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NBBJ launches Design Performance Group

NBBJ, a global architecture and design firm, announced in April the creation of its Design Performance Group, which works with clients to bring greater transparency and performance to their buildings, occupants and the environment. As part of this expansion, leading building physicist Peter Alspach joins NBBJ to lead the group along with environmental futurist Margaret Montgomery and computational expert Nate Holland.

The need to take building performance further is based on the fact humans spend more than 90% of their lives indoors, often in environments that contain more pollutants than in nature. Yet due to stasis within the building industry, building owners and users have little to no knowledge of the impact those buildings have on their health, the performance of organizations, or the planet.

As the wider tech transformation in the property industry takes root, buildings can transform from the last “black boxes” of the digital age  — from which little information about their performance and impact can be obtained — to an “open source” platform that is readily knowable and adaptable. The data provided by this approach – often in the form of constant feedback loops – can be analyzed and then harnessed to better link design with improvements in cognitive function, productivity and health.

“Architects have long relied on intuition to create buildings that inspire, delight and provoke,” said NBBJ Managing Partner Steve McConnell, FAIA. “The opportunity for greater relevance lies at the intersection of creative design thinking and technological advancement, where buildings can be measured, adjustable and responsive. Our Design Performance Group brings this future vision to life today, raising the bar by daring us to expect more from our buildings and how they impact our lives for the better.”

The Design Performance Group will strengthen NBBJ’s focus on solutions that improve the health of building occupants and the environment simultaneously. These include enhancing interior comfort and daylight access, and reducing water use and carbon emissions. The group will explore solutions to these pressing issues using predictive analytics, machine learning, advanced building engineering, computational tools and applied social and neuroscience research.

“Academic research continues to show strong links between the built environment and human health,” said Peter Alspach, NBBJ’s Director of Design Performance. “We also know that strategies that are good for people are also good for the planet. Design performance focuses on the interconnectivity between human and environmental health, and their subsequent impact on client’s operational performance. Together with our colleagues across the firm, we will equip clients with new ways to improve performance through design and better understand the upfront causality during the design process.”

Utilizing innovative technologies to improve human experience has long been a hallmark of NBBJ’s work. For example, the firm recently used computational tools to optimize complex glazing geometry saving a leading tech client in Seattle $1.5 million in manufacturing costs; applied data analytics to enable Renown Health in Nevada to serve more patients without expanding its real estate footprint; and developed new design tools that ensure every employee at the headquarters of Chinese tech giant Alibaba is within a 60-second walk from outdoor green space.

The creation of NBBJ’s Design Performance Group builds upon other initiatives that connect design to organizational and environmental impact, including the firm’s 2030 Commitment to designing carbon-neutral buildings, the formation of a health research partnership with the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments, NBBJ’s Applied Research Fellowship program — now in its fifth year— and the incubation of virtual reality productivity company Visual Vocal.