#34 Active Building Toolkit

This week I have been reviewing feedback from my research participants so far and reviewing my design guide documents, alongside other design guides that are used within the construction industry.

This has resulted in a complete overhaul of the documents – graphics, structure and content – triggered by the realisation that my main Design Guide was too big and had become a confused document, merging a design guide with a report (as helpfully pointed out by one of my colleagues). It was quite wordy and contained content that, while providing good background information, was not necessarily helpful to aid design – a lot of the content was more suited for inclusion in a training course. This quote from Dr Seuss sums it up nicely:

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” Dr Seuss

I took a step back to think carefully about what information I want to share with designers, based on my own experience, that would help them to design Active Buildings. I realised that a lot of the information in my current design guide would already be known to designers, or would be available to look up, but it would be more useful to share key design considerations, challenges and lessons learnt.

So, I have reorganised my work to create a suite of documents to aid the design of Active Buildings, that will form an Active Building Toolkit, consisting of:

  • Active Building Design Guide
  • Active Building Plan of Work Checklists
  • Active Building Technology Showcase
  • Active Building Case Studies:
    • Active Classroom
    • Active Office
    • + more to be added in time

I have stripped the main design guide of case studies and technologies, to make it a much clearer document that will be easier to keep up to date.  I have received comments suggesting it would be difficult to ensure the information about technologies remains current, which I had originally thought could be tackled through creating an online version of the guide. However, I feel that separating the technologies from the guide is a more sensible approach and in line with other design guides I have reviewed.

So, a designer will now be able to consult the Design Guide to obtain a list of design considerations for each of the core Active Building principles and to pick up tips to achieve the principles, as well as being signposted to other useful resources if they require more information. They can then consult the Technology Showcase for some inspiration on technologies to incorporate, and review lessons learnt from completed Active Building projects, by consulting the Case Study documents. As they work through the work stages of their project, they can use the Active Building Plan of Work Checklists to ensure all the considerations have been covered before moving onto the next stage.

I have also added a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section to the guide, which is categorised into themes such as Cost, Carbon, Risk, Maintenance – some of which were challenges in introducing innovation to construction identified in my pilot project, correlating nicely with my research to date.

I hope to test this toolkit out on a live project in the near future.

While I have stripped a lot of information from my Design Guide, this work is not wasted – it will be used within the Active Building training course I am also currently developing.

If anyone is interested in learning more about Active Buildings, assessing my toolkit, or trialling the toolkit on a project, please get in touch, joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk

#33 Active Building Protocol

This week I have been reviewing all my interactions with the construction industry since starting my project in April 2017. There were 2 reasons for this – firstly to start populating the 4 strands of my Active Building Protocol; and secondly for the Reflective Essay that will form part of my final submission.

When logging the work I have been involved with since April 2017, under the “Engagement” strand, I was surprised to realise that there have been at least 40 articles published in construction industry journals about Active Buildings and our building demonstrators, some of which I have authored, and some of which I have been interviewed for; including one in the RIBA Journal earlier this year.  The Active Classroom and the Active Office have won 7 construction industry awards – contributing greatly to our reputation and credibility within the industry.  I have presented my work on the Active Building demonstrators at least 75 times to construction industry groups, either whilst giving a tour of the demonstrators or during events and conferences.  Some examples include presenting at the Good Homes Alliance conference held in London in November 2019; presenting to groups of engineers at Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) events (CIBSE Build 2 Perform conference in London, and to the regional CIBSE YEN group at the Active Classroom), and a Women in Engineering Society (WES) event held at the Active Classroom, amongst many others.  Visitors to our demonstrator buildings range from school children to government officials and ministers, with lots of other interested parties between.

In terms of “Training”, I have carried out 25 events with students, ranging from housing projects with first year architecture students (as discussed previously, most recently in Blog #30), to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) events with primary school children, and taking part in mock interviews for secondary school pupils.  For my own training – or continuous professional development (CPD) – I have clocked up 175 hours through a variety of different ways – from a course on Nvivo data analysis software and short courses on Passivhaus and Net Zero Carbon buildings, to various informal CPD seminars.  I have also started developing course material for an Active Building training course to be run by one of our sister projects, the METaL project.

