Designing the Buildings of the Future with IESVE at Sheffield Hallam University

Date Published

29th Sep 2021

For this guest blog, we caught up with Dr Karam Al-Obaidi, who has been teaching IESVE in universities since 2010. At Sheffield Hallam University, where Karam now lectures, he demonstrated that the accuracy and reliability of data generated from modelling inside IESVE was high compared to other software, providing a compelling reason to use IESVE.  

Prior to that, Karam graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) with a PhD and a Masters. He then worked at the University of Malaya (UM) in Kuala Lumpur, where they utilised IESVE for their Masters course in Architecture, focusing on sustainability and environmental design.

Karam joined Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in 2018 and has been teaching IESVE to around 95 undergraduate and postgraduate students each year on the ‘Architecture’ and ‘Architectural Technology’ courses. So, no matter where you are in the world, graduates are using IESVE to improve building performance, whether in Sheffield or Kuala Lumpur!

IESVE in the ‘Environment and Technology’ modules

IESVE is studied within the ‘Environment and Technology’ modules at SHU and in the first year, students gain a practical understanding of passive solar, daylight, thermal and ventilation strategies and analysis, as well as practicing basic calculations. By the second year, they do more modelling, utilising environmental analysis tools in Building Information Modelling software such as Autodesk Revit. 

The third year offers a deeper understanding of building sustainability and environmental design. Students look at a specific space that has architectural significance with some complexity to develop and understand the importance of solar and thermal analysis, energy and daylight performance, and ventilation effectiveness. Students are required to select a specific space within their architectural project and model it inside IESVE, then test it and identify if there are any issues. They have to identify these complex problems by reading and understanding all of the data that is generated by IESVE because it is crucial that they learn to detect any issues within the virtual building performance, and then run an improved version where they optimise the design model.

By the end of the undergraduate course, students will have learnt to simulate, validate, verify and optimise building performance. IESVE is all about analysing the problem, running different scenarios, then finding an appropriate solution and presenting a business case.

With the Master’s courses, the same approach is used, teaching students to understand the reliability and validity of the IESVE software. At postgraduate level, students move from analysing a passive approach to hybrid systems or active systems and learn complex strategies to achieve zero carbon and zero energy targets and reduce the impacts of climate change.

The finer details of IESVE modelling and analysis 

When the student has the specific location of their building, they need to understand more about building physics, considering different factors to analyse thermal conditions, daylight performance and ventilation effectiveness. 

Students are asked to run analysis of their architectural designs during different seasons, comparing operative temperatures and outdoor air temperatures to assess the thermal conditions. IESVE is really helpful when assessing different construction materials because it directly relates to set standards (below, above or meeting). The outcomes that are generated will be compared to environmental standards such as CIBSE, an environmental guide which lists the best operative temperatures that should be met to provide optimum thermal comfort.

The students are required to work with MacroFlo and MicroFlo in IESVE to explore the impact of ventilation types, opening size and opening shapes as well as the height and volume of building spaces using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). We teach students how to analyse and compare the performance of air speed (m/s) against the requirements of best practices to check if indoor air velocity provides optimum comfort, cooling, well-being and satisfaction.

The students need to work with RadianceIES to understand advanced daylight analysis by considering different openings, colours, materials and strategies of solar shading devices. We also show students how they can work with furniture inside IESVE and how daylight levels may be affected during different seasons to achieve optimum visual comfort. The solar analysis involves understanding the optimum positions for different systems like solar panels and responsive shading devices. 

Pandemic challenges and a virtual lab

In the past year or so, especially during lockdown when it was difficult for students to travel to SHU and utilise the environmental labs, SHU developed a ‘virtual lab’ for students - an online platform which gave remote access to utilise IESVE facilities in cloud. The virtual lab environment enabled students to test, modify and analyse data remotely. 

Understanding the fundamentals 

SHU teaches the foundations of building physics and architectural science, but the IES Virtual Environment is not introduced in detail until the first semester of the final year. It's really important to have a basic understanding of building physics before students start on simulation as they need to understand what sits behind it all. The training on functionality is one thing, but teaching the fundamentals is essential – understanding the impacts of how a building works, such as the orientation, location, materials etc. – before starting to layer in different systems. 

Students are taught how to confidently assess a building, offering the best strategy to develop an effective environmental cross-section. It is about making informed decisions and providing a more sustainable architectural design. 

Using tools like IESVE in building assessments will enhance the quality of the building design, increase its durability and even potentially enhance wellbeing and occupant comfort inside the spaces. IESVE generates visual data which can be easily assessed, quantitative data in IESVE can determine if a building design is functional; whether more money needs to be invested on certain systems; or whether selected building materials will achieve comfort and reduction in energy consumption. 

A commercial mindset with IESVE 

At Sheffield Hallam University, IESVE is taught with a future commercial mindset, enabling students to really understand how a building works, architecturally and sustainably, for the workplace. How does a building work? How can it be improved? What are the incremental improvements that take the building from being a good building to a high performing building?

We teach students to realise the value of the business case, understanding that IESVE is not just a design tool: it is an intelligent business tool that can help meet building performance objectives, including cost (capital costs, operating costs) as well as net zero carbon and systems and technology.

Once students graduate from SHU, they provide an important role in the workplace, utilising these state-of-the-art technologies and strategies to create sustainable buildings for the future.

To find out more about how SHU students are benefitting from our IESVE software, read our case study here.

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