2022 BESA conference takes holistic view for delivering better buildings

The trade body’s national conference looked at the comparisons between the functioning of a healthy body and an efficient and effective building with a range of vital systems working together

BESA held its first physical National Conference for over two years in London with a focus on the need to install effective HVAC technologies as part of a holistic building system.

David Frise, chief executive of the trade body, opened the event with a focus on one of the day’s panel sessions that sought to compare effective and efficient building systems to being organs in a healthy body.

He said: “Buildings and bodies are holistic, integrated systems, not parts assembled to look like a design.”

“What we should do, and you will see from what we’re focused on today, is work out how those systems as a whole perform, because that is what matters.”

The concept that a building and its different systems were comparable to a human body was also relevant with regards to the growing awareness among the public of the impact on health from buildings that are not working as they should, Mr Frise noted.

He said that with 90 per cent of the public estimated to spend 90 per cent of their time indoors, there was a huge social value to building working effectively through the use of good engineering practice.

Mr Frise added: “The wellbeing of occupants, both in terms of their physical and mental health is significant.”

“We can also significantly mitigate the climate crisis through carbon reductions.”

Despite the strong potential in the sector to deliver meaningful change, the conference heard during several sessions throughout the day how the current general approach to buildings was failing to deliver effective building systems in the whole.

Mr Frise said; “I evidence that through the energy performance gap and Grenfell.”

He said another major concern was the impact that the current building engineering system was having on specialists working in the sector.  Mr Frise said: “This mad, hurry scurry, build and design process that we use leads to two suicides a day in our industry.”

BESA said that it had opted to support the lighthouse Club charity both through the conference and during its awards taking place later in the evening.

He said the charity’s work was important to help treat some of the symptoms felt by specialists in the industry as a result the broken aspects of the sector. Work to resolve these issues would be important as the industry looks to create a better fairer industry capable to deliver high quality buildings, Mr Frise said.

Strength in diversity

The full summit programme looked at issues including efforts to recruit and build a more diverse workforce to help deliver significant industry change at scale. There were also discussions on how best to decarbonise heat if no one single silver bullet technology exists for all homes or buildings.

A presentation was delivered from Professor Cath Noakes OBE, a deputy director of Leeds Institute for Fluid Dynamics, and a high-profile specialist working in the field of IAQ.

Professor Noakes, who has recently been appointed as the Chair of a new Science Quality Assurance Group (SQAG) at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), announced plans to host the first World Ventilation Day on 8 November.

She noted that the campaign was an important step to help build awareness and educate the public, site managers and operators about the overall value of better air quality to the industry and society.

The building of the future

The summit also held a session looking at the possible direction of change for the design of buildings over the next 10 to 20 years and what this might mean for the industry.

Carl Collins, head of digital engineering with CIBSE, said he expected much greater automation in the sector. This automation would be seen not only in how buildings operate, but also in regards to how industry monitors and manufacturers solutions that would push a need for greater use of sensors and data.

Frances Brown, associated director with Hoare Lea, said that she expected that the current drive for the decarbonisation of building systems would also remain at the heart of all design elements.

This drive for efficiency would also see major existential questions on whether there was a need to build at all, she added.

By comparison, the carbon emissions savings provided by repurposing existing buildings over an entirely new construction could prove more and more compelling in line with a need to deliver net zero targets.

Ms Brown said: “That would not be good news for some people in our industry. But it is good news for building services, because that means buildings are already there will need to perform better.”

Mark Enzer OBE, strategic advisor with Mott MacDonald, returned during the same session to the theme of understanding the functioning of buildings as a single holistic system.

He argued that the future of buildings would not only be focused on the integration of a single building’s systems, but also a need to integrate multiple other buildings in an area or region to look at collective operational improvements.

Mr Enzer said: “I think at that big level, the massive challenges we face, are systemic.  Climate change doesn’t happen is siloes and we cannot solve it in siloes.”

He added: “These are systemic issues that need systems-based solutions. Buildings are part of that, but the only way you can get to the right answer, is actually though connections and integration.