Building Engineering Physics – Do we need this?

“Few people in the UK built environment field even recognise the importance of building engineering physics, let alone know how to apply the principles in the design of buildings. Building projects are traditionally led by architects, not engineers, but building energy performance hardly features in architectural education. This lack of essential knowledge to inform strategic design decisions has led to the perpetuation of an experimental approach to building performance, rather than an approach based on synthesis, rigorous analysis, testing and measurement of the outcome.” So says Professor Doug King at a recent event at the The Royal Academy of Engineering. Hmmm.
Engineers have been involved in the design of buildings since about 2000BC so laying the blame for poor building performance at the door of the architectural profession is a bit rich, and inaccurate. Building engineering professionals have been taught for decades how to mechanically ventilate and air-condition buildings and it has only recently occured to them that the buildings might actually work better with better design and less kit. Much of that thinking has been done for them by leading architectural institutions such as Oxford Brookes, Nottingham, Strathclyde and Leicester, to name a few.
Handing this whole area over to the engineering profession would be a mistake, as good sustainable design is not solely about energy performance, it is about comfort, security, views, spatial relationships and surfaces and many other issues which must all work in concert. Good sustainable design needs a multi-disciplinary approach that is designed to work in a collaborative way. Architects and physical scientists need to work hand-in-hand throughout the design process working in an iterative way to design and test buildings in a continuous cycle. I see little evidence in Professors Kings report that placing that expertise outside the detailed design process will produce the desired outcome. Architects need to own this specialism, learn from it daily and implement the learning in all their projects. The passive elements of sustainable design belong in the architects tool box.

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