Post Occupancy Evaluation – a tool for net zero and more
William Low reflects on the role of post occupancy evaluation in sustainable development, its origins and why everybody in architecture should be using them.
In Bill Gate’s 2021 book “How to avoid a climate crisis” he quips, “By 2060, the world’s building stock – a measure that factors in the number of buildings and their size – will double. That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years…”.
Each year the role of the construction industry in keeping the UK’s pledge of reaching net-zero by 2050 will be thrust further into the spotlight, as the low-hanging, low-carbon fruits available to the government are picked. Whilst transitioning toward renewable energy sources and subsidising electric personal vehicles are simple, cheap, and effective ways of moving toward net-zero, the green avenues available to the construction industry are much harder to achieve and will require the concerted effort of all industry professionals, especially architects.
One of the tools available to architects in the mission to net-zero is the Post Occupancy Evaluation. Originally conceived in the original 1963 Plan of Work as a feedback stage, post occupancy evaluations were underused and unloved – and were removed from the plan in 1972. The last 20 years have seen the re-emergence of POE and the RIBA’s recent Sustainability Outcome Guide outlines the need for all architects to “promote POE to clients as a core service”, but what really is Post Occupancy Evaluation, and why do we need it?
POE was originally created as a user feedback initiative, but the ever-greening landscape of the UK construction space has seen it become adopted to also target the short-comings of buildings with regards to their environmental performance – be it overall energy consumption, or – with the boom of small-scale renewable energy – how much it produces. POE comes in many forms, from a questionnaire to measuring the boron levels in the air. Whatever the method, POE is now seen as the best way of to addressing the gap between designed intentions and the actual outcomes in use. There are of course, many other reasons to perform POEs, many of which make its incorporation into projects a no-brainer for architecture firms.
Why perform Post Occupancy Evaluations?
Whilst POEs are undoubtedly a great way of assessing building’s environmental impact, as with any green-tech, there need to be economic incentives to see wide-spread adoption – you cannot rely on the good faith of architects around the country to commit to POEs solely due to their environmental benefits.
Clients who have a long-term stake in their buildings and who want to understand how their buildings are performing with a view to improving future commissions will create a market for practices with well-developed POE standards. As more and more clients move in line with the UK’s net-zero goals, any practices without POE as standard will be left behind.
POE can become a practice speciality, as discussed above. Staying ahead of the curve with POE will no-doubt put practices in an enviable position in the years to come and create a new stream of clientele.
The modern definition of sustainability includes three components: environmental, social, and economic sustainability. POE is essential to measuring and benchmarking the metrics that can ensure the longevity of buildings in the 21st century with respect to each of these sustainability principles. Longer lasting, better performing buildings that ensure a future that is the same, if not better than the present is good news for everybody.
The built environment is going to be one of the most difficult sectors to green, with the rampant use of concrete and the over-reliance on heavy machinery for transporting materials and construction burdening any company operating within the space with a large carbon footprint. Any tool that can help alleviate those substantial contributions away from net-zero should be fully utilised. The good news is that whilst POE may initially seem cumbersome, it will no-doubt end up becoming a massive selling point for companies who, in the coming decades, might otherwise fall into the carbon abyss.
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