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Changing places The AJ readers' visit to BSRIA demonstrated that the future is nearer than we think and gave an insight into its technologies

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Now that issues such as whole-life costing are so prevalent, a remark made during an aj readers' visit to the Building Services Research and Information Association (bsria) should strike a chord. 'Some people who came to us for quotes said we were too expensive,' said bsria's Mike Smith, 'Now they are involved in litigation.'

Smith went on to describe bsria's facility for the physical modelling of proposed ventilation installations. The physical conditions of the designed room are set up, and then a pole with sensors at a range of heights is moved from one point on the floor to another, to build up a three-dimensional model of the way the room behaves. On the occasion of the readers' visit, the model - a gallery - showed severe stratification of the air.

aj visitors also saw a demonstration of the fan rover, the equipment used for testing the airtightness of buildings. bsria's chief executive Andrew Eastwell believes it may only be needed for another ten years or so, as the message gets through. In the meantime, Nigel Potter, who is in charge of this area of work, produced horror stories about the leakiness of many uk buildings. Most worrying is the way that testing proves the inadequacy of many firewalls.

More prosaic but equally essential are the tests carried out on fancoil units before installation - used for instance on all the units at the Royal Opera House - and on flexible hoses. These building elements, typically carrying water in the ceilings of offices, can cause damage out of all proportion to their cost if they fail. And a typical large building may contain more than 5000 such hoses. bsria is working with a group of manufacturers on developing a standard for them.

The morning of the open day consisted of the visitors inspecting a sample of bsria's extensive facilities, but in the afternoon they took the weight off their feet to hear presentations. David Stribling of Flomerics, a company which has specialised in computational fluid dynamics (cfd) for buildings, and works closely with bsria, demonstrated how its techniques complemented the physical modelling the visitors had seen in the morning. Work could range from a look at a relatively typical office building to Sauerbruch Hutton's innovative Photonics building in Germany. In that instance the architect used Flomerics' modelling skills to refine and prove the viability of its design. Visiting architects also submitted their own design concepts in advance and during the day for analysis. 'I wish I had heard the presentations before I did the design,' one commented.

Dr Rosemary Rawlings of bsria provided excellent insight into the current state of play with photovoltaic panels. We are nearer than many thought to photovoltaics becoming an economic option for buildings, she said. Current worldwide production is about 200MW per year, which would need to rise to 500MW to bring prices down to an acceptable level. This, she said, 'requires an act of faith on the part of producers, or for a country such as the Netherlands to decree that all new housing must incorporate pv.'

Rawlings showed illustrations of extensive installations around the world, including pv panels installed on the roofs of rented housing by the owners - electricity companies. This is enough to put Britain to shame, since there are still only a handful of projects here. The largest single user is British Petroleum, with pv panels on the roofs of 15 of its filling stations.

But Rawlings predicts growth, assisted by an imminent new publication produced jointly by bsria and the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers and by substantial Department of Trade and Industry research. It has allocated about £1 million for demonstration projects on the use of domestic pv in a programme to be managed by the Building Research Establishment. Another £2 to £3 million will become available in the autumn for larger- scale non-domestic demonstration projects.

The visitors, as well as enjoying the presentations, had the chance of some hands-on experience with the Flomerics modelling. Their interests ranged from concern about the exhaust from the fan rover tests blowing into the buildings to a desire to learn about ways to use underground rock stores to cool buildings in hot countries. They left with some issues to ponder, a wedge of publications - and the ubiquitous cpd certificate.

The Architects' Journal would like to thank bsria and Flomerics for their support in organising an excellent day. Details of further joint events will appear in the aj

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