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Building Better Buildings: A student perspective

By Gurdane Virk, on 22 February 2016

IMG_8289To celebrate 50 years of Environmental Design and Engineering at the Bartlett, IEDE organised a conference with a general theme of “Building Better Buildings”. The event attracted a varied audience of students, academics and practitioners from across the industry. From my perspective, as a current EngD candidate within IEDE, the event offered a valuable insight into issues that are impacting the industry. The morning session was opened by Prof Mike Davies who gave an overview of the current research within the department. This was followed by talks by members of Innovate UK and the Zero Carbon Hub (ZCH), which provided an introduction to two of the major themes for the day. The first was ongoing issues with the performance gap and the second is how these issues can be remedied using past lessons and new and novel forms of research, practice and the knowledge and data that inform them.

Throughout the day there were examples from domestic and non-domestic case studies that gave an insight into the issues surrounding the performance gap. Work by the ZCH has highlighted issues throughout the design process, from concept design to problems on site. Some of the issues highlighted by specific case studies included how control system systems are too complicated for end users and are sometimes not even able to be controlled! Facilities Managers (FM) who are seen as crucial to success of control strategies are not able to monitor building performance due to issues with meters. A common observation noted by speakers was a general over-complexity in design. The other major issue is that once Post Occupancy Evaluations (POE) have been carried out, there is a disconnect between who is responsible for how the building is performing, contributing to a lack of data sharing in some cases. Many practitioners know about these issues, which leads to the second theme of the day – potential ideas and solutions.

At the start of the day, we were given an overview of the Building Performance Evaluation Programme. The Building Data Exchange (BDX) database is an example of large, rich dataset, which can be used in innovate ways to inform future design. To students, it is a database which can educate about the realities of construction and post occupancy use. To the industry, it is an example of how data should be linked as part of knowledge sharing. As with any dataset, there will be underlying issues with the quality of the data. What is useful about the BDX database is that students can contact the original Building Performance Evaluator if they want any assurance about the original research.

Some of the industry presenters suggested that research into building performance evaluation and using novel ways of approaching problems such as the whole systems thinking of system dynamics (of which IEDE has an expanding research team) will also deepen our understanding of these issues. The final panel discussion continued with these themes. The panel discussion emphasised that in order to potentially solve the issues surrounding the performance gap, there had to be more incentives for the industry to act. Suggestions included that POE should become part of a feedback system within the design process, rather than buildings being left to clients and FM when built. It felt as though many attendees approved of suggestions of mandatory output based assessments, regulations relating to operational performance and new metrics and evaluation methods for performance in use.

What was so encouraging from an IEDE student perspective is that throughout the day there was a continual emphasis that for industry practices to improve there should be increased knowledge sharing, dissemination of research and education of budding practitioners from an early stage. I have always felt that if students are exposed to the realities of the industry from an early stage, the good and the bad, then it will only aid our development and future practice.

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