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Expert Column: Going Green

Oct 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jon Melchin

Architects and designers need help from the AV community to keep buildings sustainable.


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The goal of green AV installations, such as this NEC LCD4010 flatpanel installed as an interactive building directory system, is to focus on energy efficiency, minimizing pollution, and reducing overall environmental impact.

The installation of AV and presentation technologies in virtually every meeting, learning, or work space has fueled the convergence of technology and design. Architects are embracing these technologies because they impact the sustainability and performance of a building. To an architect, manufacturers of audiovisual products are considered to be a building-product manufacturer (a BPM) not an AV company. As a BPM, the products you provide are integral to the life cycle of a building, and they can benefit the health, safety, welfare, and productivity of a building's occupants.

The design community is very busy these days. Currently, there are 80 million buildings in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with plans to construct another 38 million by 2010. This increase in new builds has validated the rise of green-building initiatives. The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a national standard that emphasizes that high-performance building design should focus on energy efficiency, minimizing pollution, and reducing overall environmental impact. Additional goals are to produce buildings that require less maintenance, reduce short-term and long-term costs, promote health among occupants, and improve worker satisfaction. There is also a directive to include visual or cultural aspects designed to further enrich the community.

The green-building trend is rapidly growing, and it is projected to grow 5 percent to 10 percent, creating a $60-billion market by 2010. LEED awards points toward certification in various categories that save money, are environmentally conscious, or benefit the life cycle of a building.

AV technologies can contribute to that effort. Energy conservation is one category — plasma screens and LCD panels are more energy efficient than old CRT-based devices. This trickles down to smaller HVAC requirements that require less space. These flatscreens mounted on walls save space as well. Because of the incandescent brightness of plasmas and LCDs, they can be effectively installed in spaces where natural, abundant light is being designed into public areas.

LEED has a category for innovative design, in which many cutting-edge audiovisual products could qualify. In the materials and resources category, for instance, points are given for products that are made with recycled content or are manufactured using lead-free processing practices. Under the same category, points are awarded for local or regional materials — products that are manufactured local to the construction site, thereby reducing the environmental impact resulting from their transportation while also supporting the local economy.

Certainly, videoconferencing systems and distance-learning technologies allowing people to meet and learn without having to travel can qualify for points. Audiovisual technologies are as vital as lighting, plumbing, HVAC, and other facility services in today's new builds, and now, savvy designers have another avenue to explore when they are looking for green products. The demand for green products will continue to grow in the years to come. In fact, some cities have mandated that all new builds must be LEED-certified.

SUSTAINABLE STRATEGY

There are four levels of LEED certification: Minimum, or LEED, certification requires 26 points; Silver requires 33 points; Gold requires 39 points; and Platinum requires 52 points. When the decision is made between the client and architect to choose a new facility to be LEED-certified, it is often determined early on in the programming stage of the design. This is when the design or green team holds its initial meetings with the client to address goals and needs for the project. Because more than half of LEED credits can be obtained in early design phases, sustainable strategies should not be an afterthought — they need to be an integral part of the process.

Communication and cooperation between architects, interior designers, engineers, AV consultants, and the client need to be focused and committed to LEED throughout the various design phases — from conception to completion. There needs to be an open dialogue between all parties involved so that ideas are generated and solutions provided.

There can be frequent obstructions to a project's design cycle — legal issues, local ordinances, and building code requirements, for instance, all take time to be addressed, and this can delay the process of the design. A budget also needs to be established and adhered to. Architects, therefore, need AV designers to stay the course and provide reliable support as the project makes its way through the various stages. Developing a technology strategy early on is important, because once the walls go up, AV integration can be difficult and more expensive, affecting the budget and causing an interruption of other interior work. Once the building is completed, architects need to rely on the AV designer for any aspect of the system that requires troubleshooting, redesign, or upgrades due to changes in application requirements.

EDUCATION EQUALS CREDIBILITY

In 2004, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) expanded MasterFormat, a large-project manual that provides a master list of titles and numbers for organizing information about construction requirements, products, and activities, from 16 divisions to 49. This expansion addresses the changes in construction methods and materials and provides more information on the various products within each division. Many AV technologies, for example, were previously lumped into Division 16 — the “electrical” category. Now, in the new expanded format, they are prominently positioned in a separate division — No. 27, the “communications” category. This makes it easier for designers to locate information critical to understanding and executing their work.

Architects thrive on product knowledge. According to a McGraw-Hill survey from 2005, 86 percent of architects say that when they are looking for products to specify, getting accurate, relevant, and current information is what influences them the most. Recommended uses and application of products, as well as guide specifications, are also important to designers.

Therefore, education is a powerful way to establish relationships within the design community. By becoming an educator through organizations such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and CSI, an AV professional can provide educational opportunities to establish solid credibility and influence specification.

Developing relationships through education is also a powerful marketing tool. Successful educational experiences come from the ability to communicate industry expertise and a willingness to make it available as a design and specification resource. Keeping designers updated, educated, and informed is the best way to get specified at the ground level and stay there.

DESIGNING THE SPACE

In the design process, most architects strive to create intelligent spaces where technology is accessible, but hidden from view. They emphasize the importance of a clutter-free environment in a well-designed business or learning space. There are products such as wall, floor, and table boxes that hide AV cabling and components effectively. These products, in the eyes of the designer, are integral to the structural scope of a project.

AV technologies are often used in conjunction with furniture, and some furniture manufacturers offer desks and tables with electronic connectivity components built in. This “smart” furniture might have one or many locations in which to connect IT, AV, data, and power. The designers specify products with convenience and aesthetics in mind. They appreciate aesthetically pleasing, durable, well-made products because the products they specify are a reflection of the quality of their work. There can be architectural challenges in the layout of AV systems because of structural or decorative elements within the space. Designers can offer ideas for solutions that might lead to the creation of new, innovative solutions and spawn completely new product lines. Problems, obstructions, and system layout disruptions can create tremendous opportunities for the AV professional.

To be successful in marketing to the design community, there should be an understanding of what the design professionals do, and the tools they need to do it effectively. As the integration of technology in building design increases, it is important to develop a strategy to bring technology to the attention of designers. Listening to their needs and responding with solutions and strategic objectives as an ally can make an AV vendor a design partner. Maximizing this relationship can pay off significantly with products and systems being specified appropriately and successfully.


Jon Melchin, CSI, is the architectural development manager for FSR, a cable management and AV integration product manufacturing company in West Paterson, N.J. He works exclusively in support of architects, engineers, and interior designers nationally, facilitating the specification of FSR products in the construction market. Email him at jmelchin@fsrinc.com.



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