Brock Environmental Center, in Virginia Beach, Va., designed by SmithGroupJJR.
Dave ChanceBrock Environmental Center, in Virginia Beach, Va., designed by SmithGroupJJR.

Carefully sited on an expansive parcel of land along the Chesapeake Bay, the Brock Environmental Center experiences the good and the bad of Virginia Beach, Va., weather—mild temperatures year-round, but clingy, perpetually high humidity. Yet the insulating value of the metal roof system topping the 10,000-square-foot structure is more akin to that of a building in the Northeast: R-50.

This design decision, says SmithGroupJJR vice president Greg Mella, FAIA, was determined through energy modeling, or performance modeling, as he calls it. “If we didn’t model, we would have used rule-of-thumb, and we never would have gone as high as we did,” the Washington, D.C.–based architect says. Completed in late 2014, the Brock Center was certified this month as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute, one of about only 11 projects to date to achieve that recognition.

An evaluation of the effect of Brock Environmental Center's building orientation on predicted energy use intensity.
SmithGroupJJRAn evaluation of the effect of Brock Environmental Center’s building orientation on predicted energy use intensity.
Brock Environmental Center
SmithGroupJJRBrock Environmental Center
Brock Environmental Center
SmithGroupJJRBrock Environmental Center

Architects with high-performance projects—and, increasingly, the energy models and post-occupancy data to back their claims—fill speaker rosters at design conferences and events across the country. And the architect-centric audiences seem to extol these achievements. But step outside the trade show circuit, and the number of firms that routinely model their projects is surprisingly low.