Part VI: Lean, Mean and Green – The Series

On Being Mean (Uh, I mean Passionate)

Once you start thinking about designing projects in such a way as to minimize materials and resources, then you can start thinking about being tough on the issues that will make a difference.  Once all the ‘fat’ is stripped from the design and construction, you are left with what matters the most.  Life safety and code compliance, the expression of the building, and systems that make it work.

The design team has great influence on all three of these factors.  They all work together to make a building that is safe, makes a visual statement and operates as efficiently (and effectively) as possible.  It takes a certain dedication to stay focused on the desired results, which were documented in the program of the project.

Of course, there are ways to simply meet the requirements.  But, one of the things we all need to keep in mind is that ‘meeting goal’ is not what we want engraved on our headstone.  So balancing ‘tried and true’ methods, along with some creative thinking, and breaking some bit of new ground on every project helps the whole industry move forward.

Don’t think you have to design a detail a certain way just ‘because that’s how we have always done it’.  Keep looking for ways to make the detail less complicated, or require less materials, or work better.  Pushing the edge takes a certain ‘mean streak’ from time to time, and that’s where breakthroughs are made.  Not following the collective thoughts of the group sometimes brings us new ways of viewing old problems, and new solutions to those problems that may not have been discovered otherwise.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of going beyond the symptom to fully understand the real problem.  For instance, sometimes we work really hard to design the building HVAC systems to be as efficient as possible, when we really need to take a hard look at the envelope to ensure it is as effective as it can be before we attack the HVAC.  Looking for breaks in the insulation, leaks in vapor barriers and keeping the elements out before they become a problem will likely yield better results.

Then, looking at the big picture, pick the critical elements on the project that need to be the best they can be, spending the time, effort and resources to make them right.  Then simply allow the rest to be ‘baseline’ or ‘industry standard’.  By spending the effort in the right places, we can impact the most important parts of the project. And let the rest be what it needs to be.

So, don’t be afraid to show your ‘mean streak’ when it needs to be expressed, and when it will benefit the project or team.  Then, allow the rest of your time to simply fall into place.  You’ll need it to start thinking about the next installment of this blog:  Green Economics.