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The user factor: effect of buildings on user performance

This project developed and trialled a cross-disciplinary approach to evaluating the operational performance of non-residential buildings. The research addressed a range of disciplines and metrics that affect the performance of a building and its occupants, their needs and the business carried out within the space, including:

  • building energy performance
  • occupant satisfaction, using the BUS (building use studies) methodology
  • indoor environmental quality, including air quality, carbon dioxide levels, humidity, temperature, lighting, glare and noise
  • human factors and behavioural aspects
  • health and wellbeing
  • user-centered design.

Individual metrics for these aspects are often considered in isolation, or offered as separate services to clients. With some exceptions, such as the correlation between energy performance and occupant satisfaction undertaken as part of a post-occupancy evaluation (POE), there is currently scant research linking these metrics to measured indoor air quality (from HVAC sources, or in relation to materials selection) or health and wellbeing of occupants. There are few empirical user-centered links between POE and occupant behaviour, such as considering the use and function of a building or the business carried out within it as explicit aspects of the design process, or quantifying the operational aspects of the building asset.

A detailed case study was undertaken at a recently refurbished office building in the Soho district of London, UK. A range of sensors were deployed in the case study office space to measure indoor environment conditions. User feedback was gathered through an extended occupant satisfaction survey, deep-dive interviews and observations.

The case study investigation and the processing of the results of the investigation were derived using a bespoke methodology developed to incorporate dimensions from three key disciplines: building performance engineering, behavioural psychology, and the WELL™ standard.

Note: the specific data and responses collected from the case study are protected under a confidentiality agreement.

There is a growing client interest in understanding how to ensure that the design of a building better delivers and maintains positive, ongoing relationships between building energy, health and wellbeing, and occupant productivity within buildings.

The measurement of health and wellness is often treated in isolation of other more readily quantified aspects of building performance and occupant response. In addition, a siloed approach between technical disciplines is commonplace when designing and constructing buildings, which is typically led by engineers and architects and driven by market availability, cost and legacy issues, rather than considering in depth the alignment between the building's future users and their working environment within the building. Consequently, some building designs evoke mismatches between the building, particularly its prestigious form and exterior, and more mundane user-centered requirements, that require upfront and continual attention throughout the service life of the building asset.

This project has generated in-depth understanding of how technical data from sensors can be paired with more people-focused qualitative data to create a holistic approach to understanding a workplace and the well-being of the people within it. The project team developed an assessment framework to support better awareness of the different competencies and expertise needed to undertake and offer this holistic approach as a service.