Under the “Knowledge” strand, I was pleased to contribute to a report on future energy storage solutions to be included in the next version of the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) for dwellings, which one of my colleagues has just authored.   She led the SAP Industry Forum group for energy storage, to which I provided information on electrical and thermal energy storage solutions, using information from my Active Building Design Guide.  The CPD sessions I have carried out (10 so far) also contribute to knowledge sharing or knowledge transfer (although these could also fall under the “Engagement” and “Training” strands).  I am developing detailed case studies of our Active Buildings, relating them to the RIBA Work Stages, detailing my considerations at each of the stages.  One participant in my study suggested that this is all that is needed, alongside a checklist – something I am contemplating, based on feedback on my design guide to date, which leads me to the conclusion that it currently contains too much information!

Also, in terms of knowledge transfer, I am currently working with several organisations to contribute to their own building performance standards or specifications.

And, I am currently working alongside a design team for a tender bid submission for a project, where (if the bid is successful) I will be able to test my developing design guidance on a live project and ascertain how much additional information a ‘normal’ design team would need and what information would be really useful to them. I think this falls under the “Knowledge” strand and is an ideal way to test my work in a real situation.

The importance and relevance of my project in the current climate, is demonstrated by the interest in my work – from the initial 228 people who signed up for my recent webinar and numerous requests to run it again; to those asking me to work with them on specific projects or on developing the standards they will be setting for building designs of the future.  This highlights the desire from the construction industry to find viable Net Zero solutions for our built environment.

The “Compliance” strand is less developed, although I have been involved in early discussions with bodies to determine the process of developing an Active Building Standard; and a possible addition to one of the well-established environmental assessment methods used by the industry. It is too early to take these discussions further at the moment but, I anticipate once the design guide is ready for publication and, as we gather more evidence from our buildings, we will be able to develop this strand in time.

So, the first three strands of my protocol are quite well advanced. My next task is to bring these together into a step-by-step guide. I also plan to focus on developing a series of checklists for different disciplines and different project stages, using our case study Active Buildings as examples, and, from those, determine additional information needed.

#32 Cross-Discipline Collaboration

Never before has the need for cross-discipline collaboration been more urgent – not only as great minds get together to find ways to combat the virulent and aggressive Covid-19 pandemic, but also as we strive to find Net Zero solutions for our built environment.

Since joining SPECIFIC in 2013, I have been championing the need for cross-discipline working – something I could really see the benefits of, being an Architect working in an engineering department.  One of my former modules discussed early collaboration between the whole project delivery team as one way to help reduce the carbon we use in the built environment.  If the whole team work together collaboratively right from a project outset, there is more chance the building delivered will operate as designed, thereby using less energy and emitting less carbon. 

The importance of cross-discipline collaboration has cropped up several times this week. Firstly, when working with a Fire Engineer on a joint presentation about Net Zero solutions for the built environment and their implications for fire safety.  Gaining insight from different disciplines encourages us to stop and think about the wider implications of our work.  Working with the Fire Engineer, for example, made me realise that it is very easy for us to push forward with Net Zero solutions with the best intentions, promoting ideas that could potentially reduce carbon in buildings, without properly considering the implications these have on overall building safety. For instance, I have for some time had reservations about the drive for off-site construction, about pushing forward with sometimes immature products or systems. Just from my own experience on our Active Buildings, there are issues I’ve noticed with their construction, that have been confirmed through thermography testing, which highlighted areas of thermal bridging mainly around junctions – which not only works against what we are striving to achieve with Active Buildings, but also, if heat can get through gaps in building fabric, then so could potentially fire and/or smoke.  This needs further investigation through some collaborative research projects – something I have been discussing with my supervisor at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Dr John Littlewood, who has significant experience in this area.

Being a member of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC) for the UK offers an opportunity to broaden my thinking around my work, gaining a different perspective on new technologies and other Net Zero solutions.  Even “greening” on or around buildings can present a fire hazard if not properly thought out. 

It also struck me that my interactions with built environment professionals, either through BRAC, professional bodies such as Construction Excellence Wales (CEW), the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW) and, more recently, the Chartered Association for Building Engineers (CABE), as well as my cross-discipline CPD seminars, have benefits to SPECIFIC as an organisation, in that they enable me to bring issues identified by others back to the team, so that we can concentrate efforts on resolving them. Being aware of the potential risks associated with Net Zero solutions is the first step to combatting the issues and ensuring we deliver safe, low carbon buildings.

