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The importance of post-occupancy evaluation for our future built environment

“As architects, we should care as much about our buildings after delivery as we do before.”
By Hannelore Christiaens

Many architects see the handover of a building as the final stage of their involvement in a project. At Make however, we believe that architects should not stop caring about their building at the point of delivery. Ironically, it is precisely after this point that some of the most valuable lessons about architecture and design can be learnt. An honest reflection is therefore a must: Are the users satisfied with the building? Is the building performing as well as intended? The collection of qualitative and quantitative research methods employed to answer these questions is called post-occupancy evaluation or POE, and Make has been doing this for their built projects wherever possible.

Why?

Why would an architect start from tabula rasa for each design? Verifying if a building is, indeed, working as intended would be a major contribution to an enhanced design process. The result of doing a POE can only be positive: true successes can be recognised and repeated in the future, and if certain aspects of a building do not meet expectations or if innovations are missing their targets, these will be revealed. Collecting knowledge from several projects can lead to a better understanding of comfort in general, and a better thesis to begin with once a new design project has to be initiated. Every POE will produce a particular fragment of information and by carrying out these evaluations repeatedly, this fragmented knowledge will become more and more coherent.

Lessons learnt

Project cycle

Therefore, it is not only important to have a client or user heavily involved in the design process before construction, but also for the designer to be involved with the user experience after construction, which is a phase where architects are usually left out.

Relationship between client and design team

User and design process

Practically, the lessons learnt from post-occupancy evaluations on a project can then be utilised to bring about change for that particular project and to inform future design in the following ways:

  • Intervention design: altering aspects of the building that can be changed relatively easily to increase user satisfaction (short term)
  • Renovation design: using more appropriate space divisions, materials, systems and building skins when renovating the building (medium term)
  • Future building design: problems that can’t be resolved in the current building should be avoided in future projects (long term)

POE and sustainability

POE is especially important in sustainable architecture, where it serves as a hypothesis testing for innovative projects by testing and monitoring them after completion.

Innovation and new techniques can bring unintended consequences, so it is important to see which projects are moving in the right direction.

Sustainable buildings are not just about one way of construction or combining a few techniques, we have to understand the effectiveness of sustainable design strategies in relation to context, climate, scale, type of use, user, client and city. POE can reveal why a certain technique works well on one project but fails on another by surveying actual performance, any improper usage which can cancel out environmental goals and the social and psychological effects of a building on its users. This will lead to even more successful designs with a high level of comfort. Newly built environment will therefore progressively perform better than those preceding them.

Existing standards and methods

Many kinds of POEs already exist, although they are not often used. There is not a single method which is the absolute standard, and making one ideal POE is not possible due to the unique nature of every individual project.

This adds to the complexity of implementing POEs. Quantitative and qualitative POEs, or hybrids, have been developed, covering different lifespans, techniques and processes (e.g. the Portfolio Technique incl. Probe, Soft Landings) and there are several ways of sharing knowledge (e.g. CarbonBuzz). For the projects here at Make that have been evaluated, the techniques were assessed and the appropriate method used for each case.

Cost

One of the main reasons why POE is not yet widely implemented is due to the cost. Over the long term, however, and when POE is well implemented, the benefits can be huge and definitely larger than the initial costs. A study has found the following: ‘The Construction Engineering Research Laboratory did a cost-benefit study: they found that for every dollar spent on POEs, they saved ten dollars on operating and redesign costs.’ Research Design Connections (2003)

Summary

The knowledge of how users experience a building after its delivery is an important yet often neglected source of information for architects, which stands in stark contrast to the level of interest and hard work that the architect puts into understanding the needs of the future users in the design process. POE provides this feedback and, no matter which stage of its lifecycle a building is in, the results will always be useful.

Figuratively, POE replaces the ‘blank sheet’ of the architect with transparent paper which is placed over experience, knowledge and previous successes, from which the appropriate lines can be copied. New insights are used for fine tuning new buildings, improving design for future buildings, and renovating existing buildings, leading to cost savings and a better user experience in healthy and comfortable environments.

Therefore, the sooner implementation becomes universal, the sooner the benefits will be reaped as POE takes on an increasing and, ultimately, indispensable role in the building process in the future.

Notes
Blog post based on: CHRISTIAENS, H., “Implementing post occupancy evaluation into common sustainable design practice – a reflection”, The University of Edinburgh, 2012; and sources referenced to in this paper.
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Responsible sourcing starts with design

by James Goodfellow

“There’s nothing like a horsemeat scandal to get us all interested in where things come from”, said Sarah Cary, sustainable development executive at British Land, when she introduced the responsible sourcing seminar at this year’s Ecobuild.

