System Engineering Analysis Approach to Building Material Selection for Sustainable Buildings

Rebekah D. Burke, Kristen Parrish

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Early design decisions for complex projects are the result of a process comprising of a rotating cast of participants, decision making with imperfect information, and multiple communication paths. A change in the earliest decisions creates cascading impacts to the entire design process, for example, selecting a construction material early on restricts the balance of the design and construction process to materials and methods compatible with the construction material selected. Employing systems engineering methods assists in defining complex project processes and the potential impacts of a change to the established process. This paper explores how a system engineering tool, message sequence charts (MSC), can be used to document the early design decision process for building materials of sustainable building projects. The authors introduced MSC to two focus groups of experienced architecture and engineering professionals, and then asked the respondents to develop an MSC that documents the early design decision process for a recently designed project. The project types included higher education, private, and government clients, delivered via design-build or design-bid-build. Then, the focus group respondents were asked to consider the strategy they thought would be most effective to integrate a new sustainability requirement for building materials, such as environmental product declarations (EPD), into their project, and they documented the adjustments to their specific design process in a modified MSC. This paper elucidates how MSC support the study of complex design processes and identification of impacts that new sustainability requirements have on a standard design process. The paper specifically examines the changes required for private client design build projects to incorporate EPD. This research suggests the early engagement of a subject matter expert, either hired as a consultant, or trained in-house, is the strategy design teams will employ to effectively integrate EPD into this type of project.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConstruction Research Congress 2018
Subtitle of host publicationSustainable Design and Construction and Education - Selected Papers from the Construction Research Congress 2018
PublisherAmerican Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9780784481301
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
EventConstruction Research Congress 2018: Sustainable Design and Construction and Education, CRC 2018 - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Apr 2 2018Apr 4 2018


OtherConstruction Research Congress 2018: Sustainable Design and Construction and Education, CRC 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew Orleans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction


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