Open-access content 6th October 2008
by Louisa Roberts
10 July 2008
To begin the day, Frank Duffy, visiting professor at Massachussets Institute of Technology and co-founder of design consultancy DEGW, discussed facilities management and its impact on creativity.
Described as a 'leading light in our understanding of the future of the office' by Dr Edward Finch, reader in facilities management from Heriot-Watt University, Duffy discussed the challenges of sustainability, and the opportunities that IT presents in order to achieve it. "Buildings are only part of a sustainable environment," said Duffy.
"The problem is that architects often fail to ask the obvious questions, such as: what are buildings actually for? And how well do they actually work in practice?"
Buildings are one of our most powerful means of communication for expressing ideas and values about ourselves. And if you want to make someone feel undervalued, use architecture."
Next, Professor David Canter, director of The Centre for Investigative Psychology from Liverpool University added his criticism to building designers, by commenting that architects often don't connect with the way that users experience their environment.
In a presentation entitled The significance of place: from open plan offices to serial killers, Canter took delegates through a history of his research, which dates back to the 1970s when he developed the concept of environmental psychology as well as setting up the Journal of Environmental Psychology, which he still edits.
As the first person in the UK to provide police with offender profiles, Canter has now contributed to more than 150 investigations by developing theories of how individuals make sense of their surroundings, and patterns of committing crime within them.
It was then time to visit more familiar FM territory when Jim Smith, professor urban development at Bond University in Queensland, Australia, discussed the issue of better procurement for maintaining schools.
Smith discussed the audit of school maintenance systems which took place in Victoria in 2005, and found that a new approach was needed to reduce maintenance and ensure that funding didn't allow the system to deteriorate further. He added that local politicians embargoed the results, but have since approved several new PPP schools.
"This way, they were seen to be doing something, and nice new shiny schools are a bigger vote winner than a maintenance programme for school toilets," Smith said.
Kathy O'Roper, professor of the building construction programme at Georgina Institute of Technology followed with a talk on providing knowledge workers with their requirements. O'Roper challenged the effectiveness of open plan workspaces. "Instead, there is a need for adaptable, multi-functional spaces which support collaborative and individual work," O'Roper said. One way to achieve this was through the integration of technology and furniture, she added.
Perceptions of health
George Bair, professor of building science from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, then presented findings from his project which examined user perceptions of health in a range of sustainable buildings. While past energy crises have kick started reductions in the use of ventilation, which in turn was said to have contributed to the rise of sick building syndrome, the latest environmental crisis has presented the need to create not just 'healthy' buildings, but healthy and productive occupants - a theme returned to once again in the conference.
Having examined and ranked many buildings around the world for their air quality, light and noise levels, comfort, space and productivity, Baird concluded that the highest ranking buildings in the world, which included the Renewable Energy Systems HQ in King's Langley, Hertfordshire, all had positive, open cultures, were mainly owner occupied, and invariably took a long term view on the sustainability of the business.
Later, BIFM chairman Iain Murray took part in the BIFM roundtable debate, entitled Can FMs rise to the challenge of corporate social responsibility? which was chaired by BIFM Sustainable FM KTP project manager and Oxfam environmental manager Gordon Ludlow (a report on the roundtable appears in BIFM news, page 28).
To end the day, Finch presented his talk Evaluating buildings in relation to energetics and walkability, which took a look at 'obesogenic buildings' and how to avoid them.
"Businesses fear the issues of sustainability and corporate manslaughter, but obesity is a fact that firms cannot ignore," Finch said.
So far, we have got away with designing workspaces that have encouraged sedentary behaviour, "but facilities management is not about fitting large bums on seats, it's about getting people up and moving."