Below is a Q&A discussion with Phil Bernstein, vice president, Industry Strategy and Relations, Autodesk AEC Solutions.

Q: Last year during the 2007 Greenbuild conference, you unveiled a prototype of a new sustainable analysis tool. What exactly is the sustainability analysis dashboard?

A: The sustainability analysis dashboard is the first result of Autodesk’s collaboration with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It’s an assertion about how the future of digital design in the sustainable world might look. It is not an actual product or software, but a conceptual stake in the ground, illustrating a future of sustainable design that may be reached through technology that enables architects and engineers to immediately grasp the environmental implications of their design decisions.

Q: What sort of technology is used to facilitate a more sustainable design process?

A: The sustainability analysis dashboard suggests ways that LEED points could be tracked throughout the design process and increases our understanding about the ways designers could increase the overall LEED score. It includes tools that continually measure designs against environmental impact factors.

Q: How does the sustainability analysis dashboard concept compare with current practices?

A: The decisions made by architects in the early design phase have a big impact on a building’s energy performance. Today’s designers pay a lot of attention to these decisions, but analyzing the impact of each decision has often been the responsibility of consulting engineers on the team. This handoff from architect to engineer and back again slows down the design process.

With the dashboard, at the moment of the designer’s choosing, he or she can ask the analysis engine about sustainability and LEED implications by instantly calculating impacts of specific design changes on important sustainability factors such as energy use, daylighting, indoor environmental quality, and so on. One of the provocative things about this project is the concept that the information will be simultaneous—modeling, analysis, and validation converging into a single, sophisticated, simultaneous technology environment. Savings in time and cost, as well as increased sustainability of designs themselves could be achieved through the simultaneous convergence of these steps in the design process.

Q: What other concepts are introduced or furthered through the new prototype?

A: Of course, building information modeling (BIM) is an underlying assumption within the dashboard concept. BIM creates a model that can tap into analysis tools and return insights about predicted design performance. Building information models are capable of extending across the design, construction, and operation of a project.

Along with BIM, the dashboard illustrates four important concepts that play a critical role in efforts to increase the rate and effectiveness of sustainable design practice: the convergence of modeling, analysis, and validation; tight-knit collaboration within the building process around models and analysis; a connection to Internet resources about sustainable products and methods; and accelerated green building certification through streamlined transmission of design data to validation systems.

Q: Is it feasible for designers to access a Sustainable Product Marketplace as presented in the sustainability analysis dashboard concept?

A: The technology is already in place for manufacturers to provide information about their products’ high-performance characteristics via the Internet. Popular online building materials catalog producers have green product sections. The concept illustrated in the Sustainability Analysis Dashboard prototype takes the next step—bringing the green product catalog information to the building information model, instead of forcing the designers to search for it.

Q: What standard technology could possibly "button up" a design’s sustainable characteristics in order to facilitate automated validation?

A: There is no technology today capable of encapsulating and automating the validation of a sustainable design for certification. However, we are collaborating with top institutions such as the USGBC to study the underlying principles of data representation of buildings and construction with regard to sustainable design. Our aspiration is that this knowledge will support the creation of building modeling tools with comprehensive information about the wide range of sustainable characteristics relevant to future validation approaches, such as the USGBC’s LEED rating system.

For more information or to view a short video featuring the sustainability dashboard, visit www.autodesk.com/greenresearch.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Feb. 14, 2008 issue of Revitalization e-Digest.