The message of cross-discipline collaboration was further emphasised later in the week when, on Thursday, I attended a Webinar entitled “Why the industry must collaborate to achieve 100% net carbon zero”, where the presenters all spoke about the importance of cross-discipline collaboration, whilst emphasising that we cannot wait for a perfect solution that all groups agree with, before acting to reduce carbon from buildings. To quote Sarah Ratcliffe, CEO of the Better Buildings Partnership, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”, which she said to stress that we need to act now and, while we should aim for consistency across disciplines, we should not let it stop action. Keith Clarke, Chair of the Active Building Centre, also stated that we cannot wait for perfection, but should act now and offer Net Zero solutions to clients now.  This aligns with our philosophy at SPECIFIC – we do not claim that our demonstrator buildings are perfect, but they act to show the intent and the capabilities of technologies available at the time of designing and constructing each demonstrator. We use our demonstrators to learn by doing, adopting the “fail fast, learn quickly” methodology and evolving our work as the technologies improve.

And I finished off the week by attending a free online course run by University of West England (UWE) – an Introduction to Zero Carbon Buildings, which was aimed at all disciplines and talked about the role everyone in the industry has to play in achieving Net Zero.

The overarching message is that while collaboration and integrated project delivery teams have always been needed, there is now a new imperative – the need to drive down carbon, the need to embed carbon as a primary driver and a primary design parameter in all building projects.

#31 Active Buildings Webinar Review

To mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day on 22nd April 2020, we held our first Active Buildings in Practice Webinar (as discussed in blog post #29). For me, this was an opportunity to test out a different way of collecting data for my research – carrying out a focus group session online, instead of face-to-face as I have been doing to date. For SPECIFIC, it would trial a new form of engagement, which could also be used to disseminate information on other ongoing research projects within SPECIFIC.

This was slightly different to the usual webinars, as we were asking people to take part in research and to provide feedback on my developing design guide. This meant that, rather than simply signing up and joining the webinar at the set time, there were a few stages to the sign up process:

  1. Once people had signed up, we then asked them to complete a consent form, before we could send them the documents to review and the joining instructions;
  2. We then sent out reminders to the sign ups, during the week leading up to the session;
  3. Those who completed the consent form were then given access to the design guide documents, a questionnaire and the joining instructions;
  4. After the webinar, we allowed participants a further day to complete the questionnaire;
  5. We then issued a copy of the presentation and will follow up with a summary of responses to questions that were asked during the session.

As anticipated, this process meant that not all the people who originally signed up, ended up attending and even fewer completed the questionnaire! (We may be able to find a simpler process next time) 

Here is a graph showing the drop-off rate from those who originally signed up to those that took part and then to those that completed the questionnaire:

This concurs with some of my earlier research which found that, when asking people to complete questionnaires remotely (via email or post), the response rate is significantly lower than when asking them to complete in a face-to-face setting.  When I carry out my face-to-face focus groups, participants are asked to complete the questionnaire before they leave, which guarantees a 100% response rate. So, while disappointing, this wasn’t unexpected.

Another interesting aspect was the different professional backgrounds of the participants, which was quite wide ranging.  I only captured this information on the questionnaire, so don’t have a full picture of all participants. In hindsight, it would have been good to capture this information from all attendees. 

While it is of course beneficial to gain feedback from different disciplines within the construction industry, I need to ensure my sample group is as homogenous as possible, if I am to complete my research within a reasonable timeframe.  Therefore, I have limited my main sample group to architectural designers in Wales and, to date, have targeted my focus groups at architectural practices.  However, when advertising publicly for an online seminar, I realised that not all of the participants would be from the architectural profession.  Here is a graph showing the occupations of those who completed the questionnaire (34 participants):

And, as also expected, those attending were from not all from Wales:

Again, it would have been useful to have this information from all attendees.

In total, I had feedback from 7 architectural designers in Wales, taking the proportion of my research completed up to 41% of my target sample size. 

I feel this has formed an extremely useful part of my research, as it has provided me with an alternative way to collect data at a time when it was not possible to host face-to-face sessions.  I now intend to offer this format to individual architectural practices, during this lockdown period and beyond, if desired.

One positive I will take away is the large number of initial sign ups which, I think indicates that, as designers and other construction industry professionals, strive for new ways to meet climate emergency targets, there is growing interest in the Active Building concept and the design guide I am developing.  I have also received a number of requests by people who missed the session to run it again, so looks like we’ll be repeating in the near future!

