Aurecon uses evidence-based practice for people centric design

People centric design – designing a building and its features with consideration of how occupants will be positively and negatively impacted – is a concept to which many engineering organisations are committed.

However, with much subjectivity in data, it is also an area of design that is often difficult to sell to clients on its importance and value.

How a building affects people’s wellbeing has been researched for a number of decades, and there is well-documented evidence that assessing occupants’ feedback on building variables can determine the success of a building’s design for the people occupying and working in it. The variables considered important to assess include overall comfort, temperature in winter and summer, lighting, noise, furniture, meeting room availability, storage space, design, needs, image, health and productivity.

But, how does an engineering firm collate such data that is unbiased and meaningful for its design team and will also explain the benefits of people centred design to its clients?

Quentin Jackson, Aurecon ESD (Environmental Sustainable Design) Leader Queensland and Environmental Modelling Technical Leader discusses the importance of designing buildings with peoples’ wellbeing in mind and how Aurecon, a BUS Methodology licensee, can influence design and create value for clients.

Aurecon announced results from its Post Occupancy Evaluation report following the Melbourne move. What is BUS?

Quentin: BUS (Business Use Studies Ltd) Methodology is regarded as one of the leading survey methodologies in the world. BUS was the first to undertake research into how occupants feel and work within their building, conducting its first occupancy surveys in 1985 when undertaking research into the UK’s ‘sick buildings’ phenomena. Beyond all the global data BUS has collated on occupancy wellbeing in the past 30 years, it has also continued to lead the way in continual research into the effect of buildings on people’s productivity.

Being a BUS Methodology Partner gives us license to use the survey, its questions and benchmark against the global data. So when we were planning our Melbourne office move, we had the opportunity to implement the survey with our own staff.

Melbourne staff were asked to answer the BUS Post Occupancy Evaluation Survey prior to the design of the new office starting. Questions related to the variables in their then (South Melbourne) premises. The results were passed onto our design team to incorporate the key feedback into the new Docklands building design.

A Post Occupancy Evaluation was conducted 18 months after moving into Docklands to ascertain the success of the building’s design, and results are happier staff across nearly all (above-mentioned) variables compared to when they occupied their previous premises.

What should staff take-away from the Post Occupancy Evaluation results?

Quentin: Everyone at Aurecon can be proud that we are demonstrating leadership in people centric design. We can now say that we do what we say we do.

Our Melbourne office has been assessed against global, benchmarked data as being amongst the world’s best practice in people centric building design. And when buildings are designed to be people centric, the performance of the people inside them and of the building itself improves significantly.

How does using the BUS Methodology provide helpful data for a design team?

Quentin: With the BUS Methodology, a design team can benchmark its survey results against global data going back three decades. There are other surveys that engineering firms can undertake to determine how people feel within the buildings they inhabit, and I’m sure they give okay results and direction on people centric design. But none have the dataset of hundreds of previous surveys that BUS has to benchmark and measure occupants’ wellness across so many years.

The BUS Methodology is also helpful because its questions are proven to deliver insights into the relationship between variables in buildings, such as comfort, productivity and health. The BUS survey is also one of the only surveys that provides anonymous feedback that cannot be influenced by the agendas of the surveyor.

What evidence does BUS deliver on how buildings affect people?

Quentin: BUS has 30 years of research and findings on people centric building design and the effects of the self-assessed productivity on occupants.

BUS Managing Director Adrian Leaman has written various articles over the years with Bill Bordass (William Bordass Associates) detailing their research of “the killer variables of productivity in buildings”. They have researched building features that can be influenced by design teams and have concluded there are five variables that affect occupants’ productivity:

  • ‘Personal control’ to change features that affect their comfort, such as blinds, switches, windows
  • Having a ‘rapid response environment’ whereby issues caused by features outside staff’s personal control are quickly resolved by Management
  • Natural ventilation (however it is understood air conditioners are also required for humid and hot summer temperatures)
  • The number of people within a workspace – fewer being optimal
  • Occupants’ understanding of why the building’s features have been incorporated in the design and how to use them

Beyond benchmarking user feedback, why do design teams benefit from BUS Methodology?

Quentin: Implementing a BUS survey is just as much about finding out key information before it’s too late in the design process.

The BUS Methodology doesn’t drive outcomes. Rather it indicates what needs to be considered in a building design for it to work for the people inhabiting it. For a survey to be more than simply data, a design team needs to review the findings and resolve what isn’t working for occupants and, on the other hand, incorporate what works well.

Engineering organisations believe the buildings they design work, but how do they actually know? A BUS survey not only provides this information, but also highlights interesting data outside of a design brief, such as management issues, because it gives people a chance to give feedback anonymously.

At its core, implementing the methodology is about identifying problems that need a solution – a perfect synergy for Aurecon, whose vision is to deliver solutions to problems.

If the BUS Methodology can identify how occupants will work best in a workspace, and we understand workspaces can affect human wellness and productivity, why isn’t everyone implementing it?

Quentin: This isn’t easy to answer. Green Ratings are well understood along with the by-product that Green Buildings have a higher value with lower operating costs. But, it is less understood how buildings affect people and the value of people’s wellness to an organisation. However, I have no doubt awareness will grow and so will buildings’ value with a ‘human wellness score’.

This is a time for leaders and people willing to spend money on their staff’s happiness. In the end, this will result in better work and greater profitability. But it takes innovative management to see this.

It is important to clarify that rarely has a design team done anything ‘wrong’, but it may have missed how people work and interact with the building in their current space and what occupants need. This is often due to management’s lack of awareness. Also, often the managers in an organisation spend little time at their desk or even in the office or lecture theatre, whatever their base location may be. 

Occupants themselves need to be brought into the design consultation and asked how they use a building and why they use it in that way (as odd behaviours are often linked to a building feature that is inappropriate for its required use or even simply not working properly). This needs to occur at the beginning of the design process so the design team has the right brief for a people centric building.

If management is unaware that people use a building through the night for example, and don’t brief the design team on this fact, occupants are not going to be happy with the end project – its lighting at night, for one!

Usually senior management are the decision makers on building design and may not understand how their staff actually use (or want to use) the space they work within. A BUS survey gives the real story from the real users.

Using a methodology like the BUS survey says to your staff: We want to listen to you and find out if there are any problems and any successes you think need to be considered in your new office space. It gives staff a collective voice.

Where to from here in people centric design?

Quentin: The BUS survey is now influencing more than building design. The survey is being used to better understand and measure space and social impact within communities and is being applied in a variety of projects including education facilities and communities. These areas are more difficult to gather feedback on, but the already collated data is impacting design, which is exciting.

And, what's next for Aurecon and designing buildings for people?

Quentin: We are currently working on a move of premises for our Brisbane team and have conducted the Pre-Occupancy Evaluation on how staff feel in the current building. This time, we have also implemented User Group Workshops where a cross section of staff and the design team are meeting to discuss the new building’s design and features. The workshops are proving especially useful.

We want our staff to know we’re designing a building for them and we are seeing positive outcomes even before the move. People are walking away with awareness that they have personal control. Knowing they can make changes to their space makes them feel empowered and, as a consequence, happier and more productive.

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