From Napkins to Integration, Developing a Culture of Innovation

Mark Cone, SmithGroupJJR, Inc.
Robert Thompson, SmithGroupJJR, Inc.

Many projects begin as a series of simple sketches. For architecture, the building design draws its inspiration from surrounding spaces, building program requirements, usage patterns, and the client's vision for the facility. For engineering, systems are selected based on the local climate, code requirements, space usage and flexibility, and the client's performance goals (above code minimum requirements). Integration occurs when the inputs from these various parties are brought together to create a common vision for the project.

A key aspect of successful integration and innovation is active listening. Each of these inputs is a key to creating the right solution for each facility. These inputs can then be ranked based on the value they give to the project. Integrated building solutions incorporate as many of these inputs as possible to maximize the benefits to the project and ultimately the client. The foundations for innovation are often laid through repeated efforts at systems integration. Innovation for engineering can also come from other sources.

With the increased performance requirements of ASHRAE 90.1, and a renewed focus on sustainability and energy efficiency from building owners, traditional approaches to systems design may find themselves just meeting or falling short of program requirements. Exceeding these performance and design goals requires an in depth knowledge of the environment, a culture of innovation, and a commitment to carry that vision forward. Innovation brings together complementary local resources to maximize the performance of building systems.

The culture of the team determines to a large extent how successful the project integration will be. It requires a balanced team that is open to new ideas and values the opinions of others, and together sets a common vision for the future of the project. Similarly, innovation requires a focus on the available resources, and always looks to improve upon the ideas that came before. This presentation will highlight the process of integration that enabled a path forward for innovative design solutions at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF).

Learning Objectives

  • Learn why active listening is essential to defining the inputs needed to lay a foundation for building integration, and the innovation that follows.
  • Understand the process of interdisciplinary workshops, and how they are a core component in developing successful building integration.
  • Identify the resources, from local climate models to building program elements that inform integration and establish a path forward for innovation.
  • Learn how continual system development led to innovative system solutions, and how it continues to enhance building performance today.


Mark S. Cone is a Registered Architect at SmithGroupJJR, with a focus in on design, interdisciplinary coordination, documentation and construction administration of research and technology facilities. His recent work includes National Renewable Energy Laboratory Energy Systems Integration Facility, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency CONUS Annex and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Bldg. One renovation.

Robert Thompson is a Registered Professional Engineer & Chief Mechanical Engineer for Science & Technology. Robert's designs focus on the environmental design specifics that influence the energy & sustainable performance of buildings. His recent work includes National Renewable Energy Laboratory's ESIF & S&TF facilities; JPAC Forensic Identification Facilities, and the Denver Crime Lab. Mr. Thompson is a member of ASHRAE, and has published articles for the ASHRAE Journal and 7x24 Exchange Magazine.


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