Post-Occupancy Evaluation: A Multifaceted Tool for Building Improvement

Jacqueline Vischer, Ph.D., University of Montreal


Various definitions of Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) have been advanced over the last 20 years since the term was coined. Loosely defined, it has come to mean any and all activities that originate out of an interest in learning how a building performs once it is built, including if and how well it has met expectations and how satisfied building users are with the environment that has been created. POEs can be initiated as research (Marans and Spreckelmeyer, 1981), as case studies of specific situations (Brill et al., 1985), and to meet an institutional need for useful feedback on building and building-related activities (Farbstein and Kantrowitz, 1989). For some public agencies, such as the State of Massachusetts and Public Works Canada (now Public Works and Government Services Canada), POE is a mechanism for linking feedback on newly built buildings with pre-design decision-making; the goal is to make improvements in public building design, construction, and delivery.

Evidence from POE activities to date indicates that objectives such as finding out how buildings work once they are built—and whether the assumptions on which design, construction, and cost decisions were based are justified—are primarily of interest to large institutional owners and managers of real estate inventory. Tenant organizations, small owner-occupiers, and private sector commercial property managers are not typically investors in POE. Moreover, the number of large institutional owners and managers of real estate who have active POE programs is extremely small.


One of the characteristics of POE activities is the discrepancy that exists between the reasons for doing POE (pros) and the difficulty of doing them (cons). Reasons for doing POEs are well represented in the literature. One reason is to develop knowledge about the long-term and even the short-term results of design and construction decisions—on costs, occupant satisfaction, and such building performance aspects as energy management, for example. Another reason is to accumulate knowledge so as to inform and improve the practices of building-related professionals such as designers, builders, and facility managers and even to inform the clients and users who are the consumers of services and products of those same building-related professionals. For an institutional owner-manager of real estate (government agencies, large quasi-government organizations), POE studies can provide feedback on occupant satisfaction, on building performance, and on operating costs and management practices. In sum, POE is a useful tool for improving buildings, increasing occupant comfort, and managing costs. So what mitigates against POE being a more universal activity? The barriers to widespread adoption of POE are cost, defending professional territory, time, and skills. Each one of these is examined briefly.


The cost barrier is not caused by the high costs of doing POE: building evaluation studies can be as expensive or as inexpensive as the resources available to finance them. The cost barrier is intrinsic to the

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3 Post-Occupancy Evaluation: A Multifaceted Tool for Building Improvement Jacqueline Vischer, Ph.D., University of Montreal WHAT IS POST-OCCUPANCY EVALUATION? THE PROS AND CONS OF POE Various definitions of Post-Occupancy Evaluation One of the characteristics of POE activities is the (POE) have been advanced over the last 20 years since discrepancy that exists between the reasons for doing the term was coined. Loosely defined, it has come to POE (pros) and the difficulty of doing them (cons). mean any and all activities that originate out of an Reasons for doing POEs are well represented in the interest in learning how a building performs once it is literature. One reason is to develop knowledge about built, including if and how well it has met expectations the long-term and even the short-term results of design and how satisfied building users are with the environ- and construction decisions—on costs, occupant satis- ment that has been created. POEs can be initiated as faction, and such building performance aspects as research (Marans and Spreckelmeyer, 1981), as case energy management, for example. Another reason is to studies of specific situations (Brill et al., 1985), and to accumulate knowledge so as to inform and improve the meet an institutional need for useful feedback on build- practices of building-related professionals such as ing and building-related activities (Farbstein and designers, builders, and facility managers and even to Kantrowitz, 1989). For some public agencies, such as inform the clients and users who are the consumers of the State of Massachusetts and Public Works Canada services and products of those same building-related (now Public Works and Government Services Canada), professionals. For an institutional owner-manager of POE is a mechanism for linking feedback on newly real estate (government agencies, large quasi-government built buildings with pre-design decision-making; the organizations), POE studies can provide feedback on goal is to make improvements in public building occupant satisfaction, on building performance, and on design, construction, and delivery. operating costs and management practices. In sum, Evidence from POE activities to date indicates that POE is a useful tool for improving buildings, increas- objectives such as finding out how buildings work once ing occupant comfort, and managing costs. So what they are built—and whether the assumptions on which mitigates against POE being a more universal activity? design, construction, and cost decisions were based are The barriers to widespread adoption of POE are cost, justified—are primarily of interest to large institutional defending professional territory, time, and skills. Each owners and managers of real estate inventory. Tenant one of these is examined briefly. organizations, small owner-occupiers, and private sector commercial property managers are not typically Cost investors in POE. Moreover, the number of large insti- tutional owners and managers of real estate who have The cost barrier is not caused by the high costs of active POE programs is extremely small. doing POE: building evaluation studies can be as expensive or as inexpensive as the resources available to finance them. The cost barrier is intrinsic to the 23

