Q&A: Jeremy Watson

Jeremy Watson CBE has been appointed chief scientist and engineer at BRE (the Building Research Establishment) where he will lead research on, among other things, the role of digital in delivering cites of the future and climate change adaption, mitigation and resource scarcity.

Why did you decide to apply for the position?

I am very passionate about the role that science and engineering can play in the built environment. I have worked in collaboration with, or as a client of, the BRE in the past and was impressed by its research output, quality of work and the value it has brought to professionals across the sector.

I hope to catalyse its research, exploiting my experience as a practitioner and director of pure and applied research and development in industry, the public sector and academia. I work concurrently as dean and professor of engineering systems at the University College of London, and until November 2012 I was chief scientific advisor for the Department of Communities & Local Government.


Which areas will be the focus for BRE's research on climate change?

We will look at the immediate impacts of flooding on cities and countries, and the need to ensure continuity of resources and utilities – when certain systems go down, what the knock-on effects are likely to be and what issues of interdependence exist between systems.

Research on climate change adaptation investigate how we can help householders understand the risks and take appropriate measures, retrofitting buildings to become either more flood-proof or resilient to urban heat island effects.

In my view, the approach to climate change effects in the short term should be about keeping people safe through adaptation, then tackling energy sources and shortages. Then in the longer term, over the next 200 years or more, we should be thinking about mitigation and determined action to cut carbon – which is how long it might take before we see any benefit from it.


Will research on digital cities look at the development of bullding information modelling (BIM)?

Yes, we plan to examine real-time data and software interoperability issues related to the development of Level 3 BIM [a more advanced version of BIM commonly understood to include 4D construction sequencing, 5D cost information and 6D project lifecycle management information].

A major challenge is how to embed real-time data within a static Level 2 environment. Research is needed into the interoperability of software tools, creating new meta languages and representations to allow the transparent movement of data between different systems.

It’s not about specifying new tool sets, there are some very good ones already, it is more about making sure they can talk to each other. The ultimate aim is to enable open data sharing, rather than several proprietary systems, so there is a bigger market available for everyone.

The research will also look at how live data taken from sensors in buildings and infrastructure projects, and other measurements, can be integrated with 3D design data and linked to transactional and other information to create a complete ‘enterprise view’ of a building.


How will the research be organised and funded?

I will oversee research delivered by BRE and five university centres of excellence: at Bath, Cardiff, Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Brasilia.

The aim is to work with the centres of excellence to develop a multi-disciplinary team, including public and private shareholders, to define areas of research, which will be funded by the BRE Trust.

In particular, we want to involve the insurance sector, the climate science sector, and university engineering research.