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Green Sky Thinking review: Innovative intelligence gatherers

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Rupert Bickersteth reports on the variety of data-gathering methods in use, including a look at AHMM’s Angel Building

Yesterday morning (28 April) at the Design Council’s offices in the Angel Building – a stone’s throw from the London tube stop of the same name – Craig Robertson, sustainability specialist of Alford Hall Monaghan Morris, chaired an event looking at the gathering of building performance information and how and where to feed it back in to the design process. It was an appropriate venue as the Angel Building enjoyed a deep refit at the hands of AHMM in 2010, which has garnered them awards such as the BCO Test of Time Award 2015. Robertson though made the sage point that five years was perhaps, in the scope of meaningful sustainability, not really much time at all, and he encouraged awards bodies to consider 10, 20 and even 30 year assessments. Before introducing the three speakers he made the helpful observation that the meaning of green has shifted from energy-centric to a language and set of concerns regarding health and wellbeing, which present different qualitative problems: ’As the meaning of ‘green’ widens to encompass factors affecting our wellbeing and productivity, we discover new ways to measure and record anything.’

Ines Idzikowski Perez, from UCL, presented work carried out in AHMM’s London office studying the relationship between architecture, energy and productivity. It was perhaps to be expected that research confirms there is an optimum temperature where we work at peak productivity. This temperature is generally a little cooler than we might find comfortable (around 22 degrees). Variation in temperature therefore impacts productivity and as staff costs statistically represent 90 per cent of business costs, it makes sense to create working environments that stimulate maximum output. Warmer temperatures impact productivity more than lower ones. The cost of maintaining a peak productivity building environment is less than the cost in lost productivity, so it’s a worthwhile endeavour on many levels. Idzikowski Perez’s research showed that sometimes the simplest methods can be most effective; opening windows, turning technology off for night and weekend cooling. Air conditioning contributes significant CO2 emissions and can have respiratory implications for employees. 

Buro Happold’s Trevor Keeling then presented research on using multisensory wearable technology to measure physiological responses to the building environment. With large amounts of data procured over 50 hours he had managed to draw some conclusions on what the sensors tell us about background conditions in an office. For example, the brighter it is in an office, the more alert you are. That’s not to say that all individuals experience a direct correlation between alertness and light levels. His research highlighted that the difference in individuals is more substantial than changes in or effects of the office environment. Physiological differences in individuals are quite significant and patterns can only be drawn when there is a strong causal link; ie thermal effect on sweat.

Jane Willis, of arts and health consultancy Willis Newson, then presented a different exploration of achieving and quantifying health and wellbeing, using a case study of her work at Bristol’s new Southmead Hospital. She didn’t have scientific research or any plotted data, but rather told a winsome story of supporting change and creating healthy communities through the arts programming. Willis explained how the workplace environmental agenda of the NHS trust was very high on this project - concerns regarding energy, temperature, transport and the employment of local people. They set about initiating a number of programmes such as ’moveable feasts’ which served breakfast to 500 staff traditionally working shifts and hard to reach and engage with. It proved an easy way to start open and constructive conversations and was successful regarding the engagement of the people who work in the new hospital. 

All the various initiatives culminated in a three-day festival of culture, creativity and care when the hospital opened which brought that sense of community from the very start of the new hospital venture. It was interesting to hear Willis conclude that while no data was gathered and no control group available - such wide-ranging and varied activity made it almost impossible to record data - there has still been a qualitative evaluation of the arts programme. It successfully engaged staff in constructive dialogue, improved staff morale and made them feel better about the new building. The central atrium of the new building is large, modern and potentially overwhelming - the arts programme humanised the scale of the building and symbolically created a culture of care.

Criag Robertson of AHMM finished by speaking on ‘rich information collection and dissemination’. Robertson showcased data collection technology facilitating this and provoking behaviour change through the ‘internet of things’. Several audience members questioned him on how once all this information is gathered, how is can be meaningfully used or actioned to affect a difference. Roberston acknowledged that this has been the hot topic of Green Sky Thinking this week, and it is an important forum in which to actively seek answers.

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