst-case scenario leads to spaces that are oversized, underused.  Simply put, many of our buildings are built too big because of overlapping demands for maximums.

One of the most typical developments in reuse of space is the conversion of old factory buildings into office space or loft apartments.  The reason pre-war industrial architecture is so well-suited for conversion is that the original building was so simply conceived.  Regular structural bays, large windows for daylight, and durable construction materials make the space as appropriate for industry as it is for modern flexible office space.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati renovation

The Flying Pig Crossing Elm Street

Our spaces need to be appropriately sized and then made flexible and thoughtful enough to make the greatest use of the space now and in the future.  They need to provide for the needs of everyday life and manage the worst-case scenarios. Intelligent design not only manages extremes of use, its arrangement and form establishes the framework and tensions that give our city and buildings character.  The Flying Pig is one of the most celebrated races because it runs through the city and the city gives it life.


Andreas Lange, AIA is an Architect at BHDP Architecture and member of the Young Architects and Interns Forum and Committee on Design





#12.005 FBC Champion

“We don’t have to build faux-old neighborhoods on greenfield sites.” – RQ


Presenters continuously echoed the sentiment that Cincinnati’s diverse neighborhoods have great character on Saturday morning at the opening of the Form-Based Code (FBC) charette. The Form-Based Code is meant to maintain and enhance these characteristics and give residents a chance to create a sense of place.

Dan Porolek made it known that Cincinnati has neighborhoods that other city’s envy, “You have what they want.” Porolek is Principal of Berkeley, California based Opticos Design, the city’s consultant for the new FBC. He has worked all over the country helping cities with revising zoning code and on urban design projects.

The FBC is intended to build off of the current zoning code, which Porloek likened to trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. The current zoning code has the intentions of FBC with the language and requirements of a conventional use-based code. Instead of regulating use, Charles Graves, Director of the Department of City Planning and Buildings said “The new way is thinking about form of property, form of use, form of buildings and where they’re placed.” The use of a building can contribute to a place, but FBC places importance on the physical built environment, from facade to facade, in order to create great places.


The quote above is from Vice-Mayor Roxanne Qualls during the morning’s introduction presentation. I had the chance to speak briefly to her about FBC and its character:

Bradley Cooper: How does FBC make it easier for architects and developers to produce quality buildings and places rather than “faux-old neighborhoods on greenfield sites?”

Roxanne Qualls: FBC is a tool that allows us to create great places. It is about working with the fundamental character of the place. It takes that character and says that it is the value of that place. How do we make sure that new development is consistent with that character and not imitate necessarily? It is concerned with how we ensure the historic assets that are functional and the character are able to be preserved.

That’s the biggest threat to a lot of historic architecture. It may be historic but because of traditional zoning codes, as well as sometimes building codes, those buildings are not easily adapted to new uses or multiple uses even though originally they may have been built for multiple uses. FBC recognizes that the more flexible you can become in terms of allowing older buildings, particularly in business districts and traditional neighborhoods, to be much more reflective of a multiplicity of uses will allow them to adapt to different markets over time.


BC: What exactly is the form in Form-Based Code addressing?

RQ: Form deals with massing and with positioning, proportions in relation to street and sidewalk. You can get into architectural standards if you want to, but that’s a choice. FBC itself is much more from the perspective of urban design, what it takes when you’re looking at the space from the front facade of public or private buildings and the public right of way, which includes the sidewalk and street. FBC is primarily concerned with that realm, not what occurs behind the facade. FBC will aid the creation of a public realm and civic space that actually allows for all of the valued characteristics of walkability and mixed-use, but also in a way that is economically viable and socially lively.


BC: Are architectural standards being included in Cincinnati’s FBC?

RQ: There has been some discussion, but part of what we’ll have to do is determine whether we really want to get into that, or if it becomes more a matter on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. I’m not too sure that the city-wide code could actually get into architectural standards because depending on the time the particular community was built the standards vary, the typologies vary. If anything what you’re trying to do is get to the basic fundamental good design of street frontages relationship to street the type of flexibility for a mix of uses creating that public realm or semi public realm that actually determines the vitality of a community.


BC: As the code becomes finalized, will different neighborhoods have the option of adopting it?

RQ: City-wide code that sets the standard, every neighborhood would have to apply and calibrate it, because of the particular characteristics of the neighborhood or vision. That’s a voluntary process, just as right now a lot of neighborhoods do adopt plans. The difference from the plans they would have traditionally adopted and this, is the process. Once it goes into place, it is not a guideline but a regulating plan, that’s a distinct difference. If you’ve gone through this process, a neighborhood charette, and you’ve pulled in participants, not only is it reflective of a community’s vision of place, it also says to any developer you build according to this. You have as of right development rights. You agree to build this way.

BC: Do you think FBC gives developers or architects more freedom, as long as they are within its constraints?

RQ: As long as they’re in those constraints, they can build. There will still be some underlying traditional zoning uses, but not a gradation of uses as we see now within retail. This is the form, the place making characteristics, massing, proportions. If you do this investment, the great news for you is that someone can’t come along and devalue your investment by building junk next to you. If you’re going to do something that is high quality you also want to have a predictable public realm so that you don’t have a package liquor store going in next to you.


BC: Will FBC make the city a more desirable place to live, and continue to bring more people back into the city to live?

RQ: There is interest in general from people across the country moving back into urban centers and Cincinnati itself has experienced it. What we know is that empty nesters, and Gen X and Gen Y, have a very strong preference for living in urban centers and in close proximity to the urban core. Because of what those traditional neighborhoods offer, our biggest challenge beyond just developing a FBC and reinforcing character and all that stuff is actually to work with public transportation agencies because another preferred lifestyle choice is that these neighborhoods are transit friendly and that people have choice in transportation options as well as housing and neighborhood options.




The new form-based code should offer guidelines, within which the built environment will perform. It says not what you look like or sound like, but how you should act, which is to say be a productive member of the built environment and enhance the character of a place. The sentiment throughout the day was that Cincinnati has some great places. The hope would be that the FBC helps invigorate development of existing buildings, streets, and other infrastructure to create greater places.


Special thanks to Roxanne Qualls.