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Deben Fields (Garrison Lane)

Created on 07-11-2023 | Updated on 15-11-2023

Deben Fields, formerly known as Garrison Lane, is an exemplary Passivhaus scheme for East Suffolk Council comprising 61 new homes, 67 per cent of which are affordable. The new community on this brownfield, former high school site will not only deliver highly efficient homes but also take a sustainable approach to construction in the process – with heritage buildings retained, existing materials recycled, and modular efficiencies embraced. A series of linked landscape spaces lead to a new park with a cricket pitch and pavilion – using the former school sports field to provide leisure facilities, preserve green space and provide active, edge-to-edge connectivity across the site. Homes are strategically positioned around these communal areas, including a community hall and allotment, creating inclusive spaces that promote health and well-being. Using Passivhaus standards and Modern Methods of Construction, this project achieves environmentally, socially and economically sustainable outcomes. In 2022, Deben Fields won a project award at the Housing Design Awards, which recognise excellence and innovation in sustainable and affordable housing.


Felixstowe, England

Project (year)

Construction (year)

Housing type
Multifamily housing (apartments and semi-detached)

Urban context
Housing estate

Construction system
Timber frame (Modern Methods of Construction)



The review and the analysis of this case is based on several sources of data including project design statements and reports (e.g., planning, architectural, transport, drainage, heritage, landscape, tenure, sustainability and energy), design drawings, planning application and the associated documentation, and archival records obtained from the designers and the East Suffolk planning portal. As well as conducting interviews with the actors involved in the project planning and design, namely the architects, energy system designers and sustainability specialists. Therefore, this review is structured to address various key aspects such as, design, construction, sustainability, community impact and cultural heritage.

1- Design statement

“The initial idea was a cricket pitch on the existing playing field and on the leftover land to develop 25 to 30 housing units. We saw an opportunity to connect the dots by connecting the school site into the cricket field and create better spaces and connectivity for the neighbouring communities […] through prober massing the site was optimised to increase the density to 61 housing units, maximising the views towards the park and generate best returns for the council […] that and investing in East Suffolk Council affordable housing scheme” (M. Jamieson, personal communication, June 13, 2023).

The Deben Fields development is located near the centre of Felixstowe in Suffolk, England (Figure 1). The site was previously occupied by Deben High School, which was built in 1930, surrounded by low-density semi-detached housing. In their design statement, TateHindle, the architects responsible for the project, articulate a design philosophy centred around the creation of an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable neighbourhood. This vision places paramount importance on people, their lived experiences, and the integration of nature into the living environment (TateHindle, 2021, 2022). The site's redevelopment aligns seamlessly with East Suffolk Council's Housing Strategy, which emphasises the expansion of council-owned affordable housing through innovative and sustainable methods. To adhere to this strategy, the architect chose to preserve and repurpose existing structures on the site, including the school hall and its annexes. These buildings were meticulously retained, redesigned, and refurbished to serve as a new indoor public facility catering for both the current and anticipated population (ESC, 2021).

The project site is 3.89 hectares, of which 2.65 hectares is open green space (cricket pitch and park) and 1.36 hectares is allocated to residential development, with a net density of 53 dwellings per hectare and a total of 93 car parking spaces (61 for residential and 32 for leisure and community services) and 163 cycle spaces (HDA, 2022; TateHindle, 2021). The project is designed according to Passivhaus standards with airtight building envelopes and comprises 61 dwellings with 18 one-bedroom, 28 two-bedroom, seven three-bedroom and eight four-bedroom, spread across semi-detached houses, flats and maisonettes. From a tenure distribution point of view, 68 per cent are available at affordable rents, while the remaining 32 per cent are intended for open market sale (TateHindle, 2021). The average floor area of the housing units is 74.0 m², five per cent above the floor area requirement described by the Nationally Described Space Standard (HDA, 2022).

In terms of ownership, however, the aim is to deliver a ‘tenure neutral’ project, so there is no physical distinction between open-market, shared ownership and affordable rental housing. The tenure mix has been integrated throughout the site to ensure that the project delivers proper housing that meets the needs of the housing market. Figure 2 illustrates Deben Fields tenure distribution and housing typologies plans.

