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Awards should be given to buildings that stand the 'test of time'

The RIBA’s proposal for a ‘test of time’ award is a boost for sustainable design, says Hattie Hartman

The RIBA is considering implementing a ‘test of time’ sustainability award. This welcome initiative would recognise a previously RIBA-awarded building that continues to be cherished by its users, whose design and materials have proven robust, and which performs well in the round. This award should also make ‘in use’ performance data mandatory.

The fact is there just aren’t many projects with good data around. Penoyre & Prasad’s forthcoming book of non-domestic retrofit case studies for RIBA Publishing includes numerous exemplar projects, but very few with in-use data, despite the industry-wide call for projects with post-occupancy information. In a bold move, the Passivhaus Trust awards programme, now in its second year, demands project submissions with performance data, but this has reduced its already small pipeline of projects to a trickle of just 17 entries in 2013.

In April, the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) launched a ‘Top Ten Plus’ to recognise a previous COTE award recipient ‘with quantifiable metrics which demonstrate the impact of sustainability’. It is revealing that from the 170 buildings the AIA has feted with a COTE award during the programme’s 17-year life, the project singled out for the inaugural ‘Top Ten Plus’ award is a conversion of a 1,300m2 industrial building in San Francisco completed in 2010. This suggests that none of the higher-profile public or commercial buildings had any data.

It’s not a sexy subject – even the most tenacious design teams struggle to make monitoring happen. And it’s hard to make it pay. CarbonBuzz, with 617 projects uploaded, is one of the better sources of data we have, but of that number, all but 67 are anonymous. This highlights another root of the problem – transparency. No one wants to share the news when projects don’t perform.

The premise of the AJ’s Bridge the Gap campaign is to promote fluency and transparency in metrics. Those who can capture the data, interpret it and present it intelligently to clients will lead the way. The RIBA should support and reward the use of metrics by launching its ‘test of time’ award next year.

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