#30 Home of 2030 Young Person’s Design Challenge Update

The shortlisted team presenting their scheme to their tutor and colleagues prior to competition entry submission

A bit of good news I heard this week was that one of the groups of first year architecture students at UWTSD that I worked with on entries for the Home of 2030 Young Person’s Design Challenge have been shortlisted for the next stage of the project!  This is an incredible achievement for the group as, being a high profile, National Design Competition, they were up against some stiff opposition.  The winning team – Aneurin James, Steffan Phillips, Hollie Parsons and Blaine Smith – called their scheme “Fl-Hex”, reflecting the adaptable, hexagonal forms that they combined to create communities of climate responsive dwellings.   Feedback from the judging panel was that both the standard and volume of entries was extremely high, so they should be very proud of their efforts.

The students will now be invited to a grand final showcase to be held hopefully later this year, where they will have a chance to present their scheme to innovators within the industry, including George Clarke and Mark Farmer. 

Steffan Phillips presenting

This is not only a great achievement for the students, but also for the relatively newly established School of Architecture in Swansea; and reflects the high standard of teaching and mentoring the students received from their tutor, Ian Standen, himself an experienced, hugely talented and passionate Architect.

All four groups of students submitted imaginative designs, all responding to climate change, and incorporating renewable energy generation as well as responding to the current climate issue of flooding which, at the time of the project (January to March 2020), was very much dominating the news.  As first year students, just starting out on their architecture journey, it was impressive to see the creativity they showed in developing their climate responsive schemes.

I have seen some criticism of the Home of 2030 competition recently, with some claiming it favours technology solutions to reduce operational carbon, rather than adopting a whole building and embodied carbon approach.  People have also accused the government of setting up this competition rather than dealing with the real issues of procurement and regulations that need to change to truly embrace the zero-carbon agenda.  I think this is criticism is unnecessary. While I agree, there are definitely issues with procurement and regulations that need to be addressed, and will take time to get right, I don’t see the harm in opening people’s minds to seek or develop new solutions to tackle the carbon and energy problems we face now.  What the competition does very well is raise the importance of climate change and encourages designers (both practising and students) to elevate it in their own agendas. 

Congratulations to the team from UWTSD School of Architecture!

#29 Taking Action for Earth Day through Active Buildings

Amidst the current Covid-19 crisis, Earth Day marks its 50th Anniversary on 22nd April 2020, with “climate change” as its main theme; and all events arranged to mark the occasion will now be carried out digitally, due to the global pandemic.  What better way for SPECIFIC to help mark this important day than to hold an Active Building webinar.

A bit about Earth Day: On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet.  The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement and is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event. Definitely a day worth commemorating!

As well as celebrating this historic date, a webinar on Active Buildings provides us with a new way to promote the work we are doing at SPECIFIC to a potentially wider audience than would be possible without the use of technology, with the added benefit of there being no need to travel, thereby saving CO2 emissions, costs and precious time.

It also enables me to trial a new method of data collection for my research – use of electronic focus groups instead of the more traditional face-to-face focus groups.  This brings with it some new challenges, but also lots of positive outcomes.

After a bit of digging into whether or not online focus groups have been used as a research method before, I found some interesting papers on this – incidentally, all of which were from healthcare research (I’m not sure if this is significant, but I haven’t found any related to architectural research yet). Also, I haven’t found any examples where a webinar has been used together with a discussion (focus group) session and questionnaire yet; just examples where chat rooms have been used for discussions.  Most of the results found in previous research were positive in favour of online or electronic focus groups and I found very few downsides.  As I have already carried out some face-to-face focus groups (and may in time carry out more of these), and now an electronic focus group, I will be able to directly compare the two methods for myself.

I plan to use both asynchronous and synchronous methods to do this – I will be issuing participants with samples of my design guide and the questionnaire in advance of the webinar to be reviewed in their own time (asynchronous); but the participants will then come together for the webinar simultaneously at the prearranged time of 10.00 on 22nd April 2020 (synchronous), where they will be given a presentation on Active Buildings, followed by a discussion on the developing design guide.

Anticipated benefits of an electronic focus group session/webinar include:

  • Anonymity may lead to more honest, thoughtful, open responses, and maybe more criticism, which can be good to generate ideas.
  • More equality as those less likely to ask questions in a face-to-face session may feel more comfortable posing questions/responding via the chat facility.
  • Issuing the design guide and questionnaire beforehand may elicit more detailed responses as participants have more time for consideration.

