#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.

#24 Changing Culture to Transform Construction

A Professional Doctorate is specifically structured to support a change within professional practice and/or within an organisation.  My doctoral research project is focused mainly on proposing a change to practice – to enable the design and delivery of Active Building projects across the UK, supporting the Transforming Construction mission to halve the energy consumption and carbon emissions of all new buildings by 2030.

The first module I completed (February 2018) was entitled “Proposing Change: Context and Change” and included the exploration of different change models.  While the focus for my project has evolved as I have progressed my research (resulting in several title changes) the scene that was set in the first module is still relevant.  In this module, I looked at different models for change – Kotter’s 8-Step model; Bridges transition model; Lewin’s Force Field Analysis; and Rogers Stages of Change Theory and Innovation Adoption Curve.  I used Kotter’s 8-step model to consider how to make the changes I was proposing to the way buildings are designed, delivered and operated, as illustrated in the following table:

The first 6 Steps are already being addressed, with data collection from the demonstrators being used to produce case studies (Step 7). The challenging part is Step 8 – making it stick. This is where my Active Building Protocol comes in. As eluded to in the table, there is a need for Knowledge, Engagement, Training and Compliance in order to make a change stick – the four strands of my protocol.

Two years on from this initial research (February 2020), I have discovered another model which, despite being developed for changing the culture of an organisation, I feel can be applied to the construction industry and the change in culture needed to enable the industry to transform – to change the focus of the industry to the climate emergency, which really should be top of the agenda for all designers and constructors.   In a recent presentation I attended, someone referred to a quote by Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, suggesting that a strong and inspiring culture is a surer route to organisational success than simply putting forward a strategy – we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of culture (and how hard it can be to change) in any organisation or industry.  This thought process was referenced by two UK academics, Johnson and Scholes, when developing their “cultural web” model.  This model identifies several linked elements that make up culture and was developed to help companies change their current approach for company improvements.  I think this model can be applied to the construction industry which, as suggested by Johnson and Scholes, we need to fully understand before we can try to make any effective changes. So, here’s my attempt at mapping out the current state of the construction industry, based on the cultural web model:

If we are going to Transform Construction to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions of buildings, to respond to the climate emergency, then we need to change the culture of the construction industry, which is currently focused on driving down cost, often leading to poor quality and contributing to the poor image of the industry. 

Here’s how the future could look:

The Active Building Protocol I am developing, which includes design guidance and training material, aims to address some of the challenges we need to overcome in order to reach this future scenario. From recent experience, designers, developers and estate managers are all looking for new methods to enable them to meet the net zero targets they are committed to and the Active Building approach offers one solution. 

If you are interested in attending one of my “Active Buildings in Practice” workshops, please get in touch: joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk.

#23 Active Buildings – Value v Cost

One of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry in decarbonising the building stock is the issue of cost and the unwillingness to accept that low cost does not equal best value. Someone said to me the other day that “construction is too cheap” – we ask more and more of our buildings in terms of their performance yet are not willing to pay more for either professional fees or construction works. No wonder there is such a performance gap between what is designed and what is actually built.

In a bid to meet tight programmes and stick to tight budgets, corners are cut, there is no time to explore new ways of doing things, and no appetite to try new things, to seek better ways of designing and constructing to ensure the best quality, the best building performance and the lowest energy use.  By the time it gets to the installation and commissioning stages, the desire by all involved is, more often than not, to simply finish the job as quickly as possible, while incurring minimal costs.

One of the missions of the Active Building Centre (ABC) is to prove Whole Life Cost (WLC) benefits of Active Buildings. It is recognised that the addition of renewables and smart technologies will increase capital expenditure (capex), but it is assumed that such technologies will ensure operational energy, and hence operational expenditure (opex), will be lower and hence prove of greater value over the lifetime of an Active Building.  If buildings are cheaper to run effectively then surely, they will prove WLC benefits? 

It’s not quite that simple though, as the cost of (relatively) new technologies such as battery storage is still currently high and the technologies are unproven over any length of time, meaning that for construction industry professionals to calculate WLC considerations, they can only use the information they have available to them, relying on manufacturers warranties for lifetime predictions and using the current high costs. 

To put this to the test, last year I commissioned a Life Cycle Cost (LCC) Comparison Report of our Active Office, comparing it to a standard office building of the same size, over a 60-year life period.  It is important here to note the difference between WLC and LCC.  While the LCC of a building relates to costs associated directly with construction and operation, the WLC includes additional factors, such as land, income generated from a building and support costs associated with the activity within a building.  WLCs are usually calculated by clients, using LCCs prepared by construction industry professionals.  The LCC does not take into consideration business models for generating income from energy trading, for example.