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24 LEARNING FROM OUR BUILDINGS structure of the real estate industry, namely, who pays In spite of the power of both the pros and cons of for POE? In commercial real estate circles, POE is not POE, the activity continues to be legitimized by one- built into the architect’s fee, the construction bid, the off studies commissioned by large-scale owner-occupiers move-in budget, or the operating budget of the build- as well as by companies who, for one reason or another, ing. This means that money to finance any POE are seeking to make more strategic real estate decisions. activity, however small, must be found on a case-by- The term continues to have currency among academic case basis. researchers who are motivated to add to the general knowledge base about how buildings work after occu- pancy and how the environments they offer affect Professional Territory users. In the current context of new work patterns, Defending professional territory is a barrier because changing office technology, and a more strategic POE is, after all, evaluation, and evaluation implies approach to workspace planning, POE studies are finding judgment. No active building professionals seek to a potentially valuable role in guiding companies toward have their work judged by outsiders as part of a process more informed decision-making about office space. over which they have no control, even if the goal is a better understanding of a situation and not a perfor- CURRENT STATUS OF POE mance review of a participant. It is necessary for POE to be seen as a useful a posteriori gathering of knowl- POE has evolved from early efforts at environmental edge that is of value to the professionals involved, not evaluation that focused on the housing needs of dis- as a critique of professional performance. advantaged groups and efforts to improve environmen- tal quality in government-subsidized housing. The idea that better living space could be designed by having Time better information from users drove environmental The question of time is a mysterious one in commer- evaluation in Britain, France, Canada, and the United cial real estate. Every new building project has a rushed States during the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was only and constraining schedule, and every stage is carried after the widespread acceptance of this logic—that out under unbending time pressures, although the finding out about users’ needs was a legitimate aim of reasons for this are not always clear at the time and in building research—that other building types became spite of the fact that rushed and fast-tracked projects targets for evaluation, namely, public buildings, includ- often lead to costly change orders and bad long-term ing courthouses, prisons, and hospitals. decisions. Going back for a follow-up look at a build- The building type most recently identified as a can- ing, however, is not bound by the time pressures of didate for POE is office and commercial building new projects and, as a result, finds no place in the design. Starting with the BOSTI study (Brill et al., phases of a conventional building project. 1985) linking features of the office environment to employee productivity, the corporate preoccupation with reducing space costs and improving productivity Skills has caused the private sector to become more actively Finally, what are POE skills and why is the lack of involved in POE. The challenge is to build POE into them a barrier? In spite of considerable reflection and the cycle of corporate real estate decision-making so writing by academics and researchers, there is no par- that professionals involved in building programming, ticular technique or tool associated with POE studies. design, construction, and operation can acquire the rel- The result is that the term itself has come to be applied evant tools and skills; so that provision for POE is built to a wide range of different activities, ranging from into either the operating or the capital budget; and so precise cost-accounting evaluations to technical mea- that the results of a POE feed into decision-making in a surements of building performance to comprehensive useful and constructive way. surveys of user attitudes. Defining skills so broadly In the following sections, four types of POE are means that no one individual is likely to have all that identified. Each one is illustrated with at least one case are needed; it also means that POE does not fall into study showing how it has been used. Although these the skill set of any one individual or discipline and four categories of POE are not exhaustive, they seem therefore tends to fall through the cracks. most useful for this overview. They are

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25 POST-OCCUPANCY EVALUATION: A MULTIFACETED TOOL FOR BUILDING IMPROVEMENT 1. building-behavior research, or the accumulation process of federal projects. A multidisciplinary of knowledge; approach to POE was developed and implemented for 2. feeding into pre-design programming; a short time in different federal office buildings in 3. strategic space planning; and Canada (Public Works Canada, 1983). Precipitated by 4. capital asset management. a concern with energy consumption in the early 1980s, studies were initiated of the performance of building At the end, the “best practices” that can be identified systems, patterns of energy use in large buildings, and from this comparative analysis are summarized. Ulti- effects on occupants’ perceptions of comfort. These mately, the process of POE is seen as critical in terms studies led to methods to devise effective but simplified of meeting the challenges identified above. In the last data-gathering methods to provide reliable indicators section, a functionally viable POE process is outlined. of building quality (Ventre, 1988). The glue that bound these data-gathering and analysis efforts together was an analysis of user behavior and the links that could or Building-Behavior Research, or the Accumulation could not be made with building operations. of Knowledge A technique for assessing user comfort was one tool The notion of POE as a routine activity of the real that emerged out of the Canadian effort and has since estate industry has not gained ground in Europe, where been widely implemented in private industry (Dillon it remains an active area of applied research in most and Vischer, 1988). An extensive survey of users was countries. At a seminar in Paris in 1992, French policy- initiated in some eight government buildings in Cana- makers, public servants, and administrators were dian cities, and a major data analysis effort aimed to exposed to a rich panoply of North American POE integrate the feedback from users with data collected research on public buildings in order to demonstrate from instruments measuring indoor air quality, thermal the value of the approach and the increasing knowl- comfort, lighting and acoustic conditions, and energy edge about buildings (Centre Scientifique et technique performance. Analysis of the questionnaire results led du bâtiment, 1993). In most European circles, the idea to the conclusion that there are seven major conditions appears to be limited to individual academic researchers that affect users’ perceptions of their comfort in office who carry out housing research,1 some office building buildings; each can be related to measures of perfor- studies,2 and public building POEs,3 as well as a grow- mance of technical building systems, but not in direct ing number of hospital POEs in Sweden, Germany, and or causal ways (Vischer, 1989). England (Dilani, 2000). The identification of what came to be known as the Funded by government agencies and using academi- Building-In-Use measure of ambient environmental cally defensible research methods to study largely comfort led to the development of a standardized public building use, POE in Europe and Japan seems to measurement tool in the form of a short questionnaire. be directed ultimately at building a broader and more The questions are formatted as 5-point scales on which reliable base of knowledge of human behavior in rela- building occupants rate the seven key dimensions of tion to the built environment, knowledge that may environmental comfort in their workplace. Both the eventually come to be recognized as an academic dis- five-year data-gathering and analysis effort that led up cipline (environmental psychology, interior design?) to the building-in-use system and its subsequent exten- but is not actively channeled to designers or other pro- sive use in the private sector can be considered a major fessionals in the real estate industry. POE initiative that has important implications for POE was identified as a component of the Project building-behavior research and has also generated a Delivery System used by Public Works Canada in the tool that can be used for other types of POE (Vischer, early 1980s, and was intended as a final stage in the 1996). programming, design, construction, and occupancy Since its development for the Canadian government, the Building-In-Use (BIU) assessment system has been used all over the world. Two books in English and one in French, along with several articles, have been pub- 1For example, Mirella Bonnes at the University of Rome in Italy. lished that describe the system and its applications. A 2For example, Peter Jockusch at the University of Kassal, copy of the questionnaire is contained in Appendix C. Germany. Subsequent sections of this chapter deal with applica- 3For example, the Building Research Institute in Olso, Norway.

