Whole System Integration Process

You made a remarkable point during your last visit that left me feeling inspired -- "The work we do isn't about healing the planet (though its a worthy thing we're fighting for), its about healing ourselves and doing what makes each of us whole."

- Bryan Cordell, Sustainability Institute, Charleston, NC – Atlantic Green Conf. June 2009 -

Dear Mr. Reed,

I just wanted to let you know how inspirational your talk at the Biomimicry Alumni Swarm this February was to me.

I currently work in the product design field, but having envisioned a new field where I can combine my background in ecology and interests in social responsibility, I have decided to move into architecture. I will begin a graduate architecture program this fall. However my idea of what I wanted to do was always vague, and I was uncertain how to proceed.

Listening to your talk, for the first time I felt there was a clear model, an inspirational model, of an architecture practice engaged in the community and willing to push the discussion of green design. I am impressed by what you have done, and thank you for being a pioneer for us to follow.

- Whitney Hopkins -

The following is the basic structure of the Whole System Integration Process. It has been developed after experience with hundreds of green building projects. This structure is more applicable to building projects that are focused on cost effective efficiencies – the type of practice as defined by LEED and similar rating systems. By looking at pieces of the system and how they interrelate – Energy, Water, Materials, Land there is much that can be done in addressing our relationship TO these basic systems.

The Whole System Integration Process is different from the conventional, or linear, design process. Achieving the greatest effectiveness in cost and environmental performance requires that every issue and everybody be brought into the project at the earliest point.

Prelim Preliminary Design
SD Schematic Design
DD Design Development
CD Construction Documents
B&N Bidding and Negotiations
Constr Construction
Maint Maintenance
Indoor Environmental Quality
$ Budget
VE Value Engineering

The WS-IDP can be described simply as:

RESEARCH / ANALYSIS - Individual expert team members initially develop a rough understanding of the issues associated with the project before meeting - ecological systems, energy systems, water systems, material resources, skill resources. This is occurs so the design process can begin with a common understanding of the base issues. Often we will meet in smaller stakeholder groups to gain a deeper sensor of local knowledge - social and natural systems.

WORKSHOP(S) - These team members come together with all stakeholders in the first workshop (charrette) to compare ideas, to set performance goals, and to begin forming a cohesive team that function as a consortium of co-designers. By being in relationship to each other, each team member allows the issues associated with the system for which he or she is responsible to come into relationship with all others, so that a more integrated and optimized project results.

RESEARCH / ANALYSIS - Team members go back to work on their respective issues – refining the analysis, testing alternatives, comparing notes, and generating ideas in smaller meetings.

WORKSHOP(S) - The team reassembles for a deep discussion of overlapping benefits and opportunities – how best to utilize the “waste” products from one system to benefit other systems. New opportunities are discovered, explored and tested across disciplines, and new questions are raised.

RESEARCH / ANALYSIS - Team members go apart again to design and analyze with more focus and potentially with greater benefits accruing. New ideas are uncovered.

WORKSHOP(S) - The team reassembles once again to further refine the design and to optimize systems being used (building and mechanical systems) and to integrate systems connected with the project (sun, water, habitat, materials, etc.)

. . . and this pattern continues until iterative solutions move as far as the team and client wish. Simply stated, good integration is a continuously dynamic iterative process. All issues need to be kept in play so that the connections and relationships can be optimized. A linear process approaches each problem directly and separately, while an integrated process approaches each problem from the varied viewpoints of multiple participants and the issues they represent. It is a continuous circling process, one that encourages exploration in order to ensure discovery of the best opportunities, while permitting continuous adjustments as more understanding emerges.

Three to five charrettes are the typical number of large meetings required to move integration forward, in conjunction with many additional sub-meetings. When and how team members interact is the responsibility of the project manager or integration facilitator. Nevertheless, unless the project team meets with some level of intentional integration (and updated analysis) at least every two weeks, the momentum of exploration will diminish.

The foundation of a Whole System Integration Process is the Discovery Phase. An understanding of the invisible relationships between the basic systems of a project needs to be gained before the design of any tangible, physical relationships can begin. These basic systems are the aspects and relationships that are engaged within and around a specific project. Every key issue needs to be brought into play – the more the better. This requires that the client, the design and construction team members, the community, and other stakeholders representing key issues and interest, be brought into a relationship with each other so that co-discovery can take place.

The design process should begin by determining, as best as possible, how to increase the beneficial interrelationships between human, biotic, technical, and earth systems. This understanding becomes the foundation for any design aimed at saving resources, restoring the health and benefits of natural system processes, and engaging humans in an understanding of these functions, so that they can serve as effective stewards. Participants in the design, construction, and operations phases of the project must actively seek to optimize the interrelationships between these systems over time – in other words, making sustainable (and best) use of resources, both technical and natural.

The Whole System Integration Process for projects that embrace the larger systems of which they are a part, can be summarized with the “Three E’s” – Everybody engaged, Every issue considered, Early in the project.

The trick here is managing this process in such a way that every person is not around the table at every meeting. Each project is unique, so every project requires a roadmap to make sure that assignments are accomplished and addressed by having the right people present at the right time. Management of this design process is critical if money is to be used efficiently and if the energy of team members is to be maintained.