2- Construction

TateHindle's structural design statement outlines their goal of achieving a highly insulated façade construction. This was accomplished through the implementation of load-bearing double stud timber frame walls and load-bearing timber metal web beams at both floor and roof levels. The project uses Typical Passivhaus Foundations (TPFs) to minimise thermal bridging and achieve low U-values for the ground slab construction. Cradden (2019), however, explains that there are multiple challenges when using TPFs, such as soil conditions, material and geological properties (Cradden, 2019). To address these challenges, a shallow foundation method was chosen within the Red Crag Formation, a geological structure in south-eastern Suffolk defined by a basal pebble bed overlaid with coarse shell sand. This approach utilised the mini-pile technique, thereby bypassing the need for extensive and deeper excavations. In addition, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are used to maximise the use of off-site construction and achieve high levels of quality through factory-controlled assembly, reduce construction time, minimise noise pollution and construction waste, and reduce CO2 emissions (TateHindle, 2021).

3- Sustainability and energy

“The project has similar challenges to others […] with this project electrification and overheating were the main challenge […] so we did really want to simplify the forms to make it more Passivhaus compliant and cost-effective […] We started from rectangles; obviously you can then add and remove to create interest and increase efficiency” (sustainable design specialist, personal communication, July 20, 2023).

To achieve the planned outcomes of the economically, socially and environmentally sustainable neighbourhood, Deben Fields has set comprehensive objectives including: improving the well-being of residents, promoting pedestrian and child-friendly design, integrating passive design principles such as natural ventilation and daylighting, optimising construction costs and minimising waste through recycling and efficient use of materials, implementing monitoring systems for seamless building management, reducing sequestered carbon by reusing existing structures, promoting affordability as an overarching principle, adopting a fabric-first approach to reduce energy consumption and tackle fuel poverty, addressing future sustainability requirements, using renewable energy through photovoltaics to power communal areas and providing spaces that encourage social interaction such as areas for growing food and for play.

To translate design objectives into a practical design language, the project employed various approaches, as explained in the following subsections.

3.1- Architectural design and technology integration

The primary emphasis is placed on optimising the orientation of the buildings to harness passive solar gain effectively, thereby ensuring ample natural lighting and thermal comfort within indoor spaces (Figure 3). In pursuit of energy efficiency and to reduce overheating impacts, a simplified building form was devised. This involved implementing measures to minimise thermal bridging and establish an airtight building envelope, thereby reducing undesired energy losses. To emphasise the importance of insulation, sufficient provisions were made in the walls to allow for higher levels of thermal protection. A mechanical background ventilation with heat recovery system (MVHR) was used to create a well-ventilated and comfortable living environment. Furthermore, strategically positioned openings, balconies, entrances, sunshades, and shade pergolas contribute to a cohesive architectural language, fostering socially stimulating spaces while adhering to energy-efficient design principles in line with Passivhaus standards. The high-performance triple glazed windows have been carefully positioned and sized to allow natural cross ventilation. All of such techniques maximise control over the building envelope and reduce energy consumption.

3.2- Policy and standards

To achieve the desired sustainability goals, a combination of mandatory and voluntary policies and standards were introduced as part of the project design strategy. Firstly, the mandatory building regulations on sustainability, particularly Part L, which sets specific requirements for insulation, heating systems, ventilation and fuel consumption and aims to reduce carbon emissions by 31 per cent compared to the previous regulations. Secondly, the 'SCLP9.2' – a local planning initiative produced by East Suffolk Council to foment sustainable construction. The SCLP9.2 aims to achieve higher energy efficiency standards resulting in a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions below the target CO2 emission rate, design the dwelling to use less than 110 litres of water per person per day, and encourage the use of locally sourced materials, with a focus on recycling and waste reduction (ESC, 2020, p. 9). Thirdly, the project adhered to Passivhaus standards and set a higher target by meeting higher sustainability standards in terms of energy efficiency, water consumption and material use. CGB Consultants – the sustainability specialist – clarified that with such combination of policies and standards, the dwellings could comfortably exceed the planning target for a 20 per cent improvement over building regulations, as simulated using calculations based on the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) (CGB, 2021).

