Energy simulation platform supporting building design and management

From Firenze University Press Journal: TECHNE

University of Florence
4 min readNov 16, 2023

Giacomo Chiesa, Dipartimento di Architettura e Design, Politecnico di Torino

Francesca Fasano, Dipartimento di Architettura e Design, Politecnico di Torino

Paolo Grasso, Dipartimento di Architettura e Design, Politecnico di Torino

The enabling role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in building management and design is still a complex research field with nu-merous open challenges. On the one hand, the risk of extinction of typical architectural figures (Celanto, 2007) by replacing the bio-cultural dimension of building design and management (Gi-rardet, 2008) with technocratic-driven approaches, thus losing the needed correlation with the cultural and sen-timental aspects of the living space (Ghirri, 2021), producing un-liveable CAD-mass-produced spaces (Sennett, 2008) that depreciate like cars (Droege, 2006). On the other hand, the risk of reducing digital-driven innovations to simple substitutes for traditional in-struments. As highlighted by Oxman (Oxman 2006), the application of digi-tal design strategies started with a simple substitution of manual operations with digital devices, and was followed by a growing consciousness of the potential offered by computer-aided tools, underscoring the simple possibility of using CADs as drafting ma-chines. The architectural technology performance-driven approach may be adapted to support the informed use of innovative tools to underpin advanced functionalities and support design and operation analyses, and to optimise various solutions (Chiesa, 2020). This performance-based approach, stand-ardised into the need-performance methodology — see (Cavaglià et al., 1975) and UNI standards — has already been supported since the mid-20thcentury by Giuseppe Ciribini (Bosia, 2013), taking into account expert systems (Ciribini, 1968) and the Wiener cybernetic approach (Wiener, 1988).Nevertheless, the performative design vision is now envisaging a new era, as underlined by several researchers (de Wilde, 2018; Esposito and Bosi, 2021). New advanced potentialities are emerging thanks to the progres-sive adoption of a coding-based methodology, which allows real-time analysis by combining multiple data sources and massive data production via IoT, Cloud monitoring and mas-sive simulation approaches (Chiesa et al., 2019; Besuievsky et al., 2021). This new dimension requires a multi-disciplinary approach to support the design process with new instruments, whose potentialities do not substitute the primary role of the architects. These tools are, nowadays, managed by interoperable platforms that manage multidata sources and interrelate different coding languages, supporting co-simulations and forecasting thanks to a co-design and co-building man-agement vision (Shahinmoghadam, Natephra and Motamedi, 2021). They focus on building energy behaviours, despite the many building dynamic energy simulation software available, which allow to quantify both energy and comfort impact of different design choices.Their use requires specific knowledge that limits their applicability in the de-sign action. Among them, EnergyPlus is one of the most widely used software (Brackney et al., 2018), including numerous graphical interfaces, such as OpenStudio, DesignBuilder and Ladybug Tools. These graphical CAD/BIM front-end interfaces are essential to create an initial building model that integrates geometry, and to actuate ge-ometry changes (e.g. removing a wall or changing materials). At the same time, the tool compiles in the back-end (functions hidden to the user) the EnergyPlus input files (IDF) that are highly specialised (ASCII files). How-ever, these tools show high limits in their parametric usability to support design choices. Additionally, without specific coding development, they do not allow to compare monitored and simulated building behaviours (per-formance gap), which is necessary to help professionals understand building operational problems.There is also an increasing demand for coding-based tools that automatically explore EnergyPlus model instances without manually changing model inputs via CAD/BIM interfaces. The main advantages of coding tools are: easier (and massive) access to minor model modification for parametric analysis testing of complex design and operational scenarios; use of emerging programming languages (e.g. Python), allowing to better connect IT devel-opers to the architectural scene; the flexibility to test new methodological procedures (e.g. integrating machine learning, neural networks, surrogate modelling); easy development of per-sonalised key performance indicators (KPIs) for environmental-techno-logical design; and integration with IoT monitoring systems (Internet of Things). Among the existing projects, it is possible to mention: Eppy, an IDF editing library, Geomeppy, BESOS, and JEPlus. Nevertheless, these tools require advanced knowledge of spe-cific coding languages and the com-plex structure of EnergyPlus input files. Conversely, the tool proposed in this paper supports these advantages without needing the architect to know IT languages or the EnergyPlus input structure.This paper introduces a new platform supporting building design and operational management choices. It enables designers to prefigure and study the potential impact of design and build-ing management decisions on energy and comfort indicators to check the efficiency of several scenarios. The authors developed this tool thanks to two actions funded by two EU H2020 projects. The first developing action (“DYCE”) refers to the theoretical definition of the tool’s architecture, and jointly supports the development of some usage scenarios related to sensitivity analyses and model calibration, also defining a performance gap scenario by comparing standard building uses — e.g. EN 16798–1 — with monitored actual behaviours. The second developing action (“PRE”) introduces new design potentialities, including other low-energy technologies and bioclimatic design key performance in-dicators to support professionals in analysing the climate resilience of design and operational scenarios, and the local applicability of passive heating and cooling solutions. The latter activity enhances the tool with new predictive usage scenarios to optimise actuators in the buildings by suggesting to the users the configurations of active enve-lope systems (e.g. movable shading and natural ventilation). This paper focuses on architectural usage scenarios related to the first developing action.


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