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Challenges, Opportunities and Solutions in Structural Engineering and Construction Ghafoori (ed.

.) 2010 Taylor & Francis Group, London, ISBN 978-0-415-56809-8

Structural sustainability of high performance buildings

M.M. Ali & P.G. Dimick
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

ABSTRACT: Building sustainability is a growing field and is one of the means of addressing global warming. Structural design can have a significant impact on the overall sustainability of a building. The sustainability of a structure can be considered with respect to embodied energy of structural materials, durability, design flexibility, optimality, and deconstruction, to name a few. Current structural practice has just begun to address these issues. Tall buildings have unique sustainable principles that warrant a special focus. This review paper will discuss how structure can be a catalyst for the design of high performance or sustainable buildings. 1 INTRODUCTION 2 CURRENT SUSTAINABILITY STANDARDS

Since the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future in 1989, the building industry has gradually become more focused on developing and implementing principles of sustainable design (WCED 1989). The movement toward sustainability has led to the concept of high performance buildings. A high performance building is one that achieves the peak efficiency of performance and functions while meeting the optimality criteria for green design. A high performance building requires each discipline to design for maximum sustainability. The purpose of this paper is to address the principles of sustainable design as it pertains to structural engineering. The sustainability of structural systems can be evaluated and compared through life-cycle assessments (LCA), which take into consideration the embodied energy and carbon of the production, transportation, construction and deconstruction of the systems, as well as the systems effect on the operational energy of a building (Fig. 1). Current standards for sustainable design in the U.S. promote the reduction of embodied energy through the principles of recycling, reuse, and emphasis on regional materials. Engineers can also reduce the embodied energy of a structural system by implementing principles of material reduction (without compromising safety or durability), flexible design, and designing for deconstruction. The design of tall buildings is more complex and has unique sustainable design principles. As such, the paper is a review of structural sustainability literature and will have a special focus on the design of high performance tall buildings.

The U.S. Green Building Council established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System to promote sustainable design. LEED has focused primarily on creating six rating criteria which are: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor air quality, and innovation and design/build process. Each project is evaluated according to the rating criteria, and credits are awarded for requirements met within each criterion. The total of awarded credits determines the overall building rating, which ranges from regular certification to silver, gold, or platinum ratings.


Credits for structural engineers

Currently, there is no explicit reference in the LEED rating system to structural systems as a determinant for achieving sustainability. However, structural engineers can use the materials and resources criterion of the LEED rating system to assist project teams in earning credits for their project. Table 1 outlines the LEED categories that structural engineers influence in their material specifications. Despite the fact that these categories refer to the summation of all building materials, structural materials are still a significant percentage of the total, and therefore can make a meaningful impact. Other credits are available in the materials and resources criterion for building reuse, use of rapidly renewable materials, and use of certified wood. The building reuse category refers to major renovation projects. Structural engineers can assist in


project site) before specifying their materials in order to meet LEED requirements. It is possible that a production plant located just outside of the prescribed regional area could be more efficient in operations than a regional production plant. This increased efficiency could conceivably offset the savings in transportation energy and carbon emissions associated with local production.


Figure 1.

Life-cycle assessment model for buildings.

Table 1. Categories of the LEED Materials and Resources criterion applicable to structural materials. Category Materials Reuse Recycled Content Regional Materials Percentage used (%)* 5% 10% 10% 20% 10% 20% Credits 1 2 1 2 1 2

The structural material as a rule must be specified before the engineer can begin to implement sustainable principles promoted by the LEED rating system. Table 2 lists the embodied energy and carbon of some common building materials. Depending on the climate, location, and size of the project, certain structural materials may be more sustainable than others. Life-cycle assessment has been generally accepted within the environmental research community as the only legitimate basis on which to compare alternative materials (Cole 1999). Therefore, engineers must understand the effects their choice of structural material will have on energy consumption, not only in terms of production, transportation, and installation, but also during the operation and deconstruction of a building. 3.1 Comparing the sustainability of materials

* Of the total value of materials on the project, based on cost.

this category by finding structural solutions that reuse 75% of existing structure (USGBC 2007). 2.2 Potential conflicts in the LEED rating system

