#28 A time to reflect

I have been using some of my time during this period of staying home to reflect on my doctoral project so far, to recap on my journey from the start in April 2017, to where I am today; how my project has evolved during that time; the different avenues I have explored; and the varied topics of research considered (these range from architecture and the built environment, to general sustainability, energy, collaborative working methods, procurement, product design, change management, and research methods).

Yesterday I presented my research at the SPECIFIC bi-monthly meeting (virtually of course), at which there were 49 attendees.  Preparing for this presentation forced me to recap on my project, and to describe the professional doctorate (in my case a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment, D.SBE) process to the researchers at SPECIFIC who are more familiar with PhD and EngD schemes.  I used the following diagram to illustrate the modular nature of the D.SBE and what each module entailed for me:

It is quite good to see it illustrated in this way as it shows I am nearing completion!

One of the comments made after my presentation was that it was good to see that, although my research is very different to the scientific and engineering research undertaken by most of the people working within the SPECIFIC project, I am still following the same structured approach and established research methods.  Also, the importance of questioning the value of my research by testing it with those it is aimed at, is critical and helps to ground the work we are doing at SPECIFIC within the construction industry it targets.

Also acknowledged was that the work I am doing, although not as technical or ground-breaking as most of the work underway at SPECIFIC, is deemed of benefit to the group, as it provides a different way for SPECIFIC to interact with other organisations – this was discussed in blog post #25.

I have also been reading a book called “Achieving your professional doctorate” (Smith, 2009) which has similarly encouraged me to reflect on my work so far and to question its originality.

In the book, Smith notes that modern-day practice is in a constant state of change for many professionals, which I think is particularly true in architectural practice, as designers embrace themselves in a whole host of different projects, which require different skills and different types of information to be produced at each of the project stages. In addition, practitioners are often under pressure to respond rapidly and sometimes reactively rather than proactively.  This concurs with my own experience and understanding of architectural practice. I would say that most of an architect’s work is based on reacting to changing situations, such as evolving client’s briefs, additional design considerations from other disciplines, site challenges that could not have been anticipated, planning requirements, etc, etc. And there is always the need for rapid responses to meet deadlines, or to ensure site works are not held up, for example.  All these factors leave architects with very little time to consider different ways of doing things, or to explore new technologies available to them.  This is one of the areas I hope to tackle by producing a comprehensive Active Building Design Guide.

On originality, the work I have been doing since I joined SPECIFIC in 2013, to connect the scientific research into solar energy technologies to the construction industry, puts me in a fairly unique position. I initially set about enabling this connection by producing information that could be understood by the construction industry, in the form of case studies of technologies, seminars, presentations and more recently the building demonstrators, which my work now centres around.  Crucially for me, when starting my doctorate, I had experience as both a practitioner and researcher.  Some of the early case studies I put together (pre-building demonstrators) are shown here:

When I started my doctorate, the original plan was to undertake quantitative research, and would have involved testing and validating the technologies used on the Active Buildings I had designed.  However, I very soon learned that my skills and areas of expertise were more concerned with the process of bringing the technologies together into a building, the challenges associated with enabling the construction industry to adopt the new Active Building concept, exploring ways to enable an industry to adopt any form of change (change models), where the effort needs to be placed, and what would help designers convince their clients to try a different route, i.e. what information should designers be armed with in order to steer a project down a particular route.  This was best explored through qualitative research.

Within my research project, I have been looking into change models related to enabling organisational change within individual companies and how those change models could be applied to the construction industry. I have also tailored well-established data collection methods, such as focus groups and questionnaires, into Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshops, related to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Core CPD Curriculum. In other words, rather than setting up focus groups purely to gain results for my research and being of little benefit to architects, I have turned this around to ensure there is something in it for those attending as well as for me and my research. So, while reviewing my developing design guide, architects also learn something new – I am contributing to their knowledge and providing them with potential solutions to adopt in their own building designs, while also gaining CPD points (architects must undertake a minimum of 35 hours CPD each year). 

While not a new concept, I am also promoting use of a feedback loop in construction, as used in the manufacturing industry, where it is referred to as the Plan-Do-Check-Act model.  Although this is advocated in construction through use of data capture platforms like Carbonbuzz, and undertaking Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) of building projects, feedback and continuous improvement are not usually mandatory in construction and are often deemed as additional works, with additional costs, which clients tend to be unwilling to pay for. What architects need is to be armed with a list of considerations for inclusion in Active Building projects (including a feedback loop), alongside the benefits these will bring to clients.

So, by combining the Active Building concept with tools and methods used in other industries, I believe we can enable the construction industry to meet the climate change targets it must urgently work towards. This provides the main focus for my work.

We will be holding an online seminar on the design of Active Buildings in practice later this month, so please get in touch if you would like details of this, joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk

Published by jorclarke

I am an Architect, currently working at SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, Swansea University, and studying for a Doctorate in Sustainable Built Environment (D.SBE), which is focused on developing an Active Building Design Guide.

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