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The challenge now is to demonstrate the value of POE across the industry

Post-occupancy research is not just about metrics. It’s about how to get the most out of a building and informing future design work, says Hattie Hartman

Last year in our annual February green issue our Look and Learn feature (AJ 28.02.13) showcased practices which revisit their completed buildings to learn from them. In an April Footprint column (AJ 25.04.13) Peter Halsall, chair of the Good Homes Alliance, challenged AJ readers to revisit their buildings with an engineer in tow and a thermal camera in hand.

This challenge to the profession was formalised in the AJ’s Bridge the Gap campaign, launched last spring during Green Sky Thinking week. The campaign aims to unpick the reasons why so many buildings - including many with pioneering sustainability credentials - fail to perform as designed. As part of the campaign, we have undertaken a series of building revisits. This month the AJ revisits Foster + Partners’ Langley Academy, acclaimed upon completion five years ago for its sustainability credentials.

We’ve chosen to revisit Langley because the Slough academy has recently been the subject of in-house post-occupancy research by Foster + Partners’ specialist modelling group. The practice first trialled in-depth post-occupancy work at the Masdar Institute of Technology in 2010. At Masdar, the remit was to interrogate the passive design to inform a subsequent phase of work. The thrust of the research focused on the efficacy of materials in the desert climate; thermal comfort both in the exterior spaces and inside the buildings, and daylight.

After Masdar, Fosters’ specialist modelling team turned to Langley, the most sustainable of its numerous academies, completing a round of post-occupancy research there last year. What the Fosters post-occupancy work shows - both at Masdar and at Langley - is that going back and visiting a building is not just about metrics and occupant surveys. It’s about advising the client how to get the most out of their building and informing future design work. Irene Gallou, who heads this research at Fosters, explains that monitoring results are used to calibrate predictive models. Many practices are already charging for this service.

On the value of post-occupancy work, Foster partner David Nelson observes: ‘Today we rely more and more on simulations. But simulations are not reality. When you’ve gone through it and measured it now that it’s built, it gives tremendous confidence and knowledge about what to do the next time around.’

Forward-thinking clients already see the value of this work. The challenge is to demonstrate its value across the industry, so that post-occupancy services can be planned for at bid stage.

Also in this issue, RIBA Gold Medallist Joseph Rykwert writes about O’Donnell + Tuomey’s Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics. Here, an exceptional marriage of passive design with the craft of architecture transcends the usual litany of sustainability strategies and technologies, nonetheless delivering a BREEAM Outstanding building. Far from a solution of austerity, O’Donnell+ Tuomey’s architecture embraces materials and craft and suggests a convincing and compelling way forward for sustainable architecture.

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