Berkeley Lab Research News

Advanced Building Design Software  Released in Beta

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By Allan Chen,

February 25, 1998

BERKELEY, CA -- The U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has released a beta version of the Building Design Advisor (BDA), an advanced, Windows-based decision-making tool intended to help architects and engineers design more energy-efficient, economic, and comfortable buildings. 

Studies suggest that building designers who use building simulation tools can reduce the energy use of a new building by 20 percent on average compared to buildings designed without these tools.

"The design of buildings today requires a series of complex decisions involving many performance considerations, such as comfort, energy requirements, code compliance, environmental impact, aesthetic appeal, etc.," says Konstantinos Papamichael, a scientist in the Environmental Energy Technology Division's Building Technologies Program, and BDA's principal developer. 

"There are a number of software simulation tools to help estimate the performance of proposed buildings with respect to various performance aspects, such as energy and environmental impact," he adds. "However, most of these tools were developed by researchers for research purposes and are not easy to use. They take months to learn and even then, require a significant amount of time to prepare the input in terms of keywords and numbers structured in particular formats. Moreover, they provide their output in the form of alphanumeric tables that are hard to read and interpret.” 

Another problem with the use of the available simulation tools is the incompatibility in how they represent the elements of a building. "A lighting simulation program," says Papamichael, "usually represents walls as polygons with information about placement and orientation, texture, light reflectance, etc. A heating/cooling simulation program usually models walls as thermal barriers with information about heat transfer coefficients, thermal capacities, etc."

The BDA software addresses both of these problems. Building designers benefit from easy, quick, integrated use of multiple simulation tools using a single, object-oriented representation of the building and its context. This representation is mapped onto those of the various tools linked to it. While the designer draws the building using an editor similar to those in computer-assisted design (CAD) software, the BDA automatically prepares the required input to all simulation tools linked to it, supplying “smart” default values for any required information that may have not been addressed by the designer. 

Through a specialized graphical user interface, designers can quickly review and edit the specifications of any building component or system (spaces, walls windows, lighting, cooling and heating equipment, etc.) and use any of the available parameters as a criterion for decision-making. Most important, designers can integrate the output of all simulation tools and compare multiple alternative designs with respect to multiple performance criteria. 

"The Decision Desktop displays information like illumination level and energy use for each alternative in the form of a visual spreadsheet. Using the Desktop, the designer can compare alternative designs side by side with respect to various performance considerations," says Papamichael. 

The Release 1.0 version of the BDA is linked to a Schematic Graphic Editor, a daylight simulation tool, and an energy simulation tool. Future releases of the BDA will be linked to additional simulation tools, including DOE-2, the de facto standard for building energy analyses, RADIANCE, a sophisticated day/lighting simulation program with photo-accurate rendering capabilities, and COMIS, a software tool for modeling airflow and indoor air quality.

"The initial release of the BDA is linked to a few software tools, but there is no intrinsic limitation on which and how many tools can be connected," says Papamichael. "We hope that this initial release will excite the building design industry and initiate collaborations for the development of links to additional tools and databases, as well as for the expansion and enhancement of BDA’s main features and capabilities."

"Farther in the future, we hope to collaborate with both commercial and academic institutions to use BDA’s capabilities for concurrent, multi-user building design over the Internet. We should be able to distribute both the data and computational processes over local and wide area networks, and add videoconferencing and whiteboard capabilities," he adds.

More than 350 parties in the building industry, utilities and academic institutions have already expressed interest in reviewing the BDA. Interested users can download a beta version of the BDA, make comments and suggestions, and report bugs at

The BDA research and development efforts are supported by the California Institute for Energy Efficiency (CIEE), a research unit of the University of California, and by the Office of Building Technology, State and Community Programs, Office of Building Systems of the Department of Energy. 

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified research and is managed by the University of California. 

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