Opacity, Elasticity, Transparency

Our New Year’s resolutions often focus on prosperity, fitness and wellbeing. My outlook for the building industry in 2018 is no different. I see our business focusing on building performance, including envelope design, the fortitude of our communities and buildings in the face of shocks, and on the ability of our built environment to support health and well-being (from community and building design, down to material selection).

2018 State of the Industry Report

By Alan Scott

Scott Alan

Less Glass is More

After years of designs trending toward glazing, sleek buildings based on floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass, I think 2018 will see a reversal. Architects are turning toward expressive enclosures with more dependence on malleable materials like metal, and less on large sheets of glass. This presents several advantages:

  • An affordable means to execute unique and sculptural designs
  • Meeting and exceeding increasingly stringent energy codes with higher performance envelopes
  • Improving daylighting while controlling glare, with rightsizing of apertures and integration of screens and shading
  • Bird collision avoidance
  • Increased opportunities for building-integrated photovoltaics
  • Recognition that people are not comfortable living and working in “fish bowls”

High-performance enclosures, with increased opacity and more modest window-to-wall ratios will support the trend toward passive building and zero net energy.


Nature’s fury was on full display in events like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornados and wildfires in 2017, perhaps made more extreme because of climate change. As the affected areas rebuild and we all consider how to mitigate risks and prepare to bounce back quickly after the next hazard events (that surely will come), resilience will be at the forefront. We can avert disaster after anticipated hazards with:

  • Hardened structures and enhanced enclosures
  • Zero net energy buildings coupled with increasingly feasible energy storage
  • Passive buildings designed to maintain comfort while being off the grid

Resilience increases sustainable operations under normal conditions, enhances long-term asset value, and ensures not only life safety, but shelter and business continuity when hazard strikes. With the GBCI’s adoption of the RELi resilience standard, we will be hearing more about this focus for communities and buildings.

Material Transparency

With LEED v2009 fading in the rear-view, and LEEDv4, WELL Building and Living Building Challenge (LBC) in our sights, designers will be demanding more disclosure of building material constituents to make informed choices about the environmental and human health impacts of the materials they specify. More manufacturers are embracing transparency with:

  • Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), based on life cycle assessments of environmental impacts
  • Health Product Declarations (HPDs), disclosing the constituents that make up products so that hidden health impacts can be considered
  • Declare, supporting LBC Red List-free specification, and other life cycle considerations
  • Cradle to Cradle, certifying material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness impacts of products

As this is an evolving trend, the expectation is not that every product is revealed to be benign, but that manufacturers will own up to what is in their products and challenge themselves to reduce toxicity, emissions and environmental impacts. I believe this spurs innovation, builds brand trust, and creates new opportunities for product differentiation.

While these topics address various issues at different scales, they overlap on the common themes of sustainability, health and economics (some resolutions for the New Year that we can keep).

Alan Scott, FAIA, LEED Fellow, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, WELL AP, CEM, is an architect with 30 years of experience in sustainable building design. He is a senior associate with WSP in Portland, Ore. To learn more, visit and follow Scott on Twitter @alanscott_faia.