Several studies have been performed to compare the sustainability of structural materials. One such study evaluated the net carbon emissions during material production and building construction of comparable buildings types (Fig. 2). The study concluded that reinforced concrete and structural steel buildings require similar amounts of energy and result in similar levels of CO2 emissions, both being much more than the equivalent values for wood buildings. However,
Table 2. Embodied energy and embodied carbon of some common building materials (Compiled from Buchanan & Honey 1994; Canadian Architect 2007; Hammond & Jones 2006). Material Cement Concrete block Concrete (30 MPa) Concrete precast Steel Steel (recycled) Lumber Plywood Aluminum Aluminum (recycled) Glass Unit ton kg kg kg kg kg kg kg kg kg kg MJ/unit 8980 0.94 1.3 2.0 8.9 32 2.5 10.4 227 8.1 15.9 C/unit 352 0.33 168 138 1.38 0.48 0.75 8.53 0.77

It should be noted, however, that maximizing the amount of LEED credits does not necessarily guarantee that sustainability is mutually maximized. Since maximized sustainability is the goal of high performance buildings, structural engineers need to be wary of a narrow focus on obtaining LEED credits. Instead, LCA should dictate the choice of material. As such, reused materials should typically be preferred over recycled or regional materials, and recycled materials should typically be preferred over regional materials, even if this results in missing LEED credits in those respective categories. In addition, engineers should investigate the efficiency of regional material production (defined by the USGBC as materials harvested and manufactured within 500 miles of the


Figure 2. Net carbon emissions resulting from construction of buildings using different structural materials (Buchanan & Honey 1994). Note: Residential buildings of timber construction shown above are classified in terms of impact: (a) maximum (b) average (c) minimum.

it acknowledged that because of the adverse effects of deforestation, such wood must come from plantation forests, and therefore wood consumption would be limited due to finite areas of land available for planting (Buchanan & Honey 1994). Another study evaluated energy and carbon emissions during the construction phase only of a selection of alternative wood, steel, and concrete structural building assemblies (Cole 1999). The purpose of the study was to show the contribution of worker transportation to the total energy and greenhouse gas emissions of the construction phase of a building. The study stated that this contribution was typically ignored as part of an environmental audit of industrial processes and therefore resulted in underestimating the total embodied energy and carbon of construction. The study concluded that the transportation of workers to and from the building site represents the largest proportion of construction energy use for many structural assemblies and, when included in the analysis, makes construction a much larger proportion of their initial embodied energy than is currently assumed (Cole 1999). Reduction of worker transportation is one of the sustainable benefits of short construction times. The study showed that concrete construction resulted in much higher levels of construction energy consumption and carbon emissions when compared to wood and steel (Fig. 3). It should be noted, however, that the efficiency of concrete construction is constantly improving, whereas many of the construction methods for steel and wood frame buildings have remained relatively static for years. Improvements have been made

Figure 3. Top: Average Construction Energy for Wood, Steel and Concrete Assemblies; Bottom: Average Construction Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Wood, Steel and Concrete As-semblies (Cole 1999).

in the concrete industries which significantly reduce construction time and material usage. This is evident in the recent increase of tall buildings using concrete structural systems. Another study estimated the embodied energy of the material production, construction, and operation (based on a 50 year life-span) phases of two comparable office buildings in China (one of reinforced concrete construction and one of structural steel construction). The study showed that during the material production and building construction phases the steel building required approximately 75% of the energy of the concrete building. However, when the operational energy was added, the steel building required approximately 107% of the energy of the concrete building (Xing et al. 2007). Since the total energy consumptions are relatively similar, the choice between steel and concrete will typically depend on the climate (which affects the operational energy) and the estimated impacts of deconstruction. 3.2 Concrete and steel production