Other obvious benefits include the fact that offering the session online enables me to reach a wider audience and to reach those less able to travel due to financial or time constraints, being sole practitioners, or working in remote rural areas, for example. There will be no geographical restrictions and no travel costs.  So, I might expect a higher attendance rate than the face-to-face sessions, due to the convenience, time and cost aspects, but also particularly at this time where people have fewer human interactions.  Time will tell.

Wider environmental benefits include:

  • No travel = no fuel consumption, no emissions
  • No catering = no food waste
  • No printed material = no paper, ink or power for printing used

Potential downsides could include less interactions between participants, less discussions, less engagement and less ability to build up a rapport with participants.  These may or may not impact the results significantly.

Of course, these are just anticipated outcomes, based on other research and my own expectations – once I analyse the results from both my face-to-face focus groups and my electronic focus groups, I will be able to make my own conclusions.

If you’d like to join me for this session, you can sign up here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/active-buildings-in-practice-tickets-102074573798

In the meantime, enjoy the Easter weekend as best you can under these trying circumstances.

#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

#27 Adaptable Research

For the last few weeks, as the current global crisis worsens, my work has felt massively insignificant – I am not a key worker and I don’t have the skills to turn my hand to making hand sanitiser, or to developing new ways of making protective visors, as some of my super-clever and resourceful colleagues in SPECIFIC are currently doing.  They have mobilised speedily, without hesitation, to adapt techniques and equipment used in their normal research (on steel or other building materials) to the manufacture of products that are needed urgently by the NHS now.  Led by our inspirational Professor Dave Worsley, the team have shown how passion, creativity and imagination can be put to use in times of crisis. I am humbled by the impressive way the team have pulled together in their efforts to adapt their research in this way.

While we all have more critical things to think about at the moment and find our thoughts diverted to considering how we can help stop the spread of this terrible virus, and how we can help and protect those more vulnerable than ourselves, when it is over and things slowly start to return to some form of normal, we will still need buildings and we will still need to design, construct and operate our buildings in a better way – in a way that reduces their impact on our planet. 

For those of us lucky enough to be able to continue our work at home (just as effectively as if we were in the office) and as we start to realise the benefits this brings, even if it is just for one or two days each week, our impact on the planet could be significantly reduced.  We will use less fuel for travelling to work; we will realise that we can start work earlier in the day, without the necessary and often slow commute; we will adopt more agile working patterns, using our breaks to potter in the garden or to fit some exercise in; we will free up more time to do the things we never normally have time for; air quality will improve; we might even save money, as we shop less and start growing more of our own fruit and vegetables.  We will realise the importance of having good outdoor spaces to enjoy and how green infrastructure should form a vital part of any building development.

This period of staying home is also making us all slow down, take time to think about what is important to us, reflect, re-evaluate our priorities, catch up on reading, check up on friends, and to appreciate the amazing key workers who are continuing to keep the country running and fighting to keep people healthy, during these unprecedented difficult times – NHS workers, pharmacists, teachers, child minders, delivery drivers, shop assistants, engineers, etc.

The question is, will things ever go back to the way they were pre Covid-19? And do we want them to? Will this change us forever?

I have been researching behavioural change methods – behaviour in people generally being very difficult to change.  Sometimes it takes a crisis to make us change, but the fear of change is often bigger than the change itself.  While change can be daunting, it is surprising how quickly people adapt when forced to do so by external influences – the need to work from home is a classic example – people have embraced this and found ways to make it work for them, to fit it in around their families and normal routines.

For me, I have needed to change my research methods, to find a different way to engage with architectural designers. Before the virus hit the UK, I had carried out a few workshops and had reached 34% of my target sample.  I had several more workshops lined up over the next few months, which can no longer take place.  So, instead of travelling to individual architectural practices to deliver my workshops to small groups, face-to-face, I am now developing a webinar that will be held online. This gives me the opportunity to potentially reach more people and gain the feedback I need without leaving the house.  More information on this and how you can join to follow soon.

The work we are doing to improve the built environment is still critical (if not an immediate priority right now) –  we need to drastically reduce the amount of energy our buildings use and the emissions they produce if we are to avoid destroying our planet any further.   My small contribution is to support a change to the way we design, construct and operate buildings and to enable others to lead the way in this.  I am not a key worker, but I hope the work I am doing now will have at least some impact on our future.