The report was carried out by an external consultancy with expertise in LCC work, using data provided by the SPECIFIC and ABC technical teams.  The idea was to produce an independently prepared baseline report, highlighting the challenges facing the ABC in proving WLC of Active Buildings and identifying areas needing further research input.  As anticipated, some of the energy systems were too novel for the consultants to properly assess.  These included the batteries, PV-T system, PV roof and EV chargers.  It was assumed that these would be replaced on a like-for-like basis at the end of their warranty periods at the same cost as they were in 2018 (the time of installation). However, there are several issues with these assumptions – firstly, the costs of these technologies are predicted to fall over the next ten years, based on historic evidence gathered by industry experts; secondly, there is no evidence to suggest they will need to be completely replaced at the end of their warranty period; thirdly, it is unlikely that the technologies will have no value at the end of this time; and, fourthly, technologies will have moved on by the end of their warranty period and may be replaced with newer, better, cheaper alternatives.  Bloomberg have modelled the fall in battery prices between 2010 and 2018 – an incredible 85%:

And predict further falls in prices over the next 10 years:

Other benefits of Active Buildings – the potential avoidance of costly and disruptive infrastructure upgrades; the operation of the building and batteries in a strategically controlled way to drive down carbon and financial costs; provision of evidence to manufacturers regarding warranty periods; different business models, including use of variable energy tariffs; income generation; and carbon costs – could not be taken into account by the LCC consultants, but all stack up to prove the business case for Active Buildings.  Hence there is a need for much more research in this area and our demonstrator buildings are a perfect place to start. 

While I am certain Active Buildings will prove their worth over their lifetime, this is clearly a complex issue to prove and will need a different way of thinking to the ‘business as usual’ approach.

#22 Adaptable Buildings

While most of the work I am currently involved with and am writing design guidance for relates to the new-build market, many of the buildings I have been involved with during my career as an Architect in practice involved conversion of historic buildings. These buildings were originally designed for a purpose that is no longer needed today and, rather than condemning them to the archives, people had a vision to transform them for a new use – an old pumphouse was converted to a bistro restaurant; a former grain warehouse became a mixed use development of offices, shops, restaurants and homes; an old farmstead became a boutique hotel.

When designing buildings today, we need to be designing for adaptability.  While the much-publicised conversion of office buildings into tiny flats unfit for purpose is not advocated, it is possible to design buildings for multiple uses, for adaptability.  This will help us conserve resources and energy that would otherwise be used to demolish buildings when they are no longer needed for their original purpose, as well as helping to reduce carbon emissions.

Built in 126AD, the Pantheon in Rome is the largest and oldest unreinforced concrete structure in the world and the world’s oldest unrenovated building.  The Roman concrete used in its construction is extremely durable due to the use of volcanic ash, and it has been absorbing carbon throughout its life, which actually increases its strength!  What an amazing material!  Modern concrete is not as environmentally friendly as Roman concrete, requiring a lot of energy and water to gain the raw materials it uses, and causing environmental destruction and pollution in quarrying for the aggregates used in its production.  However, it does absorb carbon and one argument in its favour is that it can be used to create buildings that could last forever, if they are properly looked after and designed for adaptability.

I was recently asked what my favourite building in the world was – a very difficult question to answer, as I love and admire countless different buildings for different reasons – there are so many different building types and buildings set in all sorts of diverse locations, it is hard to make direct comparisons between any of them. To narrow down the field, I decided I would only consider buildings I had visited and, put on the spot, I found myself citing an historic building – the building that sprang to mind was Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona, originally built in the 1350’s and sensitively restored by Carlo Scarpa between 1958 and 1964, which I have been lucky enough to visit twice.  The modern interventions carefully meet the original features in a harmonious way, to give the overall experience of walking through and around the museum an incredibly peaceful feeling.  It’s a building that has really stuck in my mind. 

But, why do we often love old buildings? I think the answer lies in the beauty and attention to detail that makes them so memorable and (for me at least) the fact that they were conceived and constructed before the industrial revolution, drawn by hand and built with primitive tools and local resources.  They radiate a real sense of beauty; which I think we all crave as human beings.  As I walk through cities, I often find myself looking up and snapping some wonderful details on buildings that are simply too good to ignore.

The Building Better Building, Building Beautiful Commission recently published a report called “Living with Beauty” in which they promote the design of beautiful places.  If people love a place, they will look after it and will want to retain it in all its glory. So, let’s continue to design beautiful buildings and places that people want to be in and want to retain for the future. This will help us to create sustainable and resilient buildings and communities, helping to tackle the climate crisis at the same time as enriching the environment we live in.

Retrofit of existing buildings is the biggest challenge facing us as we strive towards Net Zero Buildings by 2050.  80% of the buildings of 2050 already exist and they come in all shapes and sizes; as well as being built to different levels of energy efficiency (some with no consideration at all to energy efficiency).  A sobering fact to finish on is that many of the buildings that will be constructed this year, at the height of the Climate Emergency, will need to be retrofitted to meet the Net Zero standard.  We need to be following design guidance prepared by LETI in their Climate Emergency Design Guide and aspiring to the targets set by the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge if we are to make progress towards Net Zero; and we need to adopt new ways of thinking, new concepts, like the Active Building concept.

