Designers do not focus on the needs of occupiers: For or Against? Tony Day, Executive Director, IERC shares his #CIBSEsymposium 2019 Debate perspective


Time flies and it's time for our next CIBSE Technical Symposium 2019 follow-up blog. In this instalment, you will hear from Tony Day, Executive Director at the International Energy Research Centre (IERC), Tyndall National Institute sharing his input from the Technical Symposium Debate that closed Day One of the event.

The CIBSE Technical Symposium Debate is a much anticipated annual event and one that all seasoned Symposium attendees especially look forward to. This year, we focused it around the designer / occupier needs aspect of transforming the engineering of built environments. 

The 2019 Debate, entitled "Designers do not not focus on the needs of occupiers", was chaired by CIBSE's Head of Sustainability Development, Sara Kassam.

IERC, Rooley Associates, Cundall and Hoare Lea navigated between outlining the nuances of understanding the design kit, educating yourself on design cycle, contracts that are not fit for purpose and occupier and stakeholder needs, in a series of passionate speeches.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Tony Day to our virtual Technical Symposium Debate stage. Hear his passionate call for building maintenance engineers and technicians to be elevated to a higher status and share your views via the comment box at the end of the page. 



Tony Day, Executive Director, International Energy Research Centre, Tyndall National Institute outlining his #CIBSEsymposium Debate perspective

"About 35 years ago I was introduced to the world of building services. I was thrown into a cooling tower (suitably drained) with a wire brush and can of aluminium paint. It was badly corroded, and no-one was yet talking about legionella (or breathing apparatus in confined areas). I didn’t even know what a cooling tower was for. In the months and years that followed, I cracked my head on duct hangers, broke up filters where there wasn’t space to remove them (some filter hatches even had pipes across them), devised cunning ways of getting replacements back in, burned myself on steam pipes, and all the while having to placate the people in the building who were too hot/cold/stifled/draft-ridden, and worse. I also spent many hours pouring over control schematics, convinced I could learn the deeper wisdom of the person who produced them. They were clearly brilliant. So why had someone disconnect half of the main automatic supply dampers? Why were so many pneumatic tubes blanked off from the control valves? Why was that humidity sensor not connected to anything? I thought this was just the way of the world. And then I started to meet people who designed buildings….

25 years later I was trying to extract energy data from a BMS, only to discover that many heat meter sensors were in the wrong place, none of the electricity sub meters were connected, and the pulse settings for the main meters impossible to calibrate. No-one seemed to take responsibility, not the designer, main contractor, specialist subcontractor (‘I didn’t know you wanted accurate information’) or, sadly, the client. I was just the sub-client, and I like to think I was pretty well informed about the specification. The BMS was fully capable of delivering, but none of the actors knew what needed to be delivered, nor how to deliver it.

So what has changed in 35 years? Well, air pressure has been replaced by electrons as the control vector. And that’s about it. Maybe the control schematics have less explanation about the control logic – probably because we assume the BMS is smart enough to take care of itself.

Go into any plant room today. If it’s clean, spacious and devoid of rattling noises, the chances are the energy bills will be reasonable, and the people in the building will all be happy. The reason is simple – the building is run by people who care, and they work for an organisation that understands the need to invest to do things properly. In other words, if a building has been well designed, if it is well operated, then there is a good chance it will perform closer to specification. If it is really well-operated, then it will perform better than spec. But if it is poorly designed, or constructed (think head room for access or pipes across the filter access), then it becomes almost impossible to maintain and operate. When it is difficult and unpleasant to work on, standards fall.

So my plea to designers and constructors – attention to detail is important. And always think of the implications for any decision you make on the future operation. Short term expediency is not acceptable, even if that deadline is looming. My point is that we don’t always get the design wrong, but if we do, it’s impossible to operate the building correctly. If we get things right, it’s not a guarantee of success - the design intent must be fully explained to the end user - who may be a maintenance contractor who doesn’t have the same level of commitment perhaps.

Can the end-to-end digitalisation of the building design and operation provide this? Will BIM be our saviour? Will designers in future assume this is the solution to the performance gap? Digital building = job done? I would worry if this becomes the mindset.

My experience suggests that it still needs people to understand and interpret the control logic. Artificial intelligence isn’t ready yet to take full responsibility for fixing operational faults. In my experience of maintaining buildings, the most likely cause of a failure or fault is the most obvious one - Occam’s razor. But sometimes it isn’t - the symptom can be far removed from the cause. And the more complex the building, the more potential there is for the masking of the true cause of failure. That needs people to track down the problem.

In my opinion we need to elevate building maintenance engineers and technicians to a higher status. They need to be educated in the entire design cycle, as well as understand the nuances of the end kit (which they do better than a design engineer). I was once deeply surprised when showing a thermal wheel to a group of designers. One said ‘I’ve been specifying these for 20 years, and this is the first one I’ve seen’!!! I hope all design engineers take it upon themselves to learn more about the kit they specify. And be able to explain to a maintenance technician just how it has been designed to operate.

There is no single point of failure. But we reduce all potential risk by better communication, and not just assuming someone else, or some smart bit of software, will let us off the hook."

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Intrigued? 

Follow this year's Symposium Debate by visiting back our CIBSE blog to learn about the stand that Eimear Moloney, Associate Director at Hoare Lea took in her contribution.

Revisit live debate coverage by viewing #CIBSEsymposium

Reread the opening keynote thought piece from Stuart Shell, AIA at BranchPattern discussing a case for an enhanced end-user involvement (and understanding) as a key input in the process of transforming the engineering of built environments. 

Where do you stand in our 2019 debate?

About CIBSE Technical Symposium

The CIBSE Technical Symposium is an annual event featuring speakers and poster presentations from a range of disciplines. All papers and posters are peer reviewed. Anybody can submit a topic for consideration, which will then be assessed by a panel of reviewers to determine its suitability.

Have you had a chance to exchange your views with Tony Day whilst in Sheffield? Join into the post-Symposium conversation @CIBSE I CIBSE Linkedin using #CIBSESymposium

Thank you to all CIBSE Technical Symposium 2019 Debate presenters and audience contributors.
The Debate returns next year.

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