You can read Dave Worsley’s Covid-19 statement here: https://www.specific.eu.com/covid-19-statement/

#26 My Design Guide Conundrum

Over the last few weeks, as part of the final stage of my project, “Implementing Change”, I’ve been carrying out workshops with architects and architectural technologists to gain feedback on my Active Buildings Design Guide as it develops.  My intention with the design guide, as it stands, is that it acts as a knowledge repository for all the information I have gathered over the last seven years on Active Buildings; a signposting document that points designers in the right direction for further information; and a place for case studies of Active Building projects I have been involved with, as well as other relevant projects.  While I have received positive feedback on my presentation and the technical content of my design guide, there are a few common themes that have been cropping up in my workshops:

  • Too much text in the document – Designers don’t have time to sift through lots of information.  Instead they need information that is quick and easy to access.
  • Case study information is welcomed.  My worked example of the Active Classroom has received very positive feedback. 
  • A desire for this to become a standard, with checklists to prove compliance – this is something I have been looking into and have discussed with BSI the possibility of developing a PAS in the first instance; and with BREEAM on whether there could be an Active Building annexe to BREEAM.  It is too early for either of these, but if Active Buildings are to become mainstream, both of these are definite options for encouraging compliance (this is also illustrated in my Active Building Protocol – see blog post #14).
  • There is a need for information designers can use to persuade clients that Active Buildings is a good route for them to take – what would persuade them, prove value for money? Some key pointers for designers would be useful.
  • Linking the Design Guide to the RIBA Plan of Work would assist designers in identifying the key points that should be considered throughout a project from inception to completion and operation. I am already developing an Active Building overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work, so this aligns perfectly.

On a very positive note, in each workshop, I have been asked when the Active Building Design Guide will be available and whether I could issue any summaries of the guide soon.  One participant said, “we need these tools now”.  With the climate emergency on everyone’s minds and the climate change targets looming, designers are looking for new solutions now.

In addition to the feedback from workshops, I have been asked separately by several different organisations whether I could work with them to integrate some of my design guide information into their own specifications, design guides or building performance standards.  This has got me thinking whether or not designers need yet another design guide, or whether the Active Building concept is more likely to be adopted by the industry if it is integrated into documents designers are already using, clients are already familiar with, and the project delivery team have to comply with anyway. So, my conundrum is: should I be developing a design guide at all? One workshop participant said that the worked example document was all they needed really. So, maybe I should simply develop Active Building checklists that align with the RIBA work stages and other targets set by additional mandatory standards; and detailed case studies or worked examples of Active Buildings already completed. Perhaps this would arm designers with all the knowledge they need?

I haven’t yet completed my study and have another 6 workshops lined up over the next 4 months, so I will reserve judgement until I have completed all my workshops.

As discussed in blog post #20, when undertaking qualitative research, several factors affect the sample size needed, such as: homogeneity of the sample group, clarity of the topic area, and the quality of data gained from the research. My sample group consists of architectural designers; the topic is clear, i.e. my design guide; and I would say the quality of data I am getting is very good – the designers participating have given thorough feedback through both the questionnaires they are asked to complete and during the discussion, which is enormously helpful for my research.  This will help me reach a decision on how to progress the development of my Active Building Design Guide.

If you’re interested in learning more about Active Buildings and my developing Active Building Design Guide, or feel you can contribute, please get in touch: joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk.

#25 Defining Active Buildings

Last week I was asked on two occasions, “What differentiates an Active Building from another “green” building?” – once during one of my Active Buildings in Practice workshops and once by a reviewer of a paper submission.  This made me think that perhaps I need to clarify this.

In 2019, during the establishment of the Active Building Centre (ABC), I undertook some research with the ABC team to define an Active Building, the outcome of which was a simple (and not too prescriptive) definition: “a building that supports the wider grid network by intelligently integrating renewable energy technologies for heat, power and transport.”, with 6 core principles:

  • Building Fabric and Passive Design
  • Energy Efficient Systems
  • On-site Renewable Energy Generation
  • Energy Storage
  • Electric Vehicle Integration
  • Intelligently manage integration with micro-grids & national energy network

There are already many different “green” labels and environmental assessment methods for buildings, but the question I set out to answer is: How do Active Buildings differ from these?  What makes Active Buildings unique?

