Building the Energy-Efficient Neighborhoods of Tomorrow

Blake Middleton of Handel Architects presents on performance-based design, as part of our Idea Tour on energy efficient neighborhoods. MacKenna Lewis

We held a Sidewalk Talk Idea Tour to explore five emerging technologies and design innovations that can lead to more sustainable cities.

December 15, 2017


As the plight of our planet worsens, more and more cities are committing to local climate action. One of the most critical areas of improvement is energy use in buildings, which can account for up to half of a city’s emissions. So what are the emerging technologies and design innovations that could help result in cleaner buildings and neighborhoods — and ultimately reduce a city’s energy consumption overall?

This was the central question of our recent Sidewalk Talk Idea Tour on energy-efficient neighborhoods. We gathered five experts who are both “pioneers and practitioners” to discuss concepts that can help cities meet their energy goals: district energy, microgrids, smart building standards, predictive building software, and Passive House design. “Innovation is a series of surprises, disappointments, new ideas, and iterations,” said Sidewalk’s Director of Sustainability, Charlotte Matthews, by way of introduction. “So those who have done are exceptionally valuable in what they can teach us.”

To help these lessons reach as many people as possible we’ve included each of their Sidewalk Talk presentations below.

Blake Middleton, Handel Architects
The Promise of Performance-Based Design

Sam Cole

Passive House design, while on a sharp trajectory of growth in North America, has until now mostly been used to build single-family housing. Blake Middleton discussed how this performance-based protocol can make a dramatic impact in terms of building energy use and efficiency — even at the scale of large multi-family buildings.

Middleton, a founding partner at Handel Architects, oversaw the design of the largest residential Passive House in the world at Cornell Tech. He explained how the lessons learned from that groundbreaking project are informing his firm’s implementation of high-performance design in various large-scale projects, including an affordable housing complex in Harlem and a large-scale office environment in Boston.

Ted Borer, Princeton University
The Microgrid of Tomorrow

Sam Cole

At Sidewalk, we think a lot about the ways cities can harness district thermal systems to efficiently reduce emissions, which made Ted Borer, the energy plant manager for Princeton University, an excellent addition to our idea tour.

Ted focused his presentation on the ways regional power grids can evolve in future. He emphasized the importance of building microgrids that work in coordination with combined heat and power and district energy. In this way, local communities can make the grid more reliable and resilient, produce a lower carbon footprint, require less total installed equipment, and generate a higher return on investment.

Mary Ann Piette, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
District Energy & Predictive Modeling

Sam Cole

Mary Ann Piette, director of the Berkeley Lab’s Building Technology and Urban Systems Division, focused on an important branch of research currently underway at her lab: energy modeling at building, zone, and district levels. These computational models, created at the design phase of a building, can control building operations as well as grid and renewable integration, allowing for unprecedented system optimization.

Kathy Farrington, Google
Towards a Standard for Smart Buildings

Sam Cole

Kathy Farrington, who has extensive experience in smart infrastructure, leads an internal program at Google to make the company’s buildings smarter. She began her talk by outlining the challenges currently facing smart buildings — in particular, the siloed nature of building devices and applications — and presented a more horizontal approach to the problem.

Kathy focused on how the industry must address security standards, open schemas, education gaps, and device management to reach the next level. Referencing a recent white paper outlining Google’s security standards for IoT devices, she concluded with a call to action: we must build consensus on enterprise requirements to push manufacturers to create better, safer smart building products.

Bryan Bennett, Cortex & Dana Schneider, JLL
Building Better Energy Software

Sam Cole

Kathy Farrington mentioned the challenge of gleaning insight from the thousands of data points generated in buildings every minute. Bryan Bennett discussed one possible solution.

Bryan is the founder and CEO of Cortex, an app that applies machine-learning algorithms to Building Management Systems and meter data. Bryan addressed the lessons he’s learned creating an accessible interface that makes commercial building data manageable, and actionable, for operators. He was joined by Dana Schneider, managing director at JLL, who gave insight into how the Empire State Building is using the app to monitor energy use and savings and to improve the day-to-day experience of its operators.

December 15, 2017