Too true.

Responsible sourcing is not a new concept at all, although it is still relatively new in the construction industry. Understanding where the products and materials we specify come from and what their impact is on the environment is so important that we must obtain an understanding of their traceability through the supply chain. It’s time that responsible sourcing became the big topic and was an integral part of every construction project.

What is responsible sourcing?

Responsible sourcing is a holistic approach to the way in which building products and construction materials are extracted, processed, supplied and used on site. It also takes into account the way materials can be re-used, recycled or disposed of when they reach they end of their lifecycle.

It requires the examination of a product and its supplier and whether they meet certain sustainability, environmental, social and economic requirements.

Why is it important?

Construction projects are one of the biggest drains on our world’s resources. From the materials we extract from the earth to the carbon emissions released during construction to the final energy requirements of the completed building. It is vital that each project makes as little negative impact on the environment as possible; benefits the communities involved in the production or supply of materials; and meets certain health, safety and quality standards so as to improve the life of the building and those using it.

Make’s approach to responsible sourcing in design

The Gateway Building is a biosciences research facility for the University of Nottingham. 5 Broadgate is the new London corporate headquarters for financial services company UBS.  These two buildings could not be more different in size, scale, use, location and requirements; however where they converge is in how best practice was ensured throughout the design process.

The Gateway Building, University of Nottingham

The Gateway Building, University of Nottingham

The materials used in The Gateway Building’s cladding reflect the campus’s agriculture heritage by bringing together three sustainable materials: wood, straw and render. Local sourcing was key in procuring the materials with the aim of not only reducing embodied carbon through transportation but also bringing employment to the local community.

Locally sourced materials for The Gateway Building

Locally sourced materials for The Gateway Building

Being an agricultural campus the straw was locally produced by the university on their neighbouring fields. A pop-up factory was then set up in a barn less than five miles from the site where the timber, straw and render were prefabricated into 14m long cassettes.  This meant the materials were assembled in a controlled environment that was extremely close to both the source of the materials and the construction site. The windows were also sourced and fabricated down the road less than 10 miles from the site.

5 Broadgate on the other hand is a large office block in the heart of the City of London. High sustainability targets have been set for the project by both the occupier, UBS and the developers, British Land.

5 Broadgate, London, UK

5 Broadgate, London, UK

Supply chain interrogation helped us make informed design decisions early on and assisted in the sustainable procurement of materials. We looked at every component specified within the building, comparing the sustainability criteria for different options including their embodied energy and recycled content. For example, these decisions meant we were able to mitigate 360 tons in CO2 equivalents on the façade alone.

Life cycle comparison of materials for 5 Broadgate

Life cycle comparison of materials for 5 Broadgate

We further defined our sustainability requirements during the tender process by producing specific sustainability requirements for all potential contractors. They were required to confirm and demonstrate compliance at tender stage and offer improvements where possible. We’ve found that it is easier to get data from suppliers at tender stage while they are keen for the job rather than after they are appointed!

Once appointed we continue to work with the supply chain to maximise material optimisation and minimise wastage as the design develops. We also work with the contractors to find further ways to minimise transportation and carbon emissions during production and this is being monitored on a project wide basis.

Summary

Two very different projects with different briefs and different opportunities. But by placing sustainability at the heart of the decision-making process and putting a strong focus on material research and supply chain interrogation, we made informed decisions that ensured the buildings were responsibly sourced.

As Derek Hughes, responsible sourcing scheme manager at BRE Global so aptly put it: “We’re all used to seeing fair trade in our coffee, but why not fair trade in our concrete?”

Notes
James Goodfellow recently presented ‘Responsible sourcing – the design process’ at Ecobuild 2013. You can download James’s presentation from the Ecobuild website or follow him on Twitter: @jamesgoodfellow 
Sarah Cary works with British Land’s project teams to drive sustainable design, responsible construction and ethical procurement. Read Sarah’s blog or follow her on Twitter: @sarahcary 
 
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Electricity Pylon Competition

The Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and National Grid set the challenge: design a pylon that has the potential to deliver for future generations, whilst balancing the needs of local communities and preserving the beauty of the countryside.

There are more than 88,000 pylons in the UK but the familiar steel lattice tower has barely changed since the 1920s. So the competition called for designs for a new generation of pylon.

Taking inspiration from the spaces between pylons, we created a series of beautiful, ornate structures which offer an elegant, attractive alternative to conventional pylon design. Influenced by gentle flowing forms such as spiders’ webs, ribbons or Celtic calligraphy, our simple design is sturdy and functional while appearing delicate and fragile.

Read the full article > 

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