Pod Blog Update

By Joanna Morgan 14 March 2016

Just over a year on from my last Pod Blog, I can report that our first ‘Building as a Power Station’ now has a new home on our Bay Campus, providing much needed shelter for the security staff who have until now braved all weather to man the visitor’s car park.

The big move took place in January this year – possibly when the weather was really at its worst and the security staff were generally feeling pretty fed up.  We were delighted to be able to help out our Estates team by offering them the use of our research building, saving them time and costs that they would have otherwise faced in procuring a bespoke unit.

Having naively anticipated only gratitude and relief at the arrival of the shelter, I was slightly disappointed by the reaction from some of the security team.  Just some of the complaints I have incurred include the lack of a side window, the orientation of the building, the lack of heating (even though the doors are always wide open), the absence of a kettle, and that the building doesn’t work! 

Despite showing most members of the team how to operate the system and even putting instructions up on the wall, people still have difficulty in understanding the concept of a self-powered building.  While the user interface and control system seem simple to us, because we understand how the building was put together and what we were hoping to achieve with it, users of the building just want to switch something on and for power, whether heat, light or electricity, to be provided.  Most building users don’t actually think about where that power comes from - they don’t need to know and have plenty of other things to think about.  This has become much more apparent to us now that people are using the building – a reminder to think like a user when designing a building, or anything else.  Our user interface panel was designed for the purpose of showing visitors how it operates.  However, the level of information shown on the panel is not needed for the users of the building – a simple on/off button for lights, heating and power is all that is needed.

The challenges we have faced in dealing with real users occupying the building have been invaluable in terms of gathering data on user interaction with buildings.  Until a building is populated with real users, it is extremely difficult to estimate how a building will truly perform.  Hence the need to work with design teams, supply chain partners and end users in our demonstration programme.

We now have an MSc student looking at the data we have gathered so far, how best to illustrate this data in a clear way, and how to simplify the user interface for the building.  This will provide us with an excellent base for our next phase of building demonstrators – watch this space for Pod #2: the ‘Active Classroom’, appearing at the Bay Campus in September 2016!




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