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Bill Bordass calls for an Institute for Building Performance

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Speaking at the inaugural George Henderson Memorial Lecture at UCL, Bill Bordass cited the need for better building performance feedback loops to impact policy

Tom McNeil of Cartwright Pickard Architects reports

Bill Bordass of the Usable Buildings Trust lectured on building performance to a packed UCL auditorium earlier this month. After a humorous recap of his four decades in practice, Bordass challenged the audience to find solutions to the massive problems of climate change, energy security and biodiversity, noting that ‘buildings are an enormous part of the problem and they must become part of the solution.’

Summarising the UK’s current predicament, Bordass noted the critical lack a feedback loop which can impact policymaking. A good knowledge base of evidence is lacking. To address this, Bordass proposes the establishment of an interdisciplinary Institute for Building Performance which would have the clout to challenge industry and government. Highlighting the need for a more informed approach to retrofit, Bordass received a round of applause when he termed the Green Deal as a ‘Green sub-prime deal’. Display Energy Certificates (DECs), which could have been used as window on performance, have been side-lined by government, with no alternative strategy forthcoming.

Bordass emphasised that the debate should not focus only on energy and carbon, citing examples of buildings with sustainable design awards whose occupant surveys indicate they are performing poorly.  Too many buildings tick the boxes and portray a ‘green’ image, but don’t perform well for their occupants and are expensive to operate. Bordass called for more case studies to identify what works and what doesn’t and inform future building design. At the same time, he warned against gathering large amounts of data without capturing the context to make sense of it.

During the Q&A, the pitfalls of theoretical models - which are not based actual energy use- were highlighted. This allows designers to ‘twiddle the knobs’ on the model to get better results. Responding to Bordass, Steve Selkowitz of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California called for modest initiatives which can be acted on quickly, stating that we need to ‘think big, start small and act now’.  Always the provocateur, Bill’s final comment - to the surprise of many in the audience – was that he would like to see no changes to the current Part L because there is so much in the current regs that we still need to learn from.







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