4- Community and cultural heritage

In the early design phase, the design team developed a comprehensive communication plan that included public hearings and consultations with the community to inform planners of local needs, foster effective communication with project neighbours and obtain their feedback. However, the restriction of COVID-19 posed a challenge to the effective implementation of the original plan.  In response, the architect and the City Council took alternative measures such as formal online consultations, monthly newsletters, social media updates, a website, public exhibitions, public notices, press releases, emails and letters. As a result, the project received critical feedback and concerns around impacts on nature, traffic, existing buildings, privacy, green spaces and alternative renewable energy sources.

Responding to the concerns raised, the project team developed a cycling and pedestrian strategy that introduces the concept of “green corridors", “rain gardens" and “play streets", while carefully allocated parking in line with the National Transport Strategy provides a green roof with photovoltaic panels. The community gardens, use the building structure as a privacy screen and integrate existing culture and heritage into the project (Figure 4).

Although the former Deben High School site is not nationally recognised as a historically significant building, it has become a local landmark with local significance and considerable architectural and historical value. Designed by Cecil George Stillman (1894–1968), a British architect known as a "pioneer of prefabrication" (Hinchcliffe, 2004). The proposed architectural language therefore draws on the existing buildings, particularly the school's building and assembly hall, which is considered the largest historic building on the site. The proposed pedestrian corridors also have helped to make the building more visible and put the assembly hall at the centre of the project (TateHindle, 2021).

5- Final reflections

This section highlights both the successful aspects and the potential areas for improvement arising from the review in the previous sections. This is by addressing the following questions:

What methodologies were deployed within Deben Field that can be classified as exemplifying ‘good' practise?

The proposed designs have looked beyond the initial requirements and original goals and proposed economically, socially and environmentally viable strategies and solutions. Jon Bootland (2011) explains that responsible housing design must adopt a rigorous design standard for low energy consumption, develop high-quality and affordable outcomes, and prioritise user comfort (Bootland, 2011). In response, the project has embraced higher design standards that go beyond mandatory building regulations and systematically addressed the challenges of engaging specialist services (including Passivhaus designers, ecology and biodiversity consultants, sustainable drainage designers and sustainability consultants) with a high level of expertise to provide the necessary technical feedback. In addition, current challenges such as electrification and overheating were proactively addressed by choosing simple architectural forms and integrating renewable energy sources.

While the project initially took a top-down approach, the community was actively involved in the early design phases through a variety of well-organised communication channels (as listed in section 5.4). The project team ensured that responses to planning notices were reviewed, analysed and incorporated into the architectural language of the project. For example, when neighbours raised privacy concerns, the building massing and layout were adjusted to form a privacy screen without compromising the number of dwellings provided. The project has also demonstrated an inclusive design approach that appeals to users of all ages (e.g., community garden and play street). In addition, the design has maximised the benefits of using brownfield sites and seamlessly integrated the existing infrastructure into the project layout, carefully considering the recycling and reuse of materials.

What are the vulnerabilities associated with Deben Fields?

Knox (2015) stated that the high construction costs of ‘green building’ are a common misconception for which there are insufficient studies (Knox, 2015). However, the study by Chegut et al. (2019) shows that “BREEAM – Excellent” certified buildings are 40 to 150 per cent more expensive to build and attributes these higher costs to specialised design costs, material selection, specialised labour and construction time (Chegut, Eichholtz, & Kok, 2019). The Deben Fields project adopted several sustainability features, such as special materials, green roofs and photovoltaic cells. However, it appears that the project has not conducted a thorough life-cycle cost analysis to determine the costs and benefits of these features and whether additional features are needed in the future.

Meanwhile, at the design level and to achieve the intended outcomes, the project complied with several standards and building codes, resulting in a complex and intertwined design structure that makes it difficult to apply the same strategies to other projects. From a sustainable urbanism perspective, density and diverse land use are often considered effective strategies for sustainable development (Carmona, 2021). Despite its central location, the project did not consider density and diversity of land use as a key strategy for its development. For example, the proposed project does not include any retail or commercial uses, and the nearest commercial services are 500 metres from the project (Figure 5).

