Measuring and evaluating a building’s performance is by no means a new concept. Indeed, ensuring a development performs and functions as it should, for example in terms of energy efficiency or sound quality, is the very bread and butter of architecture.

However, there is an increasing interest in the more human aspects of a building’s functionality, such as how a specific design or layout can directly impact those who use it day-to-day.

To look at this issue in more detail, RIBA recently hosted a research symposium, asking the question: what constitutes design quality? During the session, three separate case studies were examined, all of which highlighted the importance of evaluating building performance based on more than simply how well physical aspects were functioning.

Known as post-occupancy evaluation, this approach can help designers and architects better understand the effect that spaces can have on behaviour, allowing them to recognise links between environmental and human variables.

Featured case study, Wilkinson School, is one of the few UK buildings to have been subject to a full post-occupancy performance evaluation, which looked at both the technical and human factors of its performance. In addition to measuring energy usage, indoor climate and air quality, the head teacher also explored how teachers and pupils used the space, and whether lessons and teaching styles were adapted in relation to the physical surroundings.

With the University of Oxford, the design of teaching practises and the physical environments were found to be closely connected and, as a result, highlighted the need for teaching activities to be taken into consideration during the early stages of the design process.

Unlike other monitoring methods, using evidence based design techniques, such as post-occupancy evaluation, can allow an understanding of how the physical environment can impact human behaviour, and vice versa, helping inform future design practices and ensuring spaces can truly meet the needs of those using them.

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