The movement toward sustainability has encouraged materials engineers to learn how to use raw resources more efficiently, and how to use the byproducts of materials processing to improve materials. Production


efficiency and quality continues to progress via technological advancements in both concrete and steel production. The production of the key binding element of concrete, cement, accounts for 5% of global humanderived carbon dioxide emissions. (Kendall et al. 2007). A major threat to the sustainability of concrete is the diminishing supply of limestone in key regions, and the shortage of aggregate materials in major metropolitan areas. Such observations have led to innovations in concrete mix production. Since limestone cement production results in large amounts of carbon emissions, concrete producers would want to reduce the amount of limestone cement required per unit of concrete. Studies show that potential supplementary cementitious materials such as fly ash, slag, silica fume, natural pozzolans, rice-husk ash, wood ash, and agricultural-products ash are available for up to 70% replacement of portland cement (Naik 2008). Many of these would otherwise be going to landfill, and therefore their use in cement production would have the two-fold benefit of reduced carbon emissions and reduction of landfill waste. Although existing concrete cannot be recycled into new structural members, it can be crushed and recycled into new non-structural concrete elements (Ali & Greenwell 1998). Processing of previously refined (from recycled sources) steel uses approximately 28% of the energy required to process steel from virgin resources. The ease of recycling and reusing steel generally makes steel an advantageous construction material, especially for deconstruction. Advancements in steel production are higher strength, improved corrosion resistance, improved heat resistance, high efficient electrical steel, and high deformability. In addition, the refining process can become more efficient and less wasteful through processes that recycle or reuse slag emissions (Matsumiya 2005).

increases the sustainability of durable structural systems. Durable structures will more than likely house multiple users in their lifespan. Therefore, structural systems should be flexible enough to facilitate these changes with little to no structural modifications. Design strategies that enhance flexibility are open floor plans and planning for future additions. An open floor plan will employ removable partitions and avoid bearing walls. The ability to reconfigure wall partitions without need for structural retrofitting will facilitate structural reuse during user changes. For example, floor loads are prescribed so that any portion of the floor plan can be used as a corridor or an office space. Planning for future additions is not necessarily more sustainable for horizontal expansion, but it is for vertical expansion. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Chicago was designed for future vertical expansion (currently under construction). Planning for expansion and facilitating this expansion through structural design can reduce energy usage associated with demolition, deconstruction, and renovation. 4.2 Structural optimization

Dramatic increases in digital computing power in the last 15 years, have changed the landscape of structural optimization in professional practice. Despite the availability of commercial optimization products, and the potential savings associated with using them, they are remarkably underutilized by industry . . . Even beyond the cost argument, the savings in natural resources through the use of optimization could be immense (Vanderplaats 2006). This places structural optimization as a key design component of high performance buildings. Practical optimization in industry has traditionally involved the trial and error of alternative options of structural systems. However, this trial and error method can be enhanced through optimization programs. There are several commercial products available today to solve design problems of remarkable size 4 STRUCTURAL SYSTEMS and complexity (Vanderplaats 2006). These products incorporate sophisticated optimization algorithms Structural systems of high performance buildings which use thousands of design variables and provide focus on the 3 Rs of waste hierarchyreduce, reuse, a user friendly interface so that the user does not and recycle (Garbacik 2008). Therefore, the most need to be an expert in optimization theory in order sustainable structural systems are those that are designed to use it (Vanderplaats 2006). for durability and flexibility, optimized for minimum material usage, and designed for deconstruction. 4.3 Deconstruction 4.1 Structural durability and design flexibility Deconstruction is defined as the process of taking a building apart into its components in such a way that they can be more readily reused or recycled (Edmonds & Gorgolewski 2008). It involves energy consumption, and also significant potential benefits in terms of recyclable and reusable building materials. In a sense, buildings being deconstructed should be viewed as a supply store for future usable

Durable structural systems extend the usable life of a building and therefore reduce energy and carbon emissions by reducing total industry construction. For example, a structural system that lasts 100 years could theoretically be twice as sustainable as a comparable system that lasts only 50 years. Design flexibility


building materials. The following recommendations will not only reduce the energy demand during deconstruction, but also increase the benefits (Edmonds & Gorgolewski 2008): Use durable components that can be reused after deconstruction Design for deconstruction; issue a deconstruction plan for the building Use simple structural grids and clear support lines Use prefabricated components where possible Use reversible connections (i.e. mechanical bolts) Avoid irreversible processes (i.e. welds) Unlike a monolithic concrete structure, precast as well as any modular structural assembly should be considered where possible. The deconstruction of tall buildings is a problem that has not been fully investigated and much research is needed in this area. 5 TALL BUILDINGS