The Deben Fields project is widely regarded as an example of ‘good practice’ in its field, as reflected in the number of awards it has won. However, in order to accurately assess the results of the project, it is essential to conduct additional post-occupancy studies. These studies will allow for a thorough evaluation of the project's features and provide valuable insights and potential areas for improvement. Another major factor contributing to its prominence is the use of numerous well-designed features. These features have improved the overall performance of the project and highlighted the novel techniques (e.g. play street, environmentally friendly materials, reducing overheating through massing). Therefore, it is crucial to undertake comprehensive documentation of all phases, steps and procedures taken during the design and construction of the project.


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to TateHindle Architects for generously providing the necessary data and information for Deben Fields. Special thanks go to Mike Jamieson for dedicating his time and expertise to discussing the project in detail. Additionally, I extend my appreciation to the anonymous interviewees who provided valuable insights into this case. Thank you all for your support and cooperation.

Alignment with project research areas

The analysis of the Deben Fields case demonstrates a significant alignment with the three research areas of RE-DWELL. However, the strength of these connections varies depending on the research area. While there are clear and direct links to design, planning, and building, the connections to policy and financing were less pronounced. This section aims to explain and emphasise these connections.

Design, planning and building

Sustainable planning: the project carefully integrates the three pillars of sustainability into its design and construction. Environmentally sustainable solutions such as the use of Passivhaus standards were adapted, while economically sustainable solutions focused on the use of with Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and fabric-first approaches to reduce construction time and costs. Socially sustainable solutions consider the engagement of local communities to create socially inclusive spaces.

Green building: The architect positioned the project firmly within the principles of green building by applying and implementing several strategies, including the use of alternative energy sources, responsible use of materials, reducing carbon emissions, and enhancing the social and economic value of the project.

Industrialised construction: Integrating and linking the fabric-first approach with MMC resulted in several positive impacts, including maximising the use of off-site construction and achieving a high level of quality through factory-controlled assembly, reducing construction time, minimising noise pollution and construction waste, and reducing CO2 emissions.

Community participation

Inclusive design: creating publicly accessible spaces (e.g. public garden and cricket field) and adapting existing buildings (e.g. the re-use of the Deben Fields High School assembly hall). And improving living conditions for all tenants, regardless of age (e.g. play streets for children and easily accessible pedestrian corridors for older and disabled people).

Policy and financing

Governance, market and financing: The project has successfully navigated a complex regulatory landscape by harmonising various policies and standards, including national policy (the National Planning Policy Framework), local policy (East Suffolk Council's Sustainable Construction) and voluntary standards (Passivhaus). This has led to the development of energy-efficient and sustainable outcome. Consequently, this project has the potential to provide valuable insight into achieving this critical balance and could be translated into comprehensive design guidelines for other projects to draw upon.

Possible links across other RE-DWELL areas

Whilst this case study does not directly relate to the pillars of building retrofitting and design education - as it is a new build - it is still a valuable example worthy of analysis, particularly if a further post-occupancy evaluation is conducted to assess the viability of the integrated building systems and sustainability features. Furthermore, the connection to community planning and co-housing may not be immediately evident. The communication plan and tools used in this project have the potential to provide valuable insights for other projects taking similar approaches and seeking to mitigate the associated risks.

Design, planning and building

Community participation

Policy and financing

* This diagram is for illustrative purposes only based on the author’s interpretation of the above case study

Alignment with SDGs

Although Deben Fields is a small-scale development, it demonstrates a significant commitment to the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly the following targets:

  • Good Health and Wellbeing (target 3.4): The project incorporates architectural features that promote well-being and emphasises social aspects and community interaction, leading to improved mental health and overall well-being of residents.
  • Affordable and clean energy (targets 7.1 and 7.3): A prominent feature of this project is its high energy efficiency, achieved through the use of innovative construction methods such as high-performance insulation, increased use of natural light and the use of environmentally friendly materials such as timber frames and locally produced bricks.
  • Sustainable cities and communities (targets 11.1, 11.6 and 11.7): Deben Fields plays an important role in promoting overall sustainability in the surrounding neighbourhoods as an integral part of the larger urban fabric. In addition, the affordable housing programme supported by the council ensures that all housing remains accessible and contributes to the development of sustainable communities.


 Bootland, J. (2011). Passivhaus Principles. EcoBuild presentation from Passivhaus Trust. Passivhaus Trust. London. Retrieved from

Carmona, M. (2021). Public places urban spaces: The dimensions of urban design. Routledge.

