Designers seldom go back to study how well their buildings work - usually they do not have the time and their clients will not pay.
Without such feedback, anything which the client does not complain about is regarded as a success, and so will be repeated - even if it has shortcomings. Conversely, true successes may not even be registered.
Recently, there has been new interest in post-occupancy surveys as a means of continuous improvement. In practice, few get done and those that do are either private or published unattributably. An exception is PROBE. Although aimed principally at services engineers, its reports contain much that is of interest to architects. Examples of areas covered in the PROBE surveys include fabric airtightness, effectiveness of natural light, natural ventilation and control systems, energy performance, and occupant satisfaction and productivity.
Although the buildings surveyed in PROBE have been above average, certain problems tend to recur:
control systems (both manual and automatic), which do not work well for occupants and management;
buildings which demand more of their management than the occupiers are prepared to provide.
The occupiers may not be doing enough, but did the designers expect too much? And were the procuring clients properly tuned-in?
unintended consequences of new technologies, requiring fine-tuning that is seldom planned for or undertaken effectively;
partly as a result of all the above, energy consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions, which are often well above the design estimates;
plus, occupants who are less satisfied than they hoped.
We can get much more right first time by improving briefing, design, construction and commissioning, and verifying the state of a building's 'static completion' through quality inspections and airtightness tests.
However, innovation inevitably leads to unexpected problems. Surely we should stay on beyond the date of practical completion and appreciate that outstanding issues include not just defects, but emergent problems requiring integrated solutions?
Clients tend to think that basic functionality, usability and manageability will be delivered automatically, so they do not specify them separately or monitor their progress. However, even the most carefully briefed, specified, constructed and commissioned building will need fine-tuning to support what the occupants really want and deal with any unexpected behaviour. This not only helps to get things fixed, but is a valuable learning experience for all involved.
Statistical analysis of occupant questionnaires suggests that comfort, health and productivity are associated. It also shows that a typical new building subtracts 2 per cent from occupants' perceived productivity, while well-designed and managed buildings can add 10 per cent or more.
Further analysis of the data suggests that one key to improvements is to minimise differences between the most comfortable and uncomfortable staff. This means seeking to eliminate the causes of discomfort, which often occur locally, for example from a leaky facade, air dumping from a grille, a workstation near a noisy coffee area or sun glare. Ideally, the building should provide reasonable conditions all the time and give the opportunity for people to get out of trouble when it occurs, either by exercising control or obtaining rapid response from management.
Unfortunately, recent changes in the workplace have generally had the opposite effect, with staff reporting less perceived control and more noise nuisance than a decade ago.