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26 LEARNING FROM OUR BUILDINGS tions of this POE system in a variety of different developed a prototype concept that was built and occu- contexts. pied. The post-occupancy evaluation was part of the This year, a new research initiative in Quebec, design process for new police stations, and the proto- Canada, has identified among other objectives the need type was carefully examined in use, with its function- to update and modernize the BIU assessment system. ality, costs, structure, and materials evaluated. The This objective is combined with another broad-ranging prototype design was then modified, and the design of research goal, that of carrying out a POE of some 3,000 state police stations was standardized and built along universal work-station installations in the offices of the same lines. This saved time and effort on program- Quebec’s largest insurance company. Not only is this ming, design, and construction costs for the state. A POE targeting ambient environmental conditions in the similar approach has worked for child care centers and work environment, as was done in the 1980s, but it will state vehicle repair and maintenance centers, and was also examine the psychological impact on individual and being considered for state armories and firing ranges. group work of a highly standardized work environment. Soon after a large sum was approved by the Massa- This study aims to make a valuable contribution to chusetts legislature for a fast-tracked program of new the office POE literature by adding to existing knowl- prison construction, a post-occupancy prison study was edge of building systems performance and human com- carried out. The results of the new Old Colony state fort. As well as updating our knowledge of key envi- penitentiary POE were delivered to the Department of ronmental conditions in the workplace, this research Corrections and ultimately used in programming four will measure psychological needs such as privacy and to six fast-tracked corrections projects by the Office of territoriality and the influences of group norms and Programming. membership as well as organizational values on occu- However, in other projects, POE was not as success- pant perception of the work environment. More purely ful. It was not uncommon for the budgeted amount for social science methods are being used, such as indi- POE to be used up by change orders and other require- vidual interviews, focus groups, and a questionnaire ments of the construction process. These projects had survey to be carried out through individual interviews no funds left for the POE stage of the process. In other with a stratified random sample of the populations of cases, the time barrier alluded to above created a mis- up to six different buildings. Results will become avail- alignment between POE studies and programming and able in the fall of 2001, and the study will be published design activities. For example, POEs of the correctional in 2002. institutions built early in the fast-tracked process were not done because their results would not have been available in time to inform programming and design Linking POE with Pre-Design Programming for the next project. A POE on a Massachusetts court- One of the most appealing reasons to perform POE house in 1985-1986 was only approximately aligned is to be able to inform building decision-making in the with the state’s courthouse construction program that early stages of a new project. POE studies target user was funded from 1984-1989. evaluation of an existing space where users are des- POEs are still part of the public building program- tined to occupy a new space that is being planned. Their ming process, and efforts have recently been made to feedback is needed to ensure that the new design meets develop and implement a standardized POE procedure users’ needs and solves problems in existing buildings. that will fit in with the state’s building programs, pro- Certain public agencies such as the Division of Capital vide the right information at the right time, and enable Planning and Operations in Massachusetts have POE project managers to identify more exactly for each as a legitimate and funded stage in all capital projects; project the amount of money needed for POE. the activity is run by the Office of Programming, the POE was also built into government building deliv- office responsible for all pre-design planning. The con- ery processes in New Zealand in the 1980s before the cept behind the legislation was to link POE with pre- privatization of the public works department. Perform- design programming of public buildings. ing POEs facilitated pre-design programming and gave In certain projects, the link has been effected and the design and construction team on each project a has paid off. For example, State Police stations are all closer contact and understanding of users in each of its designed along the same principles because they all projects. This led to a design approach characterized serve the same functions. The Office of Programming by the designers as a negotiation, with multiple