CGB. (2021). Deben High School, Felixstowe - Overheating report. [Project document, restricted access obtained from ESC planning portal]. CBG Consultants Ltd. London.

Chegut, A., Eichholtz, P., & Kok, N. (2019). The price of innovation: An analysis of the marginal cost of green buildings. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 98, 102248.

Cradden, J. (2019). The PH+ guide to insulating foundations. Passive House Plus. London. Retrieved from

ESC. (2020). East Suffolk Council Suffolk Coastal Local Plan. East Suffolk Council. England. Retrieved from

ESC. (2021). Deben Fields, Felixstowe. East Suffolk Council. England. Retrieved from

HDA. (2022). Garrison Lane (Deben Fields). Housing Design Awards. London. Retrieved from

Hinchcliffe, T. (2004). Stillman, Cecil George (1894-1968). In H.C.G. Matthew & B. Harrison (Eds.), Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Knox, N. (2015). Green building costs and savings. USGBC. USA. Retrieved from

TateHindle. (2021). Deben High School, Felixstowe - Design & Access Statement. [Project document, restricted access, obtained from ESC planning portal]. TateHindle Ltd. London.

TateHindle. (2022). Deben Fields, design statement. TateHindle Ltd. London. Retrieved from


Related vocabulary

Building Decarbonisation

Post-occupancy Evaluation


Sustainability Built Environment

Area: Design, planning and building

Decarbonisation, a term which echoes through the corridors of academia, politics, practical applications, and stands at the forefront of contemporary discussions on sustainability. Intricately intertwined with concepts such as net-zero and climate neutrality, it represents a pivotal shift in our approach to environmental sustainability. In its essence, decarbonisation signifies the systematic reduction of carbon dioxide intensity, a crucial endeavour in the battle against climate change (Zachmann et al., 2021). This overview delves into the multifaceted concept of decarbonisation within the context of the European Union. Beginning with a broad perspective, we examine its implications at the macro level before homing in on the complexities of decarbonisation within the realm of building structures. Finally, we explore the literature insights, presenting key strategies that pave the way toward achieving a decarbonised building sector. From a broad perspective, decarbonisation is an overarching concept that aims to achieve climate neutrality (Zachmann et al., 2021, p.13). Climate neutrality means achieving a state of equilibrium between greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere, preventing any net increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration (IEA, 2022). From an energy decarbonisation perspective, however, in a document provided by the Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policy Department at the request of the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee, Zachmann et al. (2021) explain that energy systems require a fundamental shift in the way societies provide, transport and consume energy (Zachmann et al., 2021). In the construct of decarbonisation, as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the focus lies on strategic directives aimed at reducing the carbon content of energy sources, fuels, products and services (Arvizu et al., 2011; Edenhofer et al., 2011). This complex process involves the transition from carbon-intensive behaviours, such as fossil fuel use, to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives. The main goal of decarbonisation, therefore, is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, which are closely linked to the growing threats of climate change (Edenhofer et al., 2011). Hoeller et al. (2023) explain that decarbonisation efforts within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) focus on harmonising economic growth, energy production and consumption with climate objectives to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change while promoting sustainable development (Hoeller et al., 2023). From a pragmatic perspective, however, according to the OECD Policy Paper 31: A framework to decarbonise the economy, published in 2022,  progress on economic decarbonisation remains suboptimal. This raises the urgent need for a multi-dimensional framework that is not only cost-effective but also inclusive and comprehensive in its strategy for decarbonisation (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). D’Arcangelo et al. (2023) add that such framework should include several steps such as setting clear climate targets, measuring progress and identifying areas for action, delineating policy frameworks, mapping existing policies, creating enabling conditions, facilitating a smooth transition for individuals, and actively engaging the public. From an academic perspective, Weller and Tierney (2018) provide an explanation of decarbonisation, defining it as a twofold concept. Firstly, it involves reducing the intensity of fossil fuel use for energy production. Secondly, it emphasises the role of policy in mitigating the negative externalities associated with such use. They argue that decarbonisation is a politically charged policy area that needs to be 'just', while also serving a means to revitalise local economies (Weller & Tierney, 2018). Kyriacou and Burke (2020) expand on this definition, highlighting decarbonisation as the transition from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy system. This transition