I had researched some of the most commonly used rating systems in one of my earlier modules, but thought I’d revisit this to make the differentiation clearer:

  • There are methods that consider the whole building, including its site and location, such as BREEAM (est. 1990), LEED (est. 2000), and the Living Building Challenge (est. 2006).
  • Green Globes (est. 2004) provides personalised improvements to organisations for the design, construction and operation of their buildings.
  • Some methods focus on health and wellbeing of building occupants. These include the WELL Building Standard (est. 2014) and Active House (est. 2010).Passivhaus (est. 1991) focuses on reducing the heating demand of buildings.
  • Ska (est. 2005) was developed by the RICS for fit outs of non-domestic buildings.
  • And there are others developed for particular countries, such as Green Star and NABERS in Australia; and Estidama, developed specifically for the Middle East.

While Active Buildings would meet compliance with most of these methods, there are several things for me that make an Active Building stand out from other “green” buildings:

Firstly, the way an Active Building interacts with local and national grid networks, such that the building presents a flat load profile to the grid – taking out the spikes and troughs in usage, to smooth the building’s energy profile. This is illustrated in the graphs below taken from the display screen in the Active Office on 3rd March 2020. While the loads of the building reached 20kW at one point (when EVs were plugged in) and were less than 5kW at other points in the day, the load presented to the grid never exceeded 5kW.  Imagine if all buildings managed their energy import and export in this way – this could save huge amounts of expensive and disruptive grid upgrades that will be needed to cope with the increase in electricity loads, as heating and transport are decarbonised over the next 5-10 years.

Secondly, the level of data collection from an Active Building, the management of that data, and the way it is fed back into the building’s operating system to optimise building performance by:

  • enabling fast fault detection;
  • providing information to educate building users on their energy consumption and generation, influencing behaviour change;
  • development of planned maintenance regimes;
  • development of predictive control strategies.  At the Active Office we are developing control strategies that link the BMS to weather forecasts, calendars, geotabs on EVs and the carbon intensity (CI) of the electricity grid, to steer decisions on energy flows.  An example of the level of control is illustrated in this flow diagram:

And thirdly, the use of integrated energy storage for both heat and power, utilising battery storage and electric vehicles (EVs) for electricity; and either latent or thermochemical storage for storing thermal energy.  Currently latent (water) storage is used in our buildings, but ongoing research into thermochemical storage at SPECIFIC will see us replacing water tanks with this new, much denser, storage material in the near future.

In addition, combine the work we are doing at SPECIFIC in collaborating with:

  • start-up companies/SMEs with new technologies (e.g. Naked Energy, BIPVCo);
  • multi-national supply chain partners, such as Tata, NSG and Akzo Nobel;
  • building contractors and installers;
  • project design teams;
  • building owner/occupiers;

to construct building demonstrators, which are then used:

  • to test new methods of designing, constructing and using buildings;
  • to provide installers with knowledge and experience of working with new technologies;
  • to develop case studies for use by building owners, designers and contractors;
  • for training purposes;
  • to produce design guidance;

…and you have a unique concept that I haven’t come across anywhere else – a concept that recognises the need for unbiassed evidence on the actual performance of systems and technologies; and for knowledge dissemination, guidance and education – all of which, in my mind, are needed if we are to truly Transform Construction.

In a recent workshop I delivered for the RSAW, one of the participants asked when my Design Guide will be available, stating that designers need these tools now.  The urgency of the climate emergency has elevated sustainability to the top of everyone’s agendas, but when designers are faced with the everyday pressures of delivering building projects for their clients within tight budgets and to challenging programmes, they are left with very little time to go out and explore new technologies and processes to help them deliver truly climate resilient buildings for their clients. Having access to detailed case studies of Active Buildings, such as the Active Classroom and the Active Office, which expose both successes and failures; and signposts to technical information from manufacturers and other sources; would be hugely beneficial to designers, not only saving them time, but providing them with the knowledge they need to convince their clients to try something new. This is what my Active Building Design Guide sets out to do.

So, in summary, I think Active Buildings and the Active Building approach to the design, construction and operation of buildings, does bring an added dimension to the existing environmental assessment methods and, from my recent experience, there is a growing desire amongst building designers and estate managers for some clear guidance on how to deliver Active Buildings. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Active Buildings and my developing Active Building Design Guide, please get in touch: joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk.

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