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27 POST-OCCUPANCY EVALUATION: A MULTIFACETED TOOL FOR BUILDING IMPROVEMENT exchanges of information and openness to change on located in New Hampshire is a world leader in the both sides (Joiner and Ellis, 1989). However, this design and production of plasma metal-cutting equip- approach was threatened by the severe government cut- ment. As a result of a need for expansion of both its backs of the 1980s, closely followed by extensive manufacturing plant and its offices, Hypertherm hired privatization that put the public works departments in an architect whose drawings and conceptual approach competition with private firms for public building it later rejected on the grounds that a new work envi- projects. Although the close links with users that the ronment should accompany the significant organiza- public works department had developed gave it an tional change that was needed to prepare the company edge, the time needed for negotiated design was not for global expansion and a better competitive position competitive, even though it could demonstrate that as its share of the world market grew. savings would be realized later on in the life of the The workspace design process at Hypertherm included building. a POE of the existing space. As well as providing use- These accounts suggest that in spite of the logical ful data to help design the new space, the survey caused imperative to link POE results to the front end of the employees to feel both consulted and involved in the design process, efforts to do so have had to struggle to process of designing new space that would meet busi- survive. This should not be taken to mean that such ness goals. The strategic space planning comprised a efforts are futile; on the contrary, they are valiant and number of different steps. First, a shared vision of the should be continued, if only to make us question the new work environment was created through a struc- basic irrationality of the present building creation tured team walk-through of the existing facility. The process. management team and consultants toured the facility as a group, discussing the tasks of each work group, pointing out difficulties and advantages with the POE in Strategic Space Planning present space, and commenting on each other’s presen- There is a clear difference between attempts to feed tations. Recorded on cassette tape and transcribed, the POE study results into pre-design decision-making on tour commentary was presented back to the client, a routine basis, such as those described above, and along with a comprehensive set of photographs, to using POE in strategic space planning. This latter use document existing conditions. This activity involved of POE has gained credibility in recent years as corpo- all members of the team and gave the consultant a large rations are trying increasingly to provide functionally amount of information efficiently; consensus began to supportive workspace to their employees and simulta- build on what needed to be done to solve the company’s neously to reduce occupancy costs. space problems. A number of companies in recent years have used A subsequent series of facilitated work sessions Building-In-Use assessment to initiate a process of stra- enabled the management team to generate a set of goals tegic space planning. This approach indicates a more and objectives not only for the new space but also for complex situation than that which is characterized by the restructured organization. This stage yielded a set conventional office space planning. It implies that the of design guidelines to be applied to the new design organization seeks to improve, innovate, or otherwise and established priorities as to the relative importance initiate workspace change to bring space use more in of what the team wanted to achieve. Most importantly line with strategic business goals. These changes are for the future of the process, it resulted in consensus. not always understood or accepted by employees; thus, The next step required involving employees in the some companies have taken a change-management design process in order to ensure widespread accep- approach to new space design. Others have imposed tance of the vision. The BIU assessment survey of major workspace changes in the same way as any other employee perceptions of the physical conditions of the redesign of the workspace, sometimes with markedly existing building started the process of employee negative results (Business Week, 1996). involvement. Each employee filled out the survey and One example of a company that used POE for strate- was therefore alerted to the imminent new space design gic space planning in the early 1990s and has realized process and to the importance of his or her role in it. significant gains in corporate recruitment and retention, The survey results were published in the company as well as increased sales, is Hypertherm Inc. (Zeisel, newsletter and showed the best and the worst aspects in press). This medium-sized manufacturing company of working in the old space.

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28 LEARNING FROM OUR BUILDINGS A final step in the strategic approach was to invite is perhaps due to the diverging focus of the two activi- employee representatives to provide feedback on ties. Asset management tends to rely on data on build- design development and to communicate key design ing operating costs, maintenance and repair needs, real decisions to their colleagues. estate value and market conditions, and tenant improve- The questionnaire survey was distributed a second ments. The standard POE approach provides data on time, about six months after move-in, to compare levels user perceptions and attitudes through group feedback of user comfort between the old and the new buildings. sessions, such as focus groups, survey questionnaires, Not only were occupants pleased with their new space, and in-situ observations of user behavior. As a result, but the process of buy-in and participation also helped feedback from employees in corporations is often con- them understand from day one how it would work. sidered to be of interest more to human resources They accepted it without the discomfort and resistance departments than to the real estate team. often exhibited in new work environments, because However, an approach to POE that combines assess- they knew exactly what to expect. The employees took ment of the physical condition of the building and ownership of their new space because they had been building systems with user comfort assessment on such involved in decision-making throughout. topics as indoor air quality and ventilation rates, light- Figure 3-1 shows employee ratings on the seven ing levels and contrast conditions, building (not occu- dimensions of workspace comfort in the old building pant) noise levels, and indoor temperature (thermal and after the renovation. Having a short, standardized comfort) could constitute another tool to add to those questionnaire to compare employee perceptions before used in conventional asset management. One weakness and after a workspace change is a significant tool for in making this potentially fruitful link is the finding POE studies. BIU assessment has been used success- that much of the literature that has been published on fully in strategic space planning for a range of compa- specific building studies has been unable to demon- nies, including Bell Sygma, Reuters, Boston Financial strate systematic links between the feedback users Group, and GTE Government Systems. provide through questioning and data derived from instrument measures of interior building conditions (Vischer, 1993). Moreover, portfolio managers tend to Capital Asset Management steer away from POE approaches because there are few Using POE as a tool for managing building assets is tools available (the BIU assessment questionnaire not new, but it has not been widely implemented. This being one of the few simple ways of collecting user Hypertherm 1996 Hypertherm 1998 5 4.5 4.3 3.9 4 3.7 3.4 3.4 3.3 3.3 Occupant Comfort 3 2.9 2.9 2.8 2.8 3 2.6 2.6 2.6 2 1 Air Quality Thermal Spatial Privacy Lighting Office Building Workable Comfort Comfort Comfort Noise Noise FIGURE 3-1 Before and after BIU profile comparison.