is driven by the need to mitigate climate change without compromising energy security. Boute (2021), on the other hand, emphasises the long-term structural reduction of CO2 emissions as the core strategy of decarbonisation. Boute adds that the effectiveness of decarbonisation must be measured in terms of a unit of energy consumed across all activities. In the economic context, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies concludes that decarbonisation aims to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy. This reduction is quantified as the ratio of CO2 emissions to gross domestic product (Henderson & Sen, 2021). Addressing methodological concerns, Buettner (2022) added that decarbonisation is often misused as a generic term. Moreover, Buettner highlights the diverse levels at which decarbonisation occurs, ranging from carbon neutrality (focused on reducing CO2 emissions), to climate neutrality (aiming to reduce CO2, non-fluorinated greenhouse gases, and fluorinated greenhouse gases) and, finally, to environmental neutrality (which reduces all substances negatively impacting the environment and health) (Buettner, 2022). The debate on the decarbonisation of the construction sector revolves around similar issues. The report on Decarbonising Buildings in Cities and Regions, published by the OECD in 2022, defines the concept as reducing energy consumption by improving envelope insulation, installing high performance equipment, and scaling up the use of renewable sources to meet the energy demands (OECD, P24). Another definition comes from a working paper by the OECD Economics Department, Hoeller et al. (2023) contend, it is necessary to consider direct emissions from household fossil fuel combustion and indirect emissions from the generation of electricity and district heating used by households (Hoeller et al., 2023). The comprehensive study “Decarbonising Buildings” published by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) in 2022, defines the term as transforming the building sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this goal requires various technological solutions and behavioural changes to decarbonise heating and cooling, such as energy-efficient building envelopes, heat pumps and on-site renewables (CAT, 2022). Gratiot et al. (2023) consider decarbonisation as the process of reducing or eliminating CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change from a building’s energy sources. This involves systematically shifting buildings from carbon-intensive energy sources (e.g., gas, oil and coal) to low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives (e.g., solar, wind and geothermal). This process includes improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances (Gratiot et al., 2023). Blanco et al. (2021) consider the decarbonisation of buildings and operation of buildings. This includes enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings and minimizing embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities of greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of buildings. Achieving a decarbonised building sector is a multifaceted endeavour that demands extensive efforts in several key areas, such as energy sources, building envelope, building policy and transformation funds. The objective of the energy transition is to shift from reliance on fossil fuels to clean or renewable energy sources, primarily used for heating and cooling, such as heat pumps, district heating, hydrogen (Jones, 2021). Decarbonising the building envelope, on the other hand, involves improving the energy efficiency of buildings through better insulation, lighting and appliances. It also necessitates minimising embodied carbon from building materials and construction activities (CAT, 2022; D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). Incorporating effective policies into building construction is crucial. This includes adopting of performance standards and building codes that regulate the energy use and emissions of both new and existing buildings. These regulations directly impact the extent and pace of decarbonisation (CAT, 2022; Jones, 2021). Additionally, it is essential to establish a clear vision and climate targets for the buildings sector and operationalise them with a comprehensive policy mix that encompass emissions pricing, standards, regulations and complementary measures (Jones, 2021). The most significant challenge lies in financing the transition to a decarbonised sector. Therefore, it is imperative to mobilise finance on a large scale and collaborate with industry stakeholders. This collaboration is vital to facilitate the transition, overcome barriers, and manage the costs associated with deploying low- or zero-carbon technologies (D’Arcangelo et al., 2022). In summary, the overarching concept of decarbonisation primarily targets the reduction of carbon dioxide in economic and industrial activities, with a focus on energy production and distribution systems. At the building level, the emphasis lies in integrating low-carbon or carbon-neutral systems to minimise both direct and indirect emissions. Nevertheless, the literature examined indicates that other societal aspects, including social and behavioural factors, have not been thoroughly researched. This gap in knowledge could challenge the realisation of the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and underscores the need for further studies in these areas.

