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Did You Build for You or the End User?


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If you want to get really good at building, you can’t go wrong by considering the end user. For many construction firms that are involved with building design decisions, keeping this top of mind is a sure way to infuse projects with greater value. It also helps balance design so that building quality isn’t overly focused on functionality and construction quality. Your end-user is concerned about four factors, according to the Construction Industry Council’s Design Quality Indicator:

  • Urban and Social Integration

  • Internal Environment

  • Form and Materials

  • Character and Innovation

Putting Empathy into Building Design

People working in the design phase of buildings can account for those four aspects by having empathy for end users. When building designers, whether they are design professionals or contractors, look at the plans with empathy for users, they begin to see the needs of the people that will use them. Empathy allows you to understand and another person's experiences and emotions. Since people spend large portions of their lives inside buildings, they have experiences and emotions related to those spaces. With the right approach to design, it is possible to tap into innovative ways of thinking about space. There are processes that design teams can use to unearth innovative ways of thinking about spaces in buildings.

Creatively Considering End Users

One method is Virtual Innovation in Construction, which is a way to involve the end users of buildings in the creative process. Using a set of tools, people are able to capture end users’ needs and desires during the design process. This process has four stages:

  • Contextual inquiry involves the end users giving their input on their desires, needs, and views on suggested solutions.

  • Conceptually modeling the space is the phase where the designers get a common understanding about end user needs and values.

  • Functionally consolidating the space is the step where the users’ needs are linked to building systems.

  • During the phase called solution space, end users evaluate a final virtual building model.

Smarter Buildings, More Challenges

During the past 10 years, people have placed a lot of emphasis on the environmental aspects of building. But that focus is expanding to include the technologies that are making buildings intelligent. 

The end user is more important than ever.  

Self-cleaning windows, textiles with conductive fibers, nano materials, robots, organic light emitting diodes, self-sanitizing surfaces, and sensors of all types are profoundly changing not only what’s possible in design, but also what’s possible for the user experience. People must add discussion about the characteristics of intelligent buildings to the discussion about the end user. Just consider some of the functionalities buildings are acquiring from today’s evolving technology.

  • More profound communications support

  • Ubiquitous intelligence that is simple and understandable for occupants

  • A building memory that is extended to occupants both short term and long term

  • Sensors that allow input and manipulation so personal environments are possible

  • Self diagnosis and repair

All possibilities from these technologies will affect users, and not always in a positive way. That’s why design decisions increasingly need new technologies to help sort out the effects of smarter buildings on users. And doing that often starts with Building Information Modeling (BIM). 

End Users Are Not Just Occupants

The clarity of today's BIM is very effective at giving users a highly realistic view of what the completed space will look like, and to a degree what it will feel like. The next step in this technology will no doubt include virtual reality and augmented reality to further involve users’ sensory perceptions of buildings long before construction begins. The advantages of designing buildings with empathy, and using new technology to involve people also extends to those you wouldn’t usually think of as end users. 

End users include those who live and work in the area of the building. Sometimes, people aren’t very enthusiastic about construction happening where they live or work. That’s usually because they don’t have a visual idea of how the construction is going to affect them and their property. One approach to dealing with this, and to winning over people in communities surrounding a construction project, is to show them how things will look when construction is completed. In one case, architects building a hospital addition needed to show people how the project would visually affect the neighborhood. With a model derived from BIM, they got approval and eased the anxieties of local residences.

Maintenance Figures into the Mix

Another type of end user not typically thought of as such, are the people who maintain the building and its equipment. Locations of thermostats, utility rooms, and storage closets either help or hamper their work. Unheated spaces and spaces with unconditioned air pose access issues and can make people more unwilling to enter them. 

The methods available for moving tools, equipment, and supplies through the building will not only affect the delivery of services to tenants, but also streamline or block the efforts of people who deliver those services. Access to HVAC equipment, window cleaning requirements, lighting locations and types of fixtures, availability of manuals,and  ease of access to electrical outlets, water supplies, and fuel sources, are all part of the user experience.

There is a profound change happening in the building world. Smart buildings represent a new era where a wide range of technologies, both developed and developing, come together. The end user is more important than ever.