Read part 2 here.

From the primary structure to interior finishes, material selections within architectural design carry more weight than ever. 

The AEC industry has incrementally increased material awareness, from product chain of custody, material extraction practices, equity of labor and indoor environmental quality to the impact of products on embodied and operational carbon. The AIA and other industry organizations have facilitated this, creating resources like the AIA Materials Pledge, AIA Framework for Design Excellence, and AIA Architecture 2030 reporting platform that encourage design professionals to use their material knowledge to improve our built environment. 

Until recently, the data required to meet these goals would have been inaccessible or required specialized skills and insights. But with modern technology, designers can bypass the standard manual material selection process, transforming what we can accomplish. 


Key technological developments that have enhanced the delivery of building design are Building Information Modeling (BIM) and predictive simulation. BIM platforms improve accessibility and collaboration by organizing and providing feedback based on many discrete decisions.

The “embedded intelligence” within any simulation depends on the quality and accuracy of the data that’s leveraged. Drawing a simple line, for example, can now implicate materials and other attributes through real-world associations. This can help us expedite product selection and affirm these selections within the context of the entire project. It also streamlines product experimentation; instead of manually reviewing several options, we can “test” products using BIM or other tools and gain real-time knowledge on how materials impact the project’s overall cost, carbon, and more.

The convergence of technology, incentives, regulations, and public sentiment toward creating a more ecologically responsible built environment has never been stronger. The challenge is to put all aspects of this supportive ecosystem into practice. For instance, online third-party databases like Building Transparency’s Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) have become go-to sources for verified product information. Additionally, more traditional specifications and product listings now include filters allowing “green” product selections.

To manage the data within these material databases, third-party platforms have begun to integrate product attributes into BIM programs and other BDC tech. For example, cove.tool incorporates EC3’s database into revgen.tool, allowing manufacturers to easily identify low-carbon and performance-impactful products to support the desires of clients, architects, and professional organizations. When you add the rapid adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the mix, it is exciting to speculate that there is even more room for development.


Still evolving, AI already presents many possibilities for the BDC industry. Implementing AI to automate firm-specific, production-oriented tasks or laborious internal processes could facilitate faster feedback loops and allow architects and their collaborators to focus on the areas that demand a more human touch—like design, product selection, and document accuracy/validation. 

Recent research from Simon Goodhead of The Coxe Group indicates that leveraging AI’s machine learning and large language models could open the doors to a modification of professional services. It is easy to see how improved data inputs might also expand the usage of complex product categories, allowing us to narrow down product options quickly and invest time in those design elements most suitable to a project.


As BIM, database integrations and AI continue to improve, the impacts will ripple across the BDC industry, fostering positive environmental outcomes. Architects and governing agencies seeking lower embodied carbon projects will be able to rely on advanced technology and building product manufacturers’ efforts to lower embodied carbon in their material offerings. These trends point to major transformations on the horizon, with enhanced product data and technology becoming critical to unlocking a more resilient and conscientious built environment for us all.  

About the Author:

Ed Akins, II, AIA, is the enablement director for cove.tool and a registered architect. For more than two decades, he has worked with local communities, architecture firms, and higher education to encourage more responsive and environmentally sensitive design practices. His commitment to a more sustainable future has resulted in multiple awards and honors from the professional community and academia. Akins supports operations and outreach at cove.tool by applying his diverse experiences to the workplace as a strong leader and supporter of the company’s impactful work and strategic initiatives. For more, visit

Modern Contractor Solutions, December 2023
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