Created on 06-11-2023

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Area: Design, planning and building

As the name suggests, Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is the process of assessing the performance of a building once it has been occupied. It is often conflated and falls under the umbrella of Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) (Boissonneault & Peters, 2023; Preiser, 2005; Stevenson, 2018). Other definitions refer to POE as any activity intended to assess how buildings perform and the level of satisfaction of their users, ranging from simple survey questionnaires to indoor environmental quality (IEQ) measurements, which makes its scope very broad (Li et al., 2018). Nevertheless, in the case of POE, the focus should be on the occupants’ experience of the building and the impact of spaces on their behaviour and well-being (Watson, 2003 in Sanni-Anibire et al., 2016). It is commonly suggested that POE should be conducted at least a year after the handover and occupation of the building so that users can experience and test it under different weather conditions (RIBA et al., 2016). In the context of housing, housing providers, developers and architecture practices can benefit from enquiring what makes a good design from the occupants’ point of view. A systematic and rigorous POE combined with periodic user experience surveys can be very beneficial as it helps to improve relationships with tenants and provide a better picture of the quality of the housing stock. Thus, POEs do not only help to balance the scale between the social, economic and environmental aspects of buildings but also revitalise the role of research in the whole life cycle of projects. Despite its potential benefits for the various stakeholders engaged in the production of the built environment, POE is not a widespread practice in the sector. There is a notable absence of literature and research on the subject (Durosaiye et al., 2019; Hadjri & Crozier, 2009). However, since the 2010s, there has been a growing academic interest in POE, as evidenced by the increasing number of scientific publications, including studies related to post-occupancy evaluation (Li et al., 2018). There is a consensus in literature that learning from experience, whether from unintended consequences of ill-considered design or from successful projects, through the active involvement of occupants and users of buildings is a pathway for innovation. POE is commonly considered as an activity that requires long-term commitment and can be time and resource-consuming. This is a limitation that can be explained by the short-term logic of the construction sector and the fleeting commitment of developers, especially private and profit-driven, to the communities and clients they work with. In the same vein, the question of who is responsible for commissioning and conducting a POE represents the biggest barrier to its widespread implementation in the sector (Cooper, 2001). Concerns are inextricably linked to the cost and scope of the assessment, the equipment and professionals involved, and the possibility of being held accountable for flaws that might be exposed by the activity. Discussions around the importance of inspecting buildings after completion to assess their environmental performance have gained momentum in recent decades as a consequence of the evidenced climate crisis and the significant share of carbon emissions attributable to activities related to the built environment (according to UNEP (2022), 37 per cent of CO2 emissions in 2021). Nonetheless, the emergence of POE as a concept for the built environment dates back to the 1960s in the USA, where it was originally used to assess institutional facilities and fell mainly within the remit of facility managers (Preiser, 1995). Later, the PROBE (Post Occupancy Review of Building Engineering) research conducted between 1995 to 2002 on 23 non-residential case studies in the UK helped spread the concept among the whole gamut of professionals involved in the design and construction of buildings (Bordass et al., 2001; Cohen et al., 2001). With respect to design and housing, the work of Marcus and Sarkissian (1986) in Housing as if People Mattered is worth mentioning. In this book, the authors have outlined a set of design guidelines derived from evidence gathered through POEs. Their research was conducted with the aim of comprehending people's preferences and dislikes about their neighbourhoods and homes, utilizing a people-centred perspective that delves into " the quality of housing environments from a social standpoint, as defined by residents" (p.5). Their approach to POE is grounded in viewing housing as a process rather than a mere product. They propose rethinking the relationship between the designer and inhabitant, extending beyond the completion of buildings. This perspective aligns with that of Brand (1995), who views buildings as intricate systems governed by the 'Shearing layers of change', a concept developed from Duffy's proposal (Duffy & Hannay, 1992). Accordingly, buildings are understood as layered structures in which time plays a pivotal role in the way they interact with each other and with the user. As Duffy stated, quoted in Brand (1995, p.12): “The unit of analysis for us isn’t the building, it’s the use of the building through time. Time is the essence of the real design problem.” This renders it necessary to go back to the building once finished and continue doing so throughout its lifecycle. The levels of POE The literature distinguishes between three ‘levels of effort’ at which POE can be conducted, which differ mainly in terms of the thoroughness and purpose of the assessment: indicative, investigative, and diagnostic (Hadjri & Crozier, 2009; Preiser, 1995; Sanni-Anibire et al., 