What is the impact of structural system choice on lifecycle assessment and embodied carbon emissions?




Submitted by:  Thomas Gibbons

Firm Name: Eskew + Dumez + Ripple

ASHRAE Climate Zone: 1A

Building/Space Type:

  • Office

Who performed the simulation analysis?  

  • Architect - Design Staff

What tools were used for the simulation analysis? 

  • Autodesk Insight 360

What phase of the project was analysis conducted?  

  • Schematic Design

What are the primary inputs of the analysis?  Structural systems

What are the primary outputs of the analysis?  LB CO2 released per SF construction


List the investigations questions that drove your analysis process.

As parking needs change, what are the CO2-specific implications between building a garage, demolishing it and building office space in its place versus building a garage that could work structurally for parking and then be converted to office? Further analysis was done on the impacts of building a "light" precast garage that would be demolished (partially or fully) versus a "heavy" precast garage that could be converted into future office space.

How was simulation integrated into the overall design process?


How did you set up the simulation analysis and workflow?

The experiment was done in Revit. The structural systems were generally modeled based on sketches from the design team and structural engineers. The model was updated as questions changed ("light" versus "heavy" precast versus cast-in-place, etc).

How did you visualize the results to the design team? What was successful about the graphics that you used to communicate the data?

Simplifying greenhouse gas emissions data can be a challenge. Certain software report out simplified graphics however even these are often incomprehensible to the untrained. The graphics simplified the data in a way that was digestible and easy to understand for a discerning owner.

Most importantly, what did you learn from the investigation?  How did simulation and its outputs influence the design of the project?

This analysis is not based on operational energy modeling / analysis however we as architects hope that over time the use of renewables for delivered-energy as well as onsite renewables for site energy will make design decisions related directly to embodied energy more important. Such analyses also help us look at future tradeoffs of renovation versus demolition as it pertains to the impact of a carbon tax.