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Seek and listen to feedback

Clients want to see architects involved in post-occupancy evaluations, providing evidence of what works well and what doesn’t

‘The architects really got inside our heads,’ says Jane Loomes, head teacher of Jesmond Gardens Primary School, County Durham, by ADP for Hartlepool Borough Council. ‘The result is improved attendance, improved behaviour and we are now oversubscribed.’
‘The architects really got inside our heads,’ says Jane Loomes, head teacher of Jesmond Gardens Primary School, County Durham, by ADP for Hartlepool Borough Council. ‘The result is improved attendance, improved behaviour and we are now oversubscribed.’ Credit: Andrew Heptinstall

Continuous improvement is central to architects’ professionalism. It benefits the buildings they design and in turn the economies and culture of the communities they serve. It supports and extends the body of professional knowledge, reinforcing the status of architects among their peers. It sends a message of competence and trust to the world.

More compellingly for individual architects, perhaps, it supports personal aspirations to strive for excellence.

‘It’s really important that in 10 years’ time when you go back to your building that you’re still proud of it,’ says Gregor Mitchell, land director, be:here (Willmott Dixon’s private rental housing arm).

However, disruptive technologies are threatening the bastions of professional knowledge. In a competitive market for architectural services, therefore, architects need to demonstrate how their learning benefits clients.

‘Architects’ free thinking and problem solving skills are rich and powerful, but packaging them into something you pay for can often be difficult,’ says Barra Mac Ruairi, strategy director for place at Bristol City Council.

Clients increasingly expect evidence of competence and the effectiveness of designs. They want reassurance that what the architect does complements their reasons for building and is not wasteful.

As Paul Morrell, formerly the Government’s chief construction adviser, puts it: ‘We have no idea how little we can build quality for until we get waste out of the process. We need to learn what works and replicate it.’

Reassurance generally comprises four deeply interrelated quality measures:
•    Financial performance – will the investment be worth it for the client?
•    Technical performance – will the building do what the client wants it to do?
•    Process performance – will the work be carried out efficiently and effectively?
•    End user satisfaction – will the occupiers enjoy using the building?

Aesthetic appeal, which in certain circumstances is critical for clients, is harder to measure. It is, however, routinely evidenced in design awards and published reviews. The unmet need for evidence about buildings, which includes post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) and BREEAM rating systems, is nothing new. It clearly concerns the whole project team, not just architects.

‘We need a quality loop like you have in the automotive industry where they pull cars apart to see where they went wrong,’ says Geoff Haslam, director of Local Agenda.

James Pellatt, head of projects for Great Portland Estates, argues: ‘Architects should seek and listen to feedback. In that way you get continuous improvement.’

Market barriers to doing so linger, chiefly because architects think it is not viable. Nonetheless, the round table panellists, especially those in the workplace, schools and retrofit sectors, think that the benefits now outweigh the costs.

Gregor Mitchell says: ‘If you can demonstrate that as an architect you have significantly improved the profitability by reducing costs, increasing revenue, or squeezing more space out of a building, you can almost dictate your own fee.’

As well as better outcomes on particular projects, honest performance review engenders trust, boosts reputations and can be intelligently digested to improve an architect’s performance on all measures. More importantly, it can be used to demonstrate the unequivocal competence and effectiveness of the service delivered to existing clients and on offer to prospective clients. This gives them a competitive advantage.

Roundtable panellists repeatedly highlight their need to be educated or reminded of the value of what architects do. Evidence provides the language with which to articulate worth. Shared between fellow architects, it could clarify the value of the profession’s unique contribution to the built environment, enhance the body of knowledge, and promote the standing of architects and the profession.

‘The industry doesn’t know the value of its own products,’ says Paul Morrell. ‘We need to fix the absence of a feedback route.’

Alexi Marmot, director, Alexi Marmot Associates, bluntly reinforces that message: ‘You wouldn’t take a drug if it hadn’t been evaluated. We need to invest in more knowledge.’

Continuous improvement is a hot issue across all sectors, but four stand out in the desire for architects to demonstrate the effectiveness of what they do: schools, workplace, retrofit and healthcare.

The innovative schools designs during the Building Schools for the Future programme have been branded poor value for money. Little evidence was found of extra benefits to educational outcomes. In an age of austerity, the reaction has shifted the focus to defining the design dividend. This makes long-term involvement and continuous learning critical for architects.

