A Toolkit for Living in a New Building: a visual post-occupancy evaluation of Bristol Business School

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A toolkit for Living in a new building

How does a new university building change the behaviours of the people who work and study there? Today marks the launch of the report A toolkit for living in a new building: A visual post-occupancy evaluation of Bristol Business School’, the culmination of a ground-breaking two-year collaborative study between architect, Stride Treglown, construction partner, ISG and researchers from the University of the West of England. Using participant photography, Instagram and image-led discussion groups as a data generating methodology, the report details the value of taking a sensory approach to the post-occupancy evaluation (POE) of new buildings.

Going way beyond more usual ‘technical-functional’ analyses of how new buildings operate, our report provides an in-depth, user-centred account of how the transparent, collaborative, flexible and open building affects working and studying practices. It ends with a set of future-focused recommendations and value propositions for stakeholders involved in commissioning new university accommodation.  Using innovative visual methods including Instagram, participant-led and participant-directed photography, alongside image-led discussion groups, data was collected over a full year cycle with over 250 participants contributing to the study; 30% staff, 60% students and 10% visitors. Building users were asked to submit photographs and captions of their spatial experiences in the building that addressed two questions:

How do you feel about the building?

How are you using the building?

Only 10% of our findings replicate areas covered by traditional POE, suggesting there is great utility in employing more qualitative approaches to deep dive into the value offered by contemporary campus architecture. Instead, social and psychological topics including health and wellbeing, the rhythms of food, drink and sensory experiences, reflections on identity and belonging, unexpected delights and the ‘wow’ of the building set against the reality of working in transparent and visible ways are presented alongside captivating images from the project.

Given the current Covid-19 crisis, the Bristol Business School building is currently closed – as are most university premises – and the lessons we are learning about ourselves as we work under ‘lockdown’ conditions might have implications for how generative buildings are designed in future: e.g. blending physical presence with digital connectivity more extensively. Even though this research was completed before Covid-19, there are valuable lessons in this report. Attending to the sociability of work and study in different spaces, and the psychology of location-independent working may prove to be especially significant as we navigate through the current pandemic.

The full report can be downloaded from www.myuwebbsview.com

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