In an earlier blog post I tried to establish parameters around what the definitions of quality for Building might look like. In looking at this issue for the second time, food comes to mind as a useful analogy for understanding quality within the built environment. 

When developing new, high-priced creations, both food and building tend to focus on visually appealing attributes or surface aesthetics, while oftentimes ignoring or diminishing their primary functions (nutrition and shelter, respectively).  

Take, for example, the myriad cooking shows that my wife and I enjoy watching. Diners, Drive-Ins and DivesBeat Bobby Flay, etc. With the exception of Good Eats, which provides serious insights into food nutrition and food science, all the shows focus on the presentation, texture and taste of the highlighted foods. There is literally no discussion of the original and primary purpose of food as the source of nutrition and energy.  

Building has followed a similar path. The primary purpose of shelter is to provide a secure, safe, and comfortable environment for human habitation—in short, a healthy sanctuary. This purpose is often pushed to the background as both abstract philosophies of aesthetics and the practical implementation of fiscal policies and incentives typically take center stage.  

The focus on satisfying our immediate sensory experience and securing short-term financial rewards can often times create  goals and priorities that can be at odds with the long-term health and wellness of our bodies and our buildings. 

The food we seek out and pay enormous sums of money for, write books and read about, develop TV shows and spend endless hours watching, take vacations to specifically experience………Most of us have very little understanding if the actual food we buy and consume is actually good. The scientific literature on nutrition is dry and difficult to access compared to the easy viewing consumption of hyped shows and flashy commercials. Even with a lifetime of intimate experience, most of us still have little knowledge of what is truly good quality, high performing food that is nutritious and optimized for our individual bodies. 

Building is very much in the same boat as food. The primary function of building—providing a healthy sanctuary—has been overshadowed by the short-term foci of first costs, investor ROI’s, consumer-driven aesthetics and fashionable brand materials. Marketing gimmicks fill buildings from concept, through construction, to sales and ongoing maintenance.  

Relatively little emphasis has been placed on understanding and defining the concepts of building quality and performance. What is a healthy sanctuary or place of living?  

Building is such a big market and consumes so much of our natural resources and energy that decision-making has a huge impact not just on the individual building project, but on our entire natural and built environment.  

Many challenges still confront the building industry as it strives to create the future built environment: 

  • How to create and share building data 
  • How to more effectively analyze, design, and operate buildings 
  • How to optimize project management decision-making and data sharing 
  • How to streamline design and construction workflow processes  
  • Defining and producing high quality buildings at an affordable cost 

However, without having a clear definition of what quality and performance actually mean, how do we create new solutions?      

In today’s market, how does a building professional balance the constant—and often contradictory— pressures of budget, regulation, finance, Investors’ ROI, sustainability, engineering, client program, aesthetics, scheduling, material availability, energy efficiency, and so on………. ? 

Every project features a constant push and pull between these competing influences. Today, the way in which we choose to prioritize and balance these interests differs dramatically from project to project.  

Is it possible to create an algorithm that can assist us in clearly seeing, tracking and understanding these competing factors?  

Could we use this algorithm to help us understand how to optimize the balance between these interests and develop a widely recognized definition of quality and performance within out built environment?  

In short, is it possible to create an optimized building solution that will effectively serve both market needs and people’s interest? 

I think the answer is yes, but.. 

First, we need to implement business models that allow us to focus less on short-term aesthetic and financial interests, and focus more on the ingredients that are essential to the long-term health and well-being of our buildings (and our food). Then, we can begin to develop better information, better understanding, and better solutions.  

Stay tuned for more detail on what these solutions will look like. Over the past year or so this blog has focused on the nature of the challenges facing the building industry. In the coming months we will start to shift our focus to the specific standards, templates and workflows that will change not only our building processes, but also the building solutions that will be coming to the market. 

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