Penn State to lead new Global Building Network

Victoria M. Indivero
February 16, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has been asked by the United Nations to lead a global network to advance building science, construction processes and building management. The network aims to create an international framework that will make buildings more sustainable, more efficient and healthier to live and work in.

The Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE) will be one of the lead institutes for the Global Building Network due to its co-funded faculty’s vast experience in these areas.

According to Scott Foster, director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Sustainable Energy Division, approximately 40 percent of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings. The Global Building Network seeks to drastically decrease this number.

Another issue that the network hopes to help solve is that of indoor air quality. Traditional buildings in both developed and developing areas often have poor air quality that can be linked to health issues and lower cognitive capabilities.

“The overall goal of the network is to radically reduce, and eventually eliminate, fossil fuel energy utilization in the operation of residential and commercial buildings while measurably improving the indoor environments,” said James Freihaut, technical director of Penn State at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia and professor of architectural engineering. “This can only be accomplished by establishing integrated design, implementation and operational methodologies for renovating existing buildings and for newly constructed facilities and, from those facilities, acquiring operational data that serves to continuously improve the methodology.”

In an attempt to solve this interdisciplinary problem, the Global Building Network will rely on the expertise of researchers from several departments and colleges across the University, including Architectural Engineering, Architecture, Penn State Law, and others. The Navy Yard, which houses some of Penn State’s engineering research facilities, will also play a significant role in this network.

The Navy Yard was the implementation and demonstration site for the five-year Penn State Energy Efficient Buildings Hub Program, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy. This program has transitioned into the UNECE Global Buildings Network Hub.

“The UNECE initiative is a concrete realization of the land-grant responsibility of the University translating research and design, and academic science and engineering into practical, societal impact activities,” said Freihaut.

The Global Building Network will work toward creating a systems approach to the way buildings come into existence, from construction to finance — including engineers, architects, carpenters, consumers, building code officers and financiers — helping to reduce energy needs and improving human health. This approach will also be used as existing buildings will need to be upgraded and improved.

As it exists now, each contractor working on a building is essentially an island, making decisions independently.

“There is little incentive for the contractors to work together at this point,” said Tom Richard, director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment. “With the Global Building Network, contractors will begin to work together to design and construct buildings with better insulation and ventilation, less waste, and lower cost.”

“The implementation of a systems approach to building design, construction and operation is key to success everywhere,” Freihaut said.

Components of the new effort include an online curriculum and hands-on workshops to help educate and inform, which are being developed currently.

With the creation of the new network, there is a new position available. Interested candidates for the director of the Global Building Network can review the job descriptions for University Park or Philadelphia.

Last Updated September 27, 2019