Post-occupancy evaluation

Building use – to state the obvious – is the sole end and object of all design and construction work. But when a building project is finished the design and construction professions move on to new projects – while for building users the story is just starting. The real success or otherwise of a building project depends on how effectively it meets its users’ needs and aspirations when it is occupied.

Post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is the most commonly used term for studying buildings in use. It is instructive to evaluate buildings soon after first occupation to compare actual performance with predictions (in energy terms under-performance is prevalent, known as the ‘performance gap’). But CAR’s activities in this field go far beyond the usual scope of post-occupancy evaluation.

There are many reasons for studying buildings in use at all stages in the life-cycle, for example to prioritise investment in upgrades, to enhance occupant satisfaction or productivity, to decide whether to demolish or refurbish, to establish the brief for new projects, and so on.

CAR does not follow the standard questionnaire-and-benchmarking school of post-occupancy evaluation. With its multi-disciplinary expertise, CAR offers an array of techniques for data collection and analysis of buildings in use, covering the following aspects of performance:

  • user satisfaction and wellbeing

  • operational efficiency and utilisation

  • environmental quality – heat/ventilation, light, sound

  • sustainability and climate change – energy, emissions, pollution

  • condition and structural integrity.

We have learned that different techniques are needed to discover what users do and what they think. Observation and automatic data capture, which is rapidly becoming more powerful, are effective ways of quantifying activity patterns, but self-reporting is highly unreliable for quantified activity data. However, self-reporting is essential for revealing perceptions, through interviews, interactive discussions and short, well-structured questionnaires.

A successful questionnaire technique is offering users a list of words and asking them to indicate the ones that apply to ‘their’ space. The words describe both positive and negative aspects of appearance, comfort, lighting, sound and sociability. This is quicker and more efficient than asking people to use their own words, and ensures that important points are not overlooked.

Every building and every group of users is unique, and the motivation for studying a building in use varies from case to case, so each of CAR’s studies is customised to meet the needs of the particular client, while benefitting from the experience of previous studies.

Selected projects

  • Environmental quality preferences in healthcare buildings: workshop exercise for CABE as part of the Sustainable Healthcare through the Built Environment initiative.

  • Office activity surveys, monitoring and modelling: for a multinational insurance company.

  • Public engagement exercises for neighbourhood renewal strategies: RIBA/CABE ‘Urban Futures’ initiative in Burnley and Luton.

  • Public preference for housing development options: Joseph Rowntree Foundation project ‘Housing Futures – Informed Public Opinion’, in four towns in the south-east of England.

  • Visual preferences in the design of commercial buildings: survey and analysis for design-led developer of commercial buildings.

  • Accommodation studies for new residential and academic buildings. Clare College, Cambridge.

  • Accommodation study and student preferences survey for new college library: Magdalene College, Cambridge.

  • Survey of attitudes to regional transport and development options: Cambridge Futures study of the Cambridge Region.

  • Accommodation study for premises improvement: Faculty of Architecture and History of Art, University of Cambridge.

  • Accommodation studies for design brief in new buildings: Departments of English and Land Economy and the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge (with Allies and Morrison).

  • Opinion surveys for conservation management plans: University of East Anglia, Haileybury (independent school).

  • Timetable analysis and accommodation requirements analysis for new business school: University of Kent

  • Timetable analysis and accommodation requirements analysis for expanded teaching programme: Regent’s University, London

  • Timetable analysis and accommodation requirements analysis for campus reorganisation: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

  • Activity analysis and site utilisation study for development programme: independent secondary school moving to co-educational intake.

  • Accommodation study for new residential accommodation: Exeter College, Oxford (with Malcolm Reading Associates).

  • Accommodation study for new site masterplan: Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.

Selected publications

W. Fawcett. Activity-Space Research. CreateSpace, 2016.

H. Mulligan and A. Broadway. Incorporating user behaviour preferences in the design of controls: experience of two Retrofit for the Future projects. Retrofit 2012 Conference, University of Salford, 24-26 January, 2012.

W Fawcett & J Y Song. Modelling the use of space and time in the knowledge economy, Building Research and Information vol.37, no.3, pp.312-324, 2009.

W. Fawcett, I. Ellingham and S. Platt. Reconciling the architectural preferences of architects and the public: the ordered preference model, Environment and Behavior, Vol. 40, No. 5, pp.599-618, 2008.

W Fawcett & A Chadwick. Space-time management and office floorspace demand, Journal of Corporate Real Estate vol.9, no.1, pp.5-24, 2007.

S. Platt and I. Cooper. The Urban Futures Game – Visualizing Neighbourhood Change, Building Futures, CABE, 2005.

S. Platt. What Transport for Cambridge? Cambridge Futures 2, 2004.

J. Palmer, S. Platt, et al. Refurb or Replace? Energy Savings Trust, 2003.

S. Platt, W. Fawcett, and R. De Carteret. Housing Futures – informed public opinion, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2004. See ‘Housing Futures Report’ below.

S. Platt. Cambridge Futures – Survey Report, Cambridge Architectural Research Report, 1999.

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

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

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


William Fawcett
01223 460475

King’s Hawford School

Low energy buildings must perform efficiently – but also provide a comfortable and pleasant environment for their users. CAR worked with building materials manufacturer St.

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Many people like offices in big old houses even though they are highly impractical.
Accommodation studies are extremely relevant for the decision on whether to refurbish or renew an old building.