More and more, buildings that claim to be sustainable need proof of the quantitative kind. Because the design process has largely moved into the digital realm, architects often rely on software—or their consultants—to predict a project’s energy performance. For students who lack experience in building science, the risk of failing to connect reality to what a computer program spits out can be high.
Many institutions are beginning to offer coursework in sustainable design and multidisciplinary programs across engineering and architecture. Students can also learn about green design through publications and organizations such as U.S. Green Building Council Students. Earlier this month, software giant Autodesk made one more resource available by launching a free online certification program that provides instruction on sustainable design principles and its building analysis and modeling software. Adam Menter, Autodesk’s sustainability education program manager, says the company saw a knowledge gap between courses teaching CAD skills and courses focusing on building science. “We saw a big need for students to have tangible skills in building performance analysis,” he says.
Autodesk’s Building Performance Analysis Certification (BPAC) program comprises eight modules that walk students through fundamental building science concepts and subsequently how to apply the concepts to analyze buildings with the company’s software. Each module consists of self-guided tutorials, quizzes, and exercises; topics covered include site analysis, energy loads, passive heating and cooling, and daylighting. Depending on a participant’s familiarity with Autodesk’s programs—including Revit, Vasari, Green Building Studio—the program takes about 20 to 25 hours to complete, Menter estimates.
Though participants need not be experts in the software, proficiency in building modeling with the software will expedite the certification process, which focuses primarily on how to use the tools for analysis. Access to Autodesk’s software programs, which is needed to complete the BPAC program, is free for students.
Autodesk’s motivation for offering the program is manifold, Menter says. “We spend a lot of time developing the software,” he says. “We want people to use that software to the best effect.” Students often use Autodesk’s analysis tools without understanding whether the results make sense or how to leverage the results to make informed design decisions.
During the two years Autodesk spent developing the program content, it consulted with architecture firms, including HOK, as well as with organizations such as Architecture 2030, the Society of Building Science Educators, and the U.S. Green Building Council. It also tested a pilot program with educators and their students in institutions across the U.S. “We’ve taken their feedback and applied them directly to improvements that we made to the program,” Menter says.
The program is open to students around the world. Professors looking to administer the program in their classroom can request a key that lets them track their students’ progress through the program.
With software and building technology continually advancing, Menter says that Autodesk designed the program to be very flexible. “As tools change, the course can change,” he says.
Design professionals interested in the certification program should not feel left out. “We’ll be developing courses specific to professionals in the coming months,” Menter says. While students may just be developing a foundation with the content, the professional program will consider that practitioners will likely already have a background in building science as well as less time to spend on the program. “We’re going to create more digestible bites for professionals that go deeper into some areas,” he says. He anticipates that the program will also be free.
Note: This article has been updated since first publication to clarify the opening image and to correct the list of topics covered in the certificate program's modules.