Armstrong 2008). Building square footage efficiency is determined by the ratio of Net Rentable Area (NRA) to Gross Floor Area (GFA). The NRA is the leasable amount of floor area remaining after the service core area (SCA) is subtracted from the GFA (NRA = GFASCA). As a building becomes taller, the area required for the service core increases due to the increased demands of elevator, mechanical, and electrical services and therefore the NRA to GFA ratio decreases (Fig. 4). When applicable, structural engineers should optimize the NRA/GRA ratios of structural cores for maximum NRA (Trabucco 2008) for steel and concrete buildings. 5.3 Floor-to-floor heights

The efficiency and ingenuity of tall buildings is crucial because they are massive consumers of energy and emitters of greenhouse gases. Choosing an appropriate structural system, service core, and minimizing floorto-floor heights are measures for structural engineers to increase sustainability and design quality of high performance, tall buildings. 5.1 Structural systems

Floor framing elements such as beams and trusses require considerable structural depth and increase the floor-to-floor height required to maintain minimum headroom needed for functionality. New materials such as carbon nanotubes (CNT) that provide much more strength and stiffness than conventional structural materials can potentially reduce the floor-to-floor height resulting in reduced building height. For tall buildings, this reduction means considerable savings in material in the lateral force-resisting structural and vertical cladding systems. It also results in reduced building volume and hence considerable reduction in the operational cost of heating and cooling the indoor air.

Height-based classification of tall building structural systems was first proposed by Fazlur Khan in 1969 (Ali 2001). Structural systems of tall buildings can be further classified into two broad categories: exterior and interior structures (Ali & Moon 2001). This classification is based on the distribution of the components of the primary lateral load-resisting system over the building. If a majority of the lateral loads are resisted by the perimeter of the structure, a system is categorized as an exterior structure. Like-wise a system is categorized as an interior structure if a majority of the lateral loads are resisted in the interior of the building. It is quite desirable to concentrate as much lateral load resisting system components as possible on the perimeter of tall buildings to increase their structural depth and, in turn, their resistance to lateral loads. However, interior structures which utilize the core have an architectural advantage in that they create less obstructive faade systems (Ali & Moon 2007). 5.2 Service cores

The service core is a key element of the design of high-performance, tall buildings. In general, the more time spent on the core design, the more efficient and sustainable the building can be (Ali &

Figure 4. Analysis of the NRA/GFA of actual office buildings (Adapted from Trabucco 2008).



Case study: Swiss Re Tower

The 590-foot (180-meter) tall Swiss Re Tower in London by Foster and Partners is considered by many to be among the most sustainable buildings constructed in recent times and has become a landmark in the city. The building, in particular, used sustainable structural principles. The structural frame is an exterior structure called diagrid, which is a grid of interlocking steel elements without vertical columns. The smooth tapered shape of the building also diminishes demands on the load-bearing structure, as well as the danger of strong downward winds in the area around the building. The office spaces in the building are arranged around a central core with elevators, side rooms, and fire escapes. The net-like steel construction of the load-bearing structure lies directly behind the glass facade and allows support-free spaces right up to the core (Ali & Armstrong 2007). Unlike conventional tall buildings in which the central core provides the necessary lateral structural stability, the Swiss Res core is required to act only as a load-bearing element and is free from diagonal bracing, producing more flexible floor plates (Foster 2005). In-depth case study research is necessary to illustrate the concepts analytically. 6 CONCLUSION

The design of high performance buildings must aim for choosing the structural system that minimizes lifecycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission so structural sustainability can qualify for LEED credits. Designers should consider: 1. Preference for reused over recycled and regional materials and recycled over regional materials; 2. structural systems contribution to operational energy savings of the building; 3. flexibility of structural planning; 4. durability and reusability of components; and 5. Adaptive reuse and deconstruction. Evidence-based research is needed on carbon dioxide emission and energy use in the whole process chain, LCA of building types and uses, and reduced energy consumption during construction and deconstruction phases. A structure should not be treated as a neutral frame dominated by other physical systems. If structural sustainability criteria are consciously accounted for, structure can again become a driving force in future buildings of character. REFERENCES
Ali, M.M. & Armstrong, P.J. 2008. Overview of sustainable design factors in high-rise buildings. Proc. CTBUH 8th World Congress, Dubai, UAE, 35 March: 282294.

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