‘Architects need to learn which bits make a difference to the educational outcomes. Inspiring spaces make a difference; tiny details around a door frame do not,’ says Lyndsay Smith, director of education and national frameworks at Morgan Sindall.

Andrew Barraclough, group design director, Wates, observes: ‘I don’t think an architect can work effectively unless they see their work through to completion. Otherwise, how does one learn from the mistakes that one makes?’

We wanted to do away with the traditional classrooms and corridors’ – head teacher Jane Loomes on Jesmond Gardens Primary School.
We wanted to do away with the traditional classrooms and corridors’ – head teacher Jane Loomes on Jesmond Gardens Primary School. Credit: Andrew Heptinstall

Workplace developers need to hone their products for enduring market appeal and profitable lifetime yields for investors. Since they rarely occupy the spaces themselves, they are desperate for evidence of what works from POEs and bemoan architects’ lack of involvement beyond practical completion. They believe architects should validate their own work as standard.

‘Architects need to be learning organisations,’ says Neil Usher, BskyB’s workplace director. ‘There is a huge responsibility on the part of the architects to deliver high quality design.’

‘The analysis should be about how the business is performing rather than the building,’ says Ron German, executive director of Stanhope. ‘You can tell the architects who have connected back after completion. Should POE be a service or CPD?’

Pure retrofit is potentially one of today’s larger market opportunities. However, clients are not tapping the value architects might add because they treat projects merely as technical fixes. They are nervous of long payback periods, poor performance in use and, because spaces are already occupied, disruption. To allay clients’ fears and expand opportunities in this market, architects need to ‘prove’ the effectiveness of their services through POEs and by producing solid business cases.

Sunand Prasad of Penoyre & Prasad says: ‘We are still very far short of really understanding how buildings perform. We claim performance credentials at quite early stages of design but, because nobody pays us, we don’t stick around to see what happens when people actually start to use the buildings.’


Retrofit for Purpose, Penoyre & Prasad
Retrofitting Neighbourhoods, Irena Bauman
An Introduction to Low Carbon Domestic Refurbishement, CPA
Residential Retrofit, Marion Baeli
Changing Hospital Architecture, Sunand Prasad
Future Schools: Innovative Design for Existing and New Buildings, Nick Mirchandani and Sharon Wright
Buildings Bite Back, Adrian Leaman and Bill Bordass (out 2016)
Energy-People-Buildings, Judit Kimpian, Hattie Hartman, Sofie Pelsmakers (out 2016)

    What the roundtables found:

  • In a competitive market architects must demonstrate how they benefit clients.
  • Clients increasingly expect evidence of competence and the effectiveness of designs.
  • The pressure for architects to provide demonstrable evidence is mounting.
  • Some clients believe architects should validate their own work as standard, treating it as customer service or CPD.
  • Clients increasingly see the benefits of post-occupancy evaluations outweighing costs.
  • To expand work in retrofit, architects need persuasive evidence and a strong business case.

Training opportunities
Retrofit coordinators, the Centre of Refurbishment Excellence (CoRE) 10-day training programme to upskill professionals. RIBA-recognised.

Help with post-occupancy evaluations
CIC Design Quality Indicator,
BCO Guide to Post-Occupancy Evaluation (see page 34 for the chance to win a free workplace POE).

Help with public or stakeholder consultation
Consultation Matters is RIBA’s new stakeholder and community consultation service. An experienced team will work with you to plan and deliver bespoke consultation programmes, either as part of your in-house team, or directly for your client.

Useful links


Supply evidence of service quality and design effectiveness
The demand for architects to invest in continuous learning was a clarion call from all kinds of clients, whether openly expressed or implied. Doing so robustly validates architects’ service, inspires trust and boosts their reputation.
Because the performance gap is well documented, retrofit clients want reassurance that designs are likely to perform in use as predicted. Without this, they are sceptical about claims for anticipated paybacks.
In their quest to achieve value for money, schools clients need evidence of what is likely to improve outcomes for pupils and teachers. Workplace clients are already committed to post-occupancy evaluations and BREEAM ratings for market appeal and competitive advantage, and they want architects to be equally committed.



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