Changing the game on building design

Creating great cities through high-performance buildings has always been a driving passion at RWDI. But such ambitious design requires thoughtful consideration from many perspectives—environmental, engineering and humanistic.

By Jan Bergstrom, General Manager, Orbital Stack

Creating great cities through high-performance buildings has always been a driving passion at RWDI. But such ambitious design requires thoughtful consideration from many perspectives—environmental, engineering and humanistic.

Each building also presents its own unique set of challenges. When devising a solution to one issue, it is critical to understand the trade-offs that may result elsewhere. Our motivation to solve the challenges of complex building-design, and to respond to the immediate demands of the market, has never been lacking—but the tools we needed to help us were. So, we took action and created our own.

Introducing Orbital Stack

Orbital Stack is a digital-insights platform developed and used by our engineers and climate specialists to evaluate building performance. Backed by decades of experience, this powerful new technology enables multifactor analysis across a project’s life cycle.

A gap in the market

Like most innovative products, Orbital Stack didn’t happen overnight. Its roots grew from a CFD toolkit developed by RWDI’s building performance team over eight years. Along the way, we tested nearly every software tool on the market and consistently discovered that they shared the same shortcomings:

  • Limited analysis. Most building-design software tools assess a single element. It’s energy modeling or wind loading. Not both. This greatly limits results and a holistic understanding of a proposed design. When making a modification to address one concern (e.g., pedestrian comfort), there is no way to confirm if a new issue has not developed elsewhere (e.g., air quality). Effective analysis must consider multiple factors at the same time.
  • Numbers only. Many general simulation tools were created to solve everything from the aerodynamics of airplanes to the thermal design of consumer electronics. They were not created by experts in building design. As a result, these tools produce raw numbers and colorful plots, but don’t provide actionable insights for designers. Without a true understanding of what the numbers mean, opportunities can be missed, and nuances can be overlooked, including the potential for dangerous misinterpretations of results.
  • Inflexible. The building-design cycle requires tool flexibility. From as early as the conception stage, rapid insights are needed to flag potential issues that can be costly to resolve later. During later design, more detailed results are needed to help iterate through different possibilities. Before submission, high-accuracy simulations are critical to achieve compliance and identify safety concerns. Without this agility, the designer is left spending too much time and money on data that doesn’t answer the questions at hand.

These limitations concerned not just our team, but the industry as a whole, including our customers. By relying on these tools, the design-build community was missing opportunities to develop high-performance buildings able to optimize the issues we were striving to solve. And in the spirit of turning challenges into opportunities, Orbital Stack was born.

Game-changing platform

The environment within which we build our cities is changing rapidly, but so are the expectations of the citizens who live and work there. To meet that challenge, we truly have had to think about our collective investments from a holistic perspective and leverage a tool set that addresses the full Planet Experience (PX). Orbital Stack seeks to change the way that the industry tackles the entire life cycle of a building project. It provides a complementary set of insights across a breadth of factors, which includes expert analysis from experienced engineers and climate specialists. Architects, engineers and developers creating great urban environments will now have a complete picture—sooner—to fully understand projects from every angle.

Significantly, Orbital Stack is not another CFD-simulation platform. Although CFD is a key tool used by the platform, this platform instead seeks to answer different questions. Designers can ask: “What don’t I know?” “What does this mean?” And, “What are my options”? And receive insightful responses that numbers and pictures alone will never answer.

This vision for Orbital Stack is big and it will evolve over time. Nothing like this has existed before. We are excited about the potential for this tool to transform the design-built industry and to share our expertise in a new way with our partners. If you share in this excitement, please join us on our journey by reaching out today. Let’s see how Orbital Stack might solve your next design challenge.