#21 Active Landscaping

It’s not only building surfaces that provide opportunities for generating energy from the sun.  Why not think about the whole site as a potential energy generating area?  Buildings don’t sit in isolation and only form part of the spaces that make up places within our villages, towns and cities.  Maybe it’s time we consider the potential for energy generation in every aspect of our built environment, whether buildings, the spaces between buildings or other installations around buildings, such as bus shelters, bike shelters, parking canopies, covered seating areas, bin stores, external plant areas, even art installations.  It is possible to combine these practical features with energy generation and storage, providing a local power source for services such as lighting and electrical charging points. 

Many car parks and transport hubs are covered in expensive structural glass canopies, which are susceptible to damage, and get dirty, very quickly starting to look tired if not properly maintained.  Probably for comparable costs, these glazed structures could be replaced with PV canopies and shelters, which can include added features such as powering external lighting, making spaces safer, more attractive and more welcoming; also powering electrical charging points and display screens or signage.  Providing a local power source could potentially save costs in running services to these often remote parts of sites too.

I have been working on a design for a PV powered bike storage shed, which could potentially provide charging points for e-bikes, lighting to an otherwise poorly lit area of a site and charging facilities for bicycle lights and tyre pumps.  For a relatively small uplift in costs, structures that would be built anyway could serve a dual purpose.  SPECIFIC are engaged in a project with Transport for Wales to ‘activate’ shelters for waiting areas, by incorporating PV roofs, which power LED lighting, potentially heated seats and provide USB charging points.  These will be particularly attractive for remote stations with little facilities other than sheltered seating areas.

When designing and specifying materials for external landscaping schemes, I urge designers to think about the opportunity landscaping provides for additional energy generation. 

I will include some examples of renewable energy generation on a site-wide basis in my Active Building Design Guide.

I would also love to see less hard surfaces around buildings and the deployment of more green infrastructure measures.  On Swansea University’s bay campus there are many green spaces, which are left as natural wildflower areas to encourage biodiversity. You will also see several insect hotels and even beehives.  As designers we should aim to leave construction sites as ‘green’ or ‘greener’ than they were before the site was developed.

Some of the benefits of green spaces and infrastructure include:

  • providing attractive places
  • enhancing built environments
  • encouraging biodiversity
  • supporting people’s mental and physical health
  • encouraging active travel
  • cooling urban areas during heat waves
  • attracting investment
  • reducing water run-off during flash flooding
  • providing carbon storage
  • providing sustainable drainage

The Town and Country Planning Association have resources to aid the design of green infrastructure – click here for links.

#20 Sample Size for Qualitative Research

I have decided to restrict my study to Wales, due to time and financial constraints of reaching the wider UK population of Architects.  There are 1,179 ARB registered Architects in Wales (2019 figure) and 642 chartered RIBA members.  The question for me is how many Architects out of the total population will provide me with a reasonable representation of the overall population?

A few things to consider when determining a sample size:

  • The less variable (more homogeneous) a population, the smaller the sample size needed – I will be asking mainly Architects, so a homogeneous population.
  • Generally, if the nature of the topic is clear, fewer participants are needed – this is true for me, as it is made clear to participants what an Active Building is and I am asking for responses on one document – the Active Building Design Guide.
  • Quality of data gained from the research – Architects tend to be good at expressing themselves and able to identify and articulate what they like and don’t like about something quite easily. Therefore, fewer participants are likely to be needed before saturation is reached – Architects don’t hold back in giving their opinion!

There are published tables which provide figures for sample sizes depending on the size of the overall population.  These figures are for obtained responses, so it is common for researchers to add 10% to the published tables to account for non-responses.  While this is more relevant when seeking responses to mailed surveys, it is good practice to target more participants than the minimum recommended, which also accounts for cancellation of planned focus groups.

To determine my sample size, I have been using a table originally published in 1992 in a fact sheet produced by the University of Florida, which has been used by many qualitative researchers since publication, hence widely accepted.

For my population of 1,179 Architects in Wales, the published table suggests I will need 91 participants, for a precision level of +/-10% and with a Confidence Level of 95%, i.e. to be 95% certain that if I carried out the same study with more of the population, I would get the same or similar results.  To ensure I have sufficient feedback, I will target 100 participants, i.e. an extra 10%. 

I will also include participants from other disciplines, such as Housing Associations, Main Contractors, and other consultants, but will not be working out a particular sample size for these, as my main target audience is architectural designers.

For the architectural students included in my study, I am using a different strategy.  There are only two Schools of Architecture in Wales – one, the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA) in Cardiff, is well established and the larger of the two; the other school is in Swansea – University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) – and was only established in 2015.  The WSA course structure is well established and they have 115 places on their Architecture course. There are hence 2 issues here: firstly, it could be difficult to influence the well established course within the timescales of this D.SBE project; and secondly it would be very difficult for me to work effectively with such a large group of students – any more than about 20 students would be too many for me to work with. The small group of students at UWTSD and the relatively new course structure, which is still being developed, provides an ideal opportunity to trial my developing design guidance, before it could be rolled out to students at different institutions.

If any Architects are interested in learning more about Active Buildings and helping to contribute to my developing Active Building Design Guide, you can attend one of 3 RSAW CPD sessions which will be held in Swansea, Cardiff and Llandudno during February and March, or contact me separately to arrange a CPD session at your office: joanna.r.clarke@swansea.ac.uk.

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