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29 POST-OCCUPANCY EVALUATION: A MULTIFACETED TOOL FOR BUILDING IMPROVEMENT feedback on a standardized basis) and because any Procedures were set in place to allow the baseline questioning of users requires informing and involving scores to be updated as new information was added tenants. A more finely tuned and precise approach to through additional building surveys. One organization, POE is necessary in order to make this approach valu- Intelsat, initiated an electronic form of the question- able to professional evaluators and asset managers in naire survey in order to be able to update occupant com- organizations. fort ratings easily. In the case of the World Bank, an However, BIU assessment has been used by large effort was made to link the BIU database to computer- owner-occupier corporations to collect data on user ized drawings that were used to plan and update office perceptions and link these directly with ambient inte- layouts, so that BIU scores of buildings, floors, or areas rior conditions and, therefore, building performance of floors that were slated for reconfiguration could be and building quality. Two examples of companies with consulted and indices of quality made available as part extensive real estate holdings who attempted to use of the space planning process—a sort of instant POE. POE systematically as an asset management tool are Bell Canada and the World Bank. Both organizations BEST PRACTICES owned some and leased some of their office space; both were committed to providing high-quality office space, The rapid overview of case studies presented above in the first case, as part of a continuous improvement offers the following conclusions. First, it is clear that philosophy and in the second case, as part of the corpo- POEs of built environments must continue in order to rate mission; and both chose BIU assessment as their enhance our knowledge about the effects of physical POE tool for managing assets. space on people. The challenge of the “building- In both cases, BIU surveys were carried out in behavior research” definition of POE is to ensure that almost all of their buildings, in both leased and owner- the knowledge gained from research studies is not only occupied space. In the case of Bell, this meant surveys disseminated in the academic community but also suc- of 2,500 people distributed in its headquarters tower in cessfully transferred to the world of designers, builders, Montreal, in suburban office buildings in Montreal and and financiers of real estate. Toronto, and in one building in Quebec City. In the For public agencies or other organizations that case of the World Bank, this meant surveying 2,800 repeatedly construct the same building type, linking employees distributed in the eight leased and owned POE with pre-design programming can save money buildings it occupied in Washington, D.C., and also and time. Evidence indicates, however, that even when included one building in Paris. the link to pre-design decision-making is recognized, Both corporations collected large amounts of feed- POE is not simple to implement. It is likely to be suc- back from occupants using the BIU questionnaire. In cessful only if, as Friedman et al. (1979) pointed out in addition to individual building analysis, the BIU data their seminal first book on building evaluation, a on environmental comfort were grouped and analyzed structure-process approach is used. This means design- for overall trends in occupant comfort. The large number ing an approach ahead of time, developing and testing of cases and variety of building settings surveyed enabled the process beforehand, and ensuring that resources baseline scores to be calculated on the seven comfort continue to be available. dimensions across all buildings. This, in turn, allowed POE is also a potentially useful tool for asset man- real estate staff to identify which buildings or parts of agement, as long as the approach employed to collect buildings exceeded the baseline scores and which fell feedback from users can be effectively integrated with below them. Both organizations found that this approach the other more market-oriented data-gathering efforts was cost-effective and not data heavy, did not consume of asset managers. This may mean simplifying the inappropriate amounts of staff time, and provided a elaborate social science approach favored by researchers single-digit indicator of environmental quality. BIU and investing in a test initiative to implement and test results from individual buildings could easily be com- an asset management approach to POE in the context pared either to their own baseline, that is, the standards of the real estate industry so as to demonstrate how set by their own building stock, or to the baseline scores feedback from users can both be collected easily and generated by the pre-existing BIU database, indicating enhance real estate decision-making. a generalized North American standard of quality based POE also seems to have a natural place in strategic on survey results from some 60 buildings. space planning and could be developed for use by a

