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· Kristina Roszynski

MIND THE GAP: People and Building Performance

Green Sky Thinking Week 2015 - two years on is our retrofit office building performing as predicted?

For Green Sky Thinking Week we opened our doors at the Foundry to visitors who joined us to learn whether our BREEAM Excellent retrofit studios are performing as predicted. 

This was an honest account of our experiences as client and architect, working with the engineer Phil Armitage of Max Fordham. A reason for sharing our story was to contribute to solving the age old problem of how to learn lessons from past projects to inform new design.

Film of the event.

The event was chaired by Jon Bootland of the Sustainable Development Foundation, which has been based in the Foundry since it opened. During the discussion, Jon invited the audience to contribute to a list of priorities and potential solutions in addressing the "gaps". This was followed by a vote on which issues the attendees felt were critical to enabling change. These ten key points are listed at the end of this article.

In parallel to the main event proceedings, our freshly installed Woodpecker drawing machine (designed and built by Those), traced the sounds made throughout the evening. This recorded attendees arriving, laughing and applauding, and was a neat visual representation of how acoustics are experienced during an event at the Foundry.

The Woodpecker drawing a visual representation of the sound levels in the studio during our event.

The actual energy in use, presented by Phil Armitage, showed our building to be performing well. However, the journey to getting this data proved difficult due to the gap between the design intention for the meters and their installation. As Bill Bordass commented in the following discussion, "you always need one more meter, not one less!"

Diagram showing the design intention for the meters and how they were actually installed.

Our proposition was in part an exploration of what kind of performance should be measured, but also of what range of "gaps" exist and how these can contribute to our understanding of what we have designed. These "gaps" were identified at all stages of the project.

The range of "gaps" throughout the stages of a project.

In fact, the gap in understanding between technical performance and enjoyment is one theme that is less discussed. We have come a little closer to unearthing this following research by Trevor Keeling of Buro Happold/University of Reading.

Trevor spent a week measuring lighting, temperature, air quality and sound in the studio, as part of his research looking at a spread of office building case studies. The results from the Foundry's data were combined with a survey of people using our building. It showed that the Foundry had the highest levels of satisfaction with light levels, temperature and indoor air quality of the six offices studied. This promoted an interesting discussion about the energy performance versus people's experience of working in the building. This research reinforced our understanding that passive design (good daylight, natural ventilation), with high level of personal control, greatly contributes to a more joyful human experience in the workplace.

Perhaps we need to look at this issue in a new way by questioning what we are measuring. Can we close the performance gap by focusing our energy on achieving good outcomes, rather than tick-boxing exercises such as trying to predict energy use?


Ten ways to close the gap(s) 

(Ordered by descending number of votes)

1. Improve the delivery process

  • Focus on operational outcomes
  • ​​“Hold the thread” from inception to completion
  • Need one more meter – not one less!
  • Change the culture

2. Information – collected v. available

  • Identify real key factors for categorisation, based on sensitivity analysis, for meaningful comparison
  • Publicly available data, and lots of it
  • Data collected as part of a real process – utility bills/tax return

3. Measure people productivity/business performance

  • Establish what is important for measurement (Distraction? Comfort? Indoor air quality? Business productivity/success?)
  • Appropriate management styles for occupants

4. Offer variety in experience of environment – understand people’s responses

  • Circadian standards - lighting levels that align with natural rhythms
  • Acoustics – auralisations (how is your building going to sound?)

5. Inform new design

  • Avoid tick-boxing! Design for comfort as well as energy/sustainability.
  • Emphasise design quality
  • Fuller feedback from clients (not just when things go wrong, not just our perception)

6. Controls

  • Better interface design – learn lessons from other industries

7. Increase energy costs

  • Double the price to encourage people to save energy

8. Energy – predicted v. actual

  • Model predictions as standard part of process – user involvement (where possible!)
  • Simple methods and tools to provide feedback to users
  • Emphasise in-use energy data – mainstream, not just enthusiasts!

9. Replicating study

  • Quarterly surveys in your own office – “people are the best sensors”

10. Optimise space usage

  • Time-use studies – programme in order to maximise use
  • Needs to be managed so not interfering with productivity
  • Flexible bench desks (NB: dual screens affect interaction)

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