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Fosters is tackling building performance – your practice should too

Architects should revisit past projects, learn from them, and tool up for the challenge ahead, says Christine Murray

We’ve known for some time that Foster + Partners is re-visiting its built portfolio and completing post-occupancy evaluations. The in-house programme started as early as 2006. The data collected is confidential, and no one will speak to us about specific case-study results. But the fact that the biggest and most successful practice in the country is taking post-occupancy seriously is a lesson for the whole profession.

What Foster + Partners is gaining through this programme is a competitive edge. Too few architects and engineers know how the design and fabric of their completed building will perform in terms of energy use - and for all the worthiness of the green ratings industry, we now know that the predictions and the actual performance of a building don’t match up.

We’ve met architects who actively avoid revisiting their completed buildings, for fear that they’ll uncover liabilities - but how many preventable liabilities does the profession blindly incur this way, and how much essential knowledge is lost?

The reasons to revisit are potent: you can learn from what went wrong; and you can set right problems that have emerged over time. Irene Gallou (pictured), partner at Foster + Partners, says that when they return to a building, they examine the design, and separately, talk to the occupiers. ‘We try to separate out how the building fabric performs [from what the users do].’

Foster

Through the programme, Fosters is collecting valuable intelligence and making clients happy by addressing performance issues. But even more compelling is Gallou’s prediction that in the future Fosters will sell post-occupancy as a service. ‘We want to get direct feedback on our buildings, and that is something we have invested in. Hopefully in the future we could sell it as a service. That is where we would like to be.’

This week, as part of our Bridge the Gap campaign, we publish six calls to action to government and regulatory bodies to tackle the gap between predicted and actual energy use. The action points came out of a roundtable discussion organised by the AJ’s sustainability editor, Hattie Hartman, with a top-flight panel of experts and chaired by Sunand Prasad.

The panel called on the government to enforce existing regulations, including Part L, streamline its plethora of green policies and invest in the use of Display Energy Certificates. It also called on the industry to write building performance into contracts, develop standard metrics and benchmarks and make post-occupancy evaluation a mandatory part of architecture and engineering education.

The support of government and the RIBA is essential - but I would also argue that architects themselves must, like Fosters, be proactive in addressing the energy performance gap.

We have been told time and again by clients that before long performance will be written into building contracts. Architects should follow Fosters’ lead: revisit past projects, learn from them, and tool up for the challenge ahead. The building performance revolution is coming - and if architects don’t tackle it, some other new breed of consultant will.

 

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