In November 2020, the first version of my Active Building Toolkit was launched on the SPECIFIC website. The main reason I developed the toolkit was to share our experiences of designing, delivering and operating Active Buildings; highlight the key design considerations for an Active Building; and showcase some of the available and emerging technologies that could be included in an Active Building project.
I developed the Toolkit as one of the outputs from my doctoral research project, following testing of the documents with the anticipated end users – mainly architectural designers – through focus groups, undertaken during my main study. The results of this testing helped me determine the type of information designers need when embarking on an Active Building project and their preferred format for such guidance. This inevitably involved identifying key challenges they may encounter in introducing an innovative concept to a building project – key challenges such as fear of the unknown, perceived risk, lack of data, knowledge, time, costs, etc.
The Toolkit was designed to address some of these challenges, for example, by providing evidence from our own Active Building demonstrators. We could also save research time for designers by providing information on technologies, key design considerations and key learning points.
While the focus groups held with the end users were hugely beneficial in developing this first draft, the real test comes from attempting to use the guidance on live projects. This is where the opportunity to refine the documents comes in.
The Toolkit in Action
Active Building RIBA Plan of Work Checklists
I intend to create Active Building Checklists as part of the Toolkit to provide a method to track the main design considerations and key decisions taken at each of the RIBA Work Stages, as an Active Building project progresses – the idea being that this will ensure the Active Building principles are properly considered throughout the project, in turn guaranteeing that the completed project is an Active Building. However, the only way to truly test this document is to trial it on a live project, working with the project team to ensure the checklists are achievable and align with other project requirements.
In January 2021, I was invited to join a design team for a commercial building project, which the client has stipulated must be an Active Building, providing an ideal opportunity to trial the Toolkit. The design team have welcomed the use of the Active Building RIBA Plan of Work Checklists and agree they would be of real benefit to the project, enabling all parties to work together to capture critical design decisions relating to the Active Building brief at each RIBA Work Stage, and to present this to the client as the project progresses, demonstrating their efforts to achieve Active Building status.
As well as tracking progress, these checklists will also be useful when making decisions that may affect the project budget; and can be used to gain client sign-off at the different stages.
It is exciting to be working with the architects to evolve this set of checklists further, which will then be included in our Toolkit for use on other commercial building projects.
Active Building Monitoring Specifications
While the Active Building Design Guide provides some information on data monitoring expectations for an Active Building, we are now starting to develop monitoring specifications bespoke to different building typologies. The first we have developed is for a commercial building, again using the above project as a case study. We developed this in collaboration with the Active Building Centre Research and Technology Organisation (ABC RTO), who are part funding the project. SPECIFC are supporting the design team, while the ABC RTO are part of the client team – by working together in this way, we can ensure the building delivered at the end of the project will be an exemplar Active Building, and the ABC RTO will monitor and evaluate data collected from the building in use to validate this. Involving colleagues from both SPECIFIC and the ABC RTO enables me to harness their expertise to ensure the document is beneficial to Active Building projects.
Energy Dashboard Specification
Our Energy Dashboards have proved extremely popular with visitors to our Active Buildings, showing at a glance how much energy we are generating and consuming at any time of the day, and relating our generation and consumption data to current environmental conditions. Data from our vast database is illustrated in a series of clear diagrams, easily understood by visitors and building occupants of all ages and from all backgrounds.
Although we are by no means experts in this, we feel our recipe for energy dashboards should be shared with others, so that they might create their own dashboards. As we move forward to decarbonise our buildings and embrace a more flexible relationship between buildings and the energy grids, we all need a certain amount of energy literacy. Energy dashboards provide an ideal way to start the process of engaging with our energy consumption patterns in a more considered way than we have been used to in the past.
This document provides some examples of technologies we have either used in our own Active Building demonstrators, or have identified as having the potential to enable the Active Building principles to be achieved. It also highlights some emerging technologies, such as our own inter-seasonal heat storage.
We will add to this document as and when we discover further relevant technologies. We have already been approached by companies wishing to include their technologies in the document, and as we work with more companies on collaborative projects, we will find more products and technologies to include.
If you are interested in trialling any of our documents on your own projects, of any building type, please get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org
And, if you have suggestions for guidance documents you would find useful if embarking on an Active Building project, ideas are always welcome!