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30 LEARNING FROM OUR BUILDINGS wide variety of organizations. The key to this applica- management, most organizations have no established tion is to consider POE a tool for involving building system for knowing how to process, direct, and act on users in planning new workspace. Some organizations the information they receive from a POE. This may have reservations about allowing their employees to cause the information not to go anywhere, and it become too involved in the emotional and time- becomes a reminder to decision-makers not to repeat consuming planning of their new space. However, tech- the experience. Having no clear use for the information niques exist for managed participation that have been may generate conflict and resentment among those who successful in a variety of instances in helping to control are expected to act on it; seeing their feedback ignored the amount and type of user involvement. Involving and not put to good use may alienate building occupants. users in new workspace planning is necessary for any Many organizations that initiate POE are unclear as successful change initiative, and POE is one of the tools to why they want the information, what information available to this end. they want, to whom it should go, and how they are Finally, in spite of the ground-breaking efforts by expected to follow up on it. Several organizations some large organizations to build POE techniques into familiar to the author have explicitly required that the their building management activities, it is curious that results—whether positive or not—of a POE survey not large property management firms are rarely known to be disseminated. use POEs for building diagnostic purposes or for Among the range of possible reasons for a lack of improving services to tenants. Some property manage- planning for the dissemination of POE information are ment companies content themselves with short satis- the following: faction questionnaires that tenants complete following a repair or move. However, in the experience of this • “usefulness” of user surveys, writer, property management firms, along with large • complexity of the design process, banks and financial institutions, are the companies least • negativity of the comments received, and likely to perform POE. Techniques of POE need to be • complexity of managing information. developed for use by organizations that would make good use of occupant feedback if they had a simple, Each of these is discussed below. reliable way of getting it. These techniques would help them to build environmental evaluation into their plan- Usefulness of User Surveys ning, budgeting, and maintenance cycles. It should be noted that some companies fear solicit- Questioning people about how much they like or dis- ing feedback from building occupants on the grounds like as space that they occupy inevitably obliges the that both seeking and receiving this type of informa- researcher to confront the “so-what?” question: So tion may obligate them as building owners and/or man- what if some users like a feature and others do not? The agers to make a costly change to their services or to the notion of liking something is so subjective and con- building itself. At least one lawsuit has been heard of, strained by circumstances that it is difficult to extract resulting from a perceived lack of follow-up to an generic information or to generalize from users’ occupant survey that questioned users about their per- responses. However the notion of user satisfaction is at ceptions of indoor air quality and lighting (Boston the base of almost all POE approaches, leading to Globe, 1987). highly specific results from POE case studies and a lack of generalizable conclusions to guide additional research or changes in design (Vischer, 1985). MANAGING POE INFORMATION Some POE approaches—for example, BIU assess- Once POE exists outside the protected framework ment—have replaced the emphasis on user satisfaction of a case study research project, another set of barriers with questions that target a more functional evaluation present themselves in the form of dissemination of the of the work environment. BIU survey questions, for information yielded by the study. As long as the POE is example, ask respondents to identify their level of com- carried out as academic research, the sanctioned forms fort in relation to the specific tasks of their job. The of academic research dissemination are available (pub- intent is to shift the user feedback away from personal lication in journals, conferences, etc.). However, in the likes and dislikes toward what might be called an practical world of building design, construction, and “objective” assessment of the functionality of the work

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31 POST-OCCUPANCY EVALUATION: A MULTIFACETED TOOL FOR BUILDING IMPROVEMENT environment. For example, lighting quality is rated research. Other researchers have taken architects’ according to the respondent’s task requirements: work decisions as hypotheses and tested them with POE data at a computer screen, reading print-out or other docu- (Cooper, 1973). This approach implies a linear logic ments, or appraising forms, colors, and other visually according to which programming (pre-design informa- oriented tasks. This approach is based on the concept tion gathering) leads to design decisions, which lead to of “functional comfort”; theoretically, any building construction of what has been designed, which in turn user can evaluate functional comfort for any other leads to POE. Montgomery elaborates on this linear person performing the same tasks in the same envi- logic in his introduction to Architects’ People (Ellis ronment. and Cuff, 1989). As he points out, this may be a model Organizations that have asked, “Do you like or dis- for a rational world, but it is all too clear that the world like . . . ?” or “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with . . . ?” of architecture and real estate is anything but rational, have found the results too subjective to be useful. that design itself is not rational, and that trying system- Managers fear that these questions raise users’ expec- atically to link POE with design for those involved in tations and cause them to expect wide-ranging correc- that process is all but impossible. tive measures and/or gratification of their wishes. What researchers are less aware of, and the designer Although some POE studies target correcting problems is painfully aware of, is the irrational nature of design in the building, many are initiated without a budget or decisions. Each design decision on a project is influ- a procedure for follow-up. Moreover, companies often enced by the personality traits, role and status, and per- design questionnaires with little regard to the consider- sonal opinions of the individuals involved (client, ations necessary for good survey design. Often such project manager, architect, contractor, etc.) as well as questionnaires are overly long and detailed, and by the stage reached at the time of making the decision, analysis of the results is almost always limited to simple how involved and informed users are, expectations, frequencies and percentage calculations. As a result, budget, and other pressures such as government regu- companies find the data less than useful and conclude lations, site constraints, and so forth. The designer’s that occupant surveys are a waste of time. own design ideas, and how these are communicated, when and to whom, also affect the process. These are but a few of the factors that mean that building design Complexity of the Design Process is not controlled by any one person or agency and that People who are trained in and perform building therefore a clear notion of a project’s design ideas and design have difficulty moving beyond design into a intentions for the purpose of POE is difficult to identify. POE once their buildings are occupied and built. Some The author’s own experience of highly participatory designers evince a general curiosity that generates design processes has provided first-hand experience of some unfocused evaluation activity that gives them a the convoluted, political, and anything-but-linear sense of the success of their design decisions. The feed- decision-making process that causes a building to be back that the designer acquires rarely goes further than what it ultimately is. In many cases, no amount of the individual seeking the information. Some designers rational planning and programming can change the will spend considerable time on acquiring feedback, likelihood that once occupied, the use of the space whereas others have almost no curiosity, and most are begins immediately to change. Sometimes small adjust- somewhere in between. Why are design professionals ments are made creating incremental change over time, not more curious to learn from the positive and nega- and sometimes the basic assumptions that guided the tive impacts of their design decisions? I believe the design of the building are dramatically forgotten and answer to the question is the complexity of the design the space is adapted to serve a different purpose. process, for the following reasons. Given the nature of building design and construc- The approach of nondesigners to POE is somewhat tion processes, it is unrealistic to expect a designer to different from that of designers: the former approach seek out feedback on the long-term effectiveness of space as another cultural artifact to be studied using design decisions on a systematic basis. However, this traditional social science methods. Some studies seek is more of a comment on the POE process than on the to orient the space evaluation to the basic design deci- POE product, a product whose usefulness cannot be sions and/or criteria. In the words of Inquiry by Design denied in spite of the complexity of the decisions that (Zeisel, 1975), each design decision is a hypothesis for go into the creation of new physical environments.

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32 LEARNING FROM OUR BUILDINGS Primarily Negative Feedback functional comfort, operating costs, and adaptation and re-use is directed to stakeholders in the planning, Because of the emphasis on building user feedback, design, construction, and occupancy process who are much of the information received from POEs is critical in a position to make decisions about future building in nature and appears to assign inordinate weight to projects. nonfunctional or dysfunctional aspects of a building For each of these, and no doubt other, applications with little mention of what works. This impression, of POE information, some thought needs to be given at although false, makes it difficult for information to be the outset to collecting and presenting POE informa- shared in a constructive and useful way. The best way tion in a way that suits the receiver and consumer of around this dilemma is for a skilled POE researcher to that information. This means that a clear understanding weigh the importance of the information received. of the context is necessary and that the POE process For example, 10 comments from building users should be designed as a function of contextual con- about dripping soap dishes in bathrooms, slippery front straints. Key questions to be asked before any POE steps, and dust on the work surface cannot be com- study include the following: Who wants the POE? How pared in importance to one or two comments about poor do they want to use the information? What resources lighting or a lack of meeting rooms. The former are are available to gather, analyze, and disseminate the irritants; they should not carry the weight of an item information? Who will receive the results, and when? that creates a serious dysfunctionality or impedes user What expectations do stakeholders have of the POE effectiveness. Similarly, it has frequently been this results? author’s experience during focus group sessions with users to listen to 45 minutes of complaints and negative THE FUTURE OF POE: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR criticism about their space only to have them comment AN UNOBTRUSIVE POE PROCESS (once they have got all this off their chests) that they like the daylight and view from the windows, the space The importance of the process used in carrying out a is much better than where they used to work, and they POE cannot be underestimated; in this author’s opinion like working in the building! it is more important than the method selected and the One of the challenges of POEs going forward is to data gathered. Once users are involved—as they are identify a reasonable system of informed weighting of once they are questioned about their use and occupancy user feedback so that the data received can be inter- of a building—how they are approached, what infor- preted according to balanced positive and negative cat- mation they are given, and the follow-up they experi- egories. ence are all critical stages in the development of the relationship between the occupant and his physical Complexity of Managing POE Information environment. The POE, then, provides an opportunity for improvement not only of the building and of the The information that results from POE is directed in environment it provides to its users, but also of the way a number of different directions. In some cases, solu- users perceive and feel about their territory. tions are sought to problems that have been identified Ideally, one would like to see POE carried out sys- in a building, and the information is directed to facility tematically on a wide variety of types of building, but managers, building owners, and landlords. In others, not before clear objectives and results are identified. the information is directed to designers to help them At the outset, it is important to clarify the value that the make better design decisions on a specific project or POE will have for the person or agency carrying it out. generically with regard to a building type. In some If one can identify that the POE has value in the context cases, building users are informed regarding the results in which it is being implemented, then decisions about of a POE in which they were involved, as a way of financing it, identifying the right things to be studied, involving them in planning change and finding ways of and disseminating the results and information to the improving the environment. In yet other cases, the right people will follow. As the examples in this chapter information is seen as valuable in itself and dissemi- show, stakeholders in private sector real estate devel- nated to researchers seeking to understand more about opment fail to attach value to POE, and even public the person-environment relationship. Finally, informa- agencies—for which the value of POE is apparent— tion about building systems performance, occupant

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33 POST-OCCUPANCY EVALUATION: A MULTIFACETED TOOL FOR BUILDING IMPROVEMENT find that the complexities of the process outweigh 9. If a questionnaire is given to occupants, it should potential gains from POE. be designed and analyzed by someone knowl- In conclusion, it is proposed that a workable POE edgeable in survey research, even if this person is process designed to succeed outside academic circles not involved in the eventual use and application incorporate the following steps: of the results. 10. A standardized approach that allows building pro- 1. A simple, reliable and standardized way should fessionals (designers, developers, managers) to be developed of collecting useful feedback from collect modest amounts of comparable data from occupants, not on the entirety of their experience a variety of buildings to analyze on a comparative of using the building, but on a few, carefully basis is likely to be more useful than a detailed selected and identified indicators of environ- one-off case study in most situations. mental quality. 11. Public agencies should examine the possibility of 2. The indicators selected for measurement should setting up test POEs on a demonstration basis, to be decided beforehand according to that which is develop POE techniques, to demonstrate value, most relevant to the initiators of the POE and the and to determine the best ways of making POE context in which it is implemented. relevant to the building industry. 3. It is necessary to clarify at the outset who are likely to be the consumers of POE results and ABOUT THE AUTHOR therefore how best to communicate these results to them. Jacqueline Vischer is an environmental psychologist. 4. Consideration should be given to POE techniques She is currently professor and director of the interior that avoid direct questioning of users—for example, design program at the University of Montreal. She has using instruments, observations, expert walk- consulting experience in architecture and planning throughs, etc.—as well as to refining social projects in the United States and Canada. As principal science techniques to devise reliable and rapid in her own consulting firm in Vancouver, Canada, ways of questioning building occupants. Dr. Vischer and her staff undertook contract research 5. Efforts to combine instrument data collection and from government agencies in residential planning and surveys of building users can be costly, because evaluation, institutional programming, and policy large amounts of data are generated without yield- analysis. Dr. Vischer then spent five years developing ing much additional useful information. One building performance studies of office buildings for approach is to use the analysis of user responses Public Works Canada in Ottawa, projects from which to indicate where and when follow-up instrument the building-in-use assessment system emerged. She measures might clarify the nature of the problems then undertook the design and implementation of a identified and indicate possible solutions. post-occupancy evaluation program for public build- 6. Users should be well informed regarding the pur- ings owned and operated by the State of Massachusetts’ pose of their involvement is providing feedback Division of Capital Planning. In 1989 Dr. Vischer and should be made aware in situations where started the Institute For Building Science, which immediate correction of problems is not envi- became Buildings-In-Use in 1990 and opened its sioned. In fact, it is necessary to recognize that Montreal office, Bâtiments-en-Usage, in 1991. building users can be “measuring instruments” Dr. Vischer has held positions as lecturer and instruc- of environmental quality, rather than only cus- tor at the McGill University School of Urban Planning, tomers to be served. University of British Columbia, and Harvard Uni- 7. A decision should be taken at the outset as to versity’s School of Design. She is a member of the whether or not user survey results will be made Environmental Design Research Association, the available to building occupants and, if so, in how American Society for Heating Refrigeration and Air much detail and for what purpose. Conditioning Engineers, the Montréal Metropolitan 8. Resources for carrying out the POE should be Energy Forum, and the International Facilities Man- defined clearly so that data collection and analysis agement Association. Dr. Vischer holds a bachelor of activities fit into time and budget constraints, arts in psychology from the University of California, however modest. Berkeley, and a master of arts in psychology from the

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34 LEARNING FROM OUR BUILDINGS University of Wales Institute of Science and Technol- Farbstein, J., and Kantrowitz, M. (1989). Post-occupancy evaluation and organizational development: the experience of the United States Postal ogy, and a Ph.D. in architecture from the University of Service. In: Building Evaluation. Preiser, W. (ed.). New York: Plenum California, Berkeley. Press, p. 327. Friedman, A., Zimring, C., and Zube, E. (1979). Environmental Design Evaluation. New York: Plenum Press. REFERENCES Joiner, D., and Ellis, P. (1989). Making POE work in an organization. In: Preiser, W. (ed.) Building Evaluation. New York: Plenum Press, p. 299. Boston Globe. (1987). 30 June. Marans, R., and Spreckelmeyer, K. (1981). Evaluating Built Environments: Brill, M., Margulis, S.M., and Konar, E. (1985). Using Office Design to A Behavioral Approach. University of Michigan, Survey Research Increase Productivity (2 vols.). Buffalo, N.Y. : BOSTI and Center and Architectural Research Laboratory. Westinghouse Furniture Systems. Public Works Canada (1983). Stage One in the Development of Total Build- Business Week. The new workplace. (1996). April 29, pp.107-117. ing Performance (12 volumes). Ottawa: Public Works Canada, Archi- Centre scientifique et technique du bâtiment (1990). Améliorer tectural and Building Sciences. l’architecture et la vie quotidienne dans les bâtiments publics. Paris: Ventre, F. (1988). Sampling building performance. Paper presented at Plan construction et architecture, Ministère des équipements, du Facilities 2000 Symposium, Grand Rapids, Mich. logement, des transports et de l’espace. Vischer, J. (1985). The adaptation and control model of user needs in Cooper, C. (1973). Comparison Between Architects’ Intentions and Resi- housing. Journal of Environmental Psychology 5:287-298. dents’ Reactions, Saint Francis Place San Francisco. Berkeley, Calif: Vischer, J. (1989). Environmental Quality in Offices. New York: Van Center for Environmental Structure. Nostrand Reinhold. Dilani, A. (ed.) (2000). Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Vischer, J. (1993). Using occupancy feedback to monitor indoor air quality. Health and Design. Stockholm: University of Stockholm. ASHRAE Transactions 99 (Pt.2). Dillon, R. and Vischer, J. (1988). The Building in-Use Assessment Method- Vischer, J. (1996). Workspace Strategies: Environment as a Tool for Work. ology (2 volumes). Ottawa: Public Works Canada. New York: Chapman and Hall. Ellis, W.R, and Cuff, D. (1989). Architects’ People. New York: Oxford Zeisel, J. (1975). Inquiry by Design. New York: Brooks-Cole. University Press. Zeisel, J. (in press). Inquiry by Design, 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.