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Ask the Architect: Joyce Chan Discusses the Evolution of Sustainable Design

In this Architects’ Datafile Q&A, Joyce Chan, the sustainable design leader for HOK’s London studio, discusses the evolution of sustainable design.

Excerpted from Architects’ Datafile:

What do you think is the most important innovation in sustainability in recent years?

Without doubt, it’s data, and our ability to collect and apply it, including to building design and smart cities. It’s essential to post occupancy evaluation, with sensors and smart meters helping us to understand and better control building and energy use, and also sometimes helping change human behaviour in relation to the environment, particularly with smart meters. Increasingly, smart technologies are making us more efficient and resilient.

What do you say to clients when they ask for a clear definition of sustainability?

I think it is always important to pose the question back to the client, to find out what they mean when they reference sustainability. Do they have a clear commitment to carbon reduction, or are they looking to reduce energy bills? We’re always passionate that commitments to sustainability should eventually lead to other great initiatives, such as wellbeing and health benefits.

What is the hardest part of your job?

There are some fantastic new ideas out here, such as building technologies that open up possibilities to use greenery to design a facade that will also provide a carbon absorption role. However, the challenge is always to champion the ‘outside the box’ thinking against practicalities such as cost, and trying to find a balance. It is however always very rewarding to work with clients that are committed to making a difference in terms of sustainability. I’d also add that finding a work and life balance is also an ongoing challenge, thanks to my two demanding boys who never sleep!

Where do you see the next big change coming in sustainability for architects?

It’s measuring the non-measurable. For example, in designing buildings we need to look at whether occupant happiness or well-being can be a building metric. My Ph.D. focus is also on wellness and building informational modelling, factoring people into the BIM model equation using artificial learning and intelligence. It’s a hugely exciting area for development, in both guiding good design and in important post occupancy metrics.

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