‘But where is the evidence?’ Anyone who has ever tried to do anything new or slightly different will recognise this almost immediate response…

It’s great to come up with a bright idea and on a really good day, that idea will be well thought out and suitable for all the design constraints. However, if the solution is something that hasn’t been done before, there will always be someone who wants and needs a little bit more reassurance, maybe even proof. At BuroHappold Engineering we always use evidence to inform our design as the starting point, and we also endeavour to really push the envelope of what can be done. However, as the envelope gets pushed, there are fewer precedent projects to refer to, and sometimes it is difficult to give the client the level of certainty they desire.

The challenge is that what works in one situation doesn’t necessarily translate, without problem, to another situation. We see this a lot in our projects. The same noise levels might be considered loud by someone but vibrant by another. One person’s dazzling glare is another person’s sunlight, and let’s not even start on room temperature! What we need is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach but a deepened understanding of the specific context and the conditions necessary for success within the particular challenges of the project being worked on. There’s an art to the science.

So along comes the UKGBC Wellbeing Labs. For BuroHappold this programme of activities is all about understanding how the built environment can have a positive effect on people, and how this in turn is good for business. Moreover it’s about developing the techniques to build up crucial evidence. BuroHappold took part in the first Wellbeing Lab and we worked in collaboration with University of Bath on their WHOLE project*, at our Bath office. In fact WHOLE is still ongoing and we’re continually learning things about how our office environment is affecting staff and how it can be operated more effectively. We also learnt a great deal about sending out weekly surveys on phone apps (Key Learning Takeaway – email is much simpler for this!).

This year we’re teaming up with M&S and The Crown Estate to delve into retail environments. We plan to carry out in-depth studies of employees’ work environments. We will be engaging directly with individuals across all areas of retail to build up detailed narratives of their everyday experience to truly understand issues at every level of use. We’ll couple this with data M&S have about their stores. We hope that this approach will give us a balance between deep personal stories, rich in contextual detail, and performance data (the ying and yang of the research world you could say). We will then be able to use this rich data as a pattern book for improving workplaces for everyone.

Roll on Spring 2018 when UKGBC publish all our case studies.

Trevor Keeling is Senior Engineer, Sustainability Group at BuroHappold