Green Prefab and Microsoft use the cloud to speed eco-friendly building

Green Prefab and Microsoft use the cloud to speed eco-friendly building

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Architects are using a cloud service to test the environmental credentials of materials and components while buildings are still in the blueprint phase.

That's the idea behind Green Prefab, a startup from the town of Trento in Northern Italy that is working with Microsoft Research Connections and the Royal Danish Academy. Its website -- still only in an early prototyping phase -- aims to let architects and builders run 3-D computer models and simulations that test the impact of certain configurations for things such as energy efficiency, water conservation metrics and lighting.

Green Prefab is advocating the creation of prefabricated components that carry very clear metrics. By giving architects and engineers at smaller firms access to simulation resources available in a public cloud service, Green Prefab hopes to make the process of designing eco-friendly buildings become shorter and more cost-effective, said Renzo Taffarello, one of the startup's co-founders.

"In order to create buildings that are green, you need to define performance up front and choose the best materials and solutions upfront before going to construction," Taffarello said. "This means a lot of simulation. A lot of scenario testing. A lot of specific testing: wind performance, natural light and so on."

Other software companies, notably Autodesk, are focused on using simulations and 3-D modeling techniques to aid sustainable design. The problem, historically speaking, is that the technology necessary for running simulations of this nature can be very expensive, which is where the cloud comes in. Autodesk, for example, is behind a service called Simulation 360 that allows engineers and designers to run simulations for eco-variables before the prototyping phase.

Green Prefab gives architects and engineers access to the computing power of faraway servers, resources that otherwise might be too costly for them to use.

Eco-friendly blueprints

As part of an ongoing research initiative, Green Prefab is using the Microsoft Azure cloud development, hosting and management environment to test its simulation and modeling idea with a community of more than 20,000 Italian architects and engineers. The data catalog behind its approach comes from the open-source building information management model created by buildingSMART, according to a March Microsoft case study.

The Royal Danish Academy is using Green Prefab to run energy consumption simulations for buildings in the pre-construction phase.

In one instance, an architect was able to test for more than 220,000 variables, according to the Microsoft case study. The academy compared the results of running this test in the cloud versus using traditional methods: It took three days, versus the more than 120 it would have taken to run these same tests using a desktop computer and legacy simulation software. In addition, the cloud simulation was able to identify more energy savings potential, Microsoft reports.

One of the biggest challenges that Green Prefab faces moving forward is language localization and figuring out how to accommodate building codes that differ regionally. "It is actually not a big issue from a technology point of view. It is more difficult to put the codes together and localize everything," Taffarello said.

For now, all of this exists just in a testing phase. Eventually, the Green Prefab team expects to let architects and engineers to use its resources for free as they research their own projects, but it might charge a royalty on finalized design, Taffarello said. In addition, it is considering a model that would charge manufacturers of building components a fee to have their information listed in the database, he said.

Green shipping container image by photo25th/Shutterstock