Well the times they are a-changin’… In 2011 the UK Government stated their intentions for enormous reductions in time, cost and environmental impact of buildings. Automation, robots and immersive environments are suddenly becoming a reality. We are stepping out of our silos to collaborate, and to broaden our horizons beyond handover into building occupancy.
These technologies and whole-life approaches coming to the fore will inevitably impact on the shape of project teams in the near future. Employers will soon be seeking new skill sets to meet these demands. Below, three areas are considered:
- Whole-life approach and in-use analysis
- Technology and digitisation
Whole-life approach and in-use analysis
There is increasing pressure on building usage and design intent to be closer aligned. Buildings of the future will need to be managed closely to ensure they are performing as well as they should, and knowledge and skills in this area are likely to be highly valued by building owners. As such, one of the key roles of the future project team will be to work alongside the building operators to assess the energy consumption and system operational data, and to advise on methods for improving performance.
Collecting this data will also be enormously helpful in improving early stage design, and will impact on existing roles too. In order to bridge the performance gap, design engineers need to have a more detailed understanding of how buildings are really being used. Buildings will need to be able to accurately record usage data, and the engineer will need to be able to interpret this data to better inform the design.
Currently a lot of evidence for comfort in buildings is just anecdotal and much more research is required about the real impacts on comfort. But data isn’t the end of the story – the way people interact with buildings is more about human behaviour than it is about system design.
Despite every engineer’s deepest desires, people are not machines, and their behaviour is not predictable; there are an infinite number of variables that determine someone’s happiness, comfort and health. Environmental psychology holds a lot of answers for how people will interact with a building, so the inclusion of psychologists in the design team seems a logical next step in bridging the performance gap.
Extending their involvement to post-occupancy would really allow a facility manager to fine-tune their building to meet their users’ needs. In educational psychology this is known as Collaborative Action Research, whereby researchers are embedded in school life, putting theories directly into practice and immediately measuring their impacts. This would be an opportunity to both improve building-user interaction, and inform future designs.
Technology and digitisation
The increasing use of digital technologies means that information is much more readily available and calculations can be undertaken significantly faster with a manual approach. However, this assumes that there are people in the team who know how to use the software, how to correctly apply it to the project, and increasingly how to adapt software through programming, coding and scripting. The project teams of the future will undoubtedly require much more of these skills in order to function at maximum efficiency and remain competitive.
Indeed, project teams of 2016 already require some of these skills, and in some cases bespoke software applications are already being routinely made for specific individual tasks. Expect to see more of these activities in building design, construction and operation soon, if you haven’t already.
Control systems are also becoming more advanced, and likely developments will lead to integrating wearable technology with localised comfort systems; a building could greet people as they enter, and recommend places to sit based on their preferences, body temperature, available spaces, and localised conditions; kind of like Holly from Red Dwarf helping you through your day! So one final area of expertise that will be necessary in future project teams will be in designing and maintaining diverse and variable comfort control systems. The systems may even be self-learning, so the skills needed in this area are likely to be programming-based as well as in building services design.
With increasing focus on smart cities, buildings will soon be interacting with infrastructure, the internet, each other, smart phones, taxis, hover-boards, lamp-posts, your fridge, the neighbour’s cat and maybe even the central heating... As such, building teams are going to be regularly collaborating with a whole host of other professionals from traffic strategists to local retailers.
Everything mentioned above is already a reality in some form or another, and it’s all gradually coming into the mainstream through a growing holistic and collaborative culture. One thing’s for sure: the changes we’re seeing now aren’t going to slow down, and project teams will need to be flexible, adaptable and constantly innovating to ensure they keep up with the latest developments.