Design Intent meets building in use

  • Building Design Expert
  • 6 years ago

Think back to your greatest achievement. It might have been yesterday, or tens of years ago. It could be anything from gaining a first class honours degree at university to having a your own children. But because it’s YOURS, it’s deeply personal and great achievements are very different things to many different people.

So when an architect or technologist sit down to design their building; first and foremost it has to take top billing as the most important thing they do that day – professionally speaking at least. What they have done in the past, is IN the past. What they will do in the future is quite unknown.

Every good building designer will have carried out their own research into how the client’s brief may best be met. Personally speaking I am very firmly in the ‘form follows function’ camp, although, I would guess, along with many other designers a little self indulgent ‘function following form’ has crept into my buildings over the years. Architectural what-nots don’t always fulfil a function related to the brief, but can often be an expense that turns an otherwise boring box into something you would like to open under your christmas tree. So no harm there then, or is there?

The building in use relies heavily upon the services installation. For the occupier, usually the equipment controls – from a light switch to the automatic venting override. One of the loudest complaints that I hear from building owners and occupiers is that “the person that designed this building didn’t ask me how I wanted to use it”. They are usually right because it is probably true. The building designer will usually get to meet with a senior management team, if they are lucky. In some instances those managers rarely venture beyond their own office doors. When they do it may only be to the canteen, toilet or car park. The building designer may suggest that speaking to others may be fruitful, but is of course often powerless to insist.

A classic example of this recently involved my wife. She is a teacher who’s school was being reconstructed to a trendy new design within it’s own site. As part of the brief each classroom was required to have its own clock – mains powered and wall mounted. Simple enough, but what it did not stipulate was that it had to be located in a position where the teacher could see it whilst teaching. Come on, did it really need saying? Apparently so. The teacher ideally required the position to be behind the students at high level so it can be seen whilst teaching to help gauge the lesson time. However, someone had taken the decision that ALL wall mounted clocks should be positioned above the classroom door. To be fair, probably in around 90% of classrooms this position ticked all boxes.

In my wife’s room however, the new weird and wonderful floor plate of the building dictated that the door was not only at the front of the room, but actually in it’s own lobby area around the corner from the main teaching area. So there was a design extra that the client unknowingly paid for relocating the clock position from somewhere totally useless to somewhere quite useful, that not even a fully BIM compliant project could have ‘clash detected’. Very minor in the scheme of things, but Oh so important for that building in use.

A member of the design team had taken a decision that, for ease, the services installation should comply in this way. But there were only sixty classroom doors in this new school, so how hard was the exercise of looking at the detail going to be? Tedious? Yes. Essential? It turned out to be.

Lets turn this on its head. The previous illustration highlighted what was essentially a mistakeĀ  on the part of the design team. Looking at ‘Green Deal’ initiatives; largely, we hope to be able to make properties more thermally efficient. That’s the good news. But the home owner may well contrive that message to mean that they can turn up the heating because the new insulation means being able to be warmer for longer. Absolutely right. It’s only human nature to want to be warmer and more comfortable. But the moment that heating control goes up one notch is the moment which increases the amount of fuel being used, and the cost.

It’s a hard one to get across. A little bit of insulation does not unfortunately go as far as the property owner would like to think, and the temptation to increase room temperatures may often be a recipe for increasing costs.

Overall the interaction of building designer and building user must be carefully managed, with lessons from experience playing a very important role. The building user knows what they want from their building? No, not really. Not a new building. Not their existing building either. Provide a new building, or change the design in an old one, and it’s use will change and evolve over time. That’s the way we humans work. Building designers must include as many fail safes as the budget will allow to cater for the fickle human brain. Perhaps a Psychology module will eventually work its way into architecture and technology courses to cover the issues spawned from Design intent meets the building in use. – One to ponder.