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AJ housing survey: post-occupancy not on architects' radar


Only three per cent of architects carry out post-occupation evaluations (POE) on all their housing projects, according to a new AJ poll

Of the nearly 200 practitioners, technologists and part-qualified architects questioned as part of a wide-ranging survey of the housing sector, more than a quarter (26.5 per cent) said they never went back to assess their completed residential schemes.

A further 40 per cent admitted they were not currently carrying out post-occupancy investigations but were ‘pressing their clients to do it’.

Roger Hawkins, partner at Hawkins\Brown, said the housing sector was still playing catch-up with other areas of the construction industry: ‘Post-occupation evaluation has been standard practice in the higher education sector for years.

‘It allows for collaboration and an understanding of how to improve and do some things differently next time around.

‘The housing sector would do well to learn from this approach.’

According to Jestico + Whiles’ director Heinz Richardson, the feedback loop for completed projects is woefully inadequate for today’s climate: ‘The core issue is that most clients are unwilling to pay for it unless they are owner occupiers or responsible for longer term building maintenance

‘For it to be effective it requires a considerable time commitment. The answer is to ensure, at minimum, that any building which receives funding from the public purse must involve post occupancy research which should be disseminated so that valuable lessons can be learnt.’

Glasgow-based Collective Architecture’s Lizzie Smith said that when it comes to post-occupancy work, housing associations had a better record than the private sector, adding: ‘It’s definitely something which should be looked at more. It is an opportunity to improve and get to the core of what people are looking for.

‘It could be something which we may think is quite small or insignificant, but can be vitally important to a person living in their property - a wardrobe door or a height or a window - but it can have a huge impact on a client’s wellbeing.’

However Nick Johnson, former deputy chief executive of Urban Splash, said: ‘A lot of developers do carry out this wor. If architects were to start doing it it might result in survey fatigue from the occupiers.

‘The real question is whose voice does the architect listen to? The answer is who’s paying the bill. Quite how more detailed research would empower them, I’m not too sure.’

Further results from the AJ’s housing design survey will be released over the coming weeks.


Readers' comments (4)

  • I think the point is really in order for meaningful POE to be undertaken that Architects generally need to get a better grip on what exactly they are trying to achieve. What are our standard measures going to be?

    Some will say temperature or humidity, others will say more subjective indicators, such as user happiness surveys, or the number of perceived faults and so on.

    How long are we talking - a one off exercise say 6 months on is interesting, but what really useful data does it provide - longer on-going evaluations are generally going to provide better data.

    The other issue is cultural, some people will welcome Architects and designers into their homes, however, we cannot impose ourselves on the end users. Perhaps, where they have an agreeable landlord on-going access can be established, but that is closing our eyes to an awful lot of other buildings.

    Glad we having this debate, design feedback loops are essential, yet they are so rare in Construction.

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    Most home builders and Registered Providers do undertake feedback research but on the whole not about design and anyway they don't involve their architects in the process - an indication of the degree to which design is misunderstood and the role of architects has receded.

    We are fighting back at HTA with our Home Performance Labelling proposal undertaken with collaborators such as PRP, LBA, PTE and Alison Brooks at the Housing Forum. Readers can see the fruit of our labours on line at www.homeperformancelabelling.co.uk.

    The obvious corollary of this approach, recommended in our report, is that if architects predict the performance of the homes they design we can quite simply ask the residents whether we have achieved the predicted outcomes - and we will!

    Our proposal is gaining traction. The deputy Mayor for Housing at the GLA, Richard Blakeway, has said publicly that he will pilot the idea on a London scheme. We presented the report to Brandon Lewis this week and he took immediately to the concept of informed consumer choice, instructing civil servants to look into a national pilot.

    Ben Derbyshire
    Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP
    Chair, the Housing Forum.

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  • We are one of the 3% of practices who are actively developing skills, techniques and experience in building performance and post occupancy evaluation. We're currently recruiting a building performance specialist, if you're interested please apply online - http://tinyurl.com/knhzhad

    We're investing in POE, we have been doing it on selected projects for 5 years, we've found small pots of funding to help with this. Clients might not explicitly invest in it for every project but clients do place a value on performance as well as aesthetics. How long can architects carry on promising outcomes which fall short when the building is complete?

    Embedding feedback into office and project culture is the best approach. I think mandatory publication of all POE data (mentioned in article) is not a good idea, we see our research as part of our IP, we'd like to choose what we publish and what we don't. There will be some projects that don't measure up, systems that need to adjust, calculations (SAP) need to change before a 'warts and all' approach would actually work for either clients or architects.

    I applaud HTA's project and the political traction it seems to be gaining.

    Matt Bridgestock
    Director, John Gilbert Architects
    Chair, Scottish Ecological Design Association

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  • POE has to be a good thing and in traditionally run contracts architects can still get feedback on design matters while doing 'end of defects' inspections and hopefully put the information to good use. The problem is that architects have very often relinquished this part of their traditional role because they see it as unprofitable. Hopefully the Housing Forum initiative will take hold and help us to re-establish much needed contact with those who live in the houses we design

    Kind regards

    Richard Morton
    RM architects

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