Accommodation studies

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Contact: 

William Fawcett
william.fawcett@carltd.com
tel: 01223 460475

The occupants’ experience of the buildings they occupy has absolute authority, but often lacks explanatory power. CAR once carried out an occupant survey of a deep-plan office building with windows on three sides, which the occupants liked ‘because of the daylight'. In fact the daylight levels were low and the occupants were responding to the view out.

Another example: a college librarian was highly sensitive about noise disturbance, despite imposing a strict rule of silence on readers. He wanted to install sound-absorbent materials to reduce the noise level further. This would have made the problem of disturbance worse – what was actually needed was a higher level of unobtrusive background noise to mask the comings and goings of readers.

A third example: a classroom with some south-facing windows overheated on warm days and a lot of thought was being given to ways of shading the windows. But the largest heat source was the occupants, not solar gain from the windows. The shading would have made little difference – what the room needed was much better ventilation.

When carrying out accommodation studies CAR makes great efforts to discover the occupants' perceptions, using a variety of strategies including observation, interactive discussion and questionnaire surveys. We try to contact the whole range of users, not relying on what some (more important) people tell us about what other (less important) people think.

One example of a questionnaire method is a successful way of finding out about people’s perceptions of the space they occupy. It offers quite a long list of words and asks the participants to tick any that apply to ‘their’ space. The words describe both positive and negative aspects of appearance, thermal comfort, lighting, sound and sociability. This is far more effective than asking people to use their own words – the majority would be inarticulate and overlook many important points. The response to this question often reveals an interesting correlation between the physical environment and the social environment. The cause and effect is not yet clear, but we believe that a positive social environment upgrades users’ perception of the physical environment – and vice versa.

We assemble data on the physical environment as well as occupant perceptions, so that the ‘true’ physical generators can be diagnosed. This is vital, of course, for advising on changes to the physical environment to overcome perceived (and therefore real) problems.

CAR does not follow the standard-questionnaire-and-benchmarking school of post-occupancy evaluation. It is an excellent way for someone (usually a construction industry professional) to build up a broad overview of the building stock as a whole, but every building and every group of users is unique. Each of CAR’s accommodation studies builds on the accumulated experience of previous studies, but is customised to the particular needs of the particular case.

Projects

  • Client: University of Cambridge. Accommodation study for the Faculty of Architecture and History of Art
  • Client: Allies and Morrison, Architects. Accommodation studies for Departments of English and Land Economy and the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
  • Client: Clare College, Cambridge. Accommodation studies in preparation for a new conference centre and new gradate housing
  • Client: Malcolm Reading Associates. Accommodation study for Exeter College, Oxford
  • Client: Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Accommodation study as input for new site masterplan strategy

Publications

W. Fawcett. ‘How do user requirements affect high tech design?’ High Tech Buildings 89 Conference, London, 1989.

W. Fawcett. ‘Staff satisfaction in new offices: findings of an interactive computer questionnaire’, Property Management vol.10, no.4, 1992, pp.338-346.

W. Fawcett. ‘Architecture: functional approach; or, the case for user research’, Architectural Research Quarterly vol.1, no.3, 1996, pp.8-15.

W. Fawcett. ‘Investigating visual preferences: a structured comparison approach’, Hong Kong Papers in Design and Development vol.1, 1998, pp.18-25.

W. Fawcett, I. Ellingham & S. Platt. ‘Reconciling the architectural preferences of architects and the public: the Ordered Preference Model’, Environment & Behavior, vol.40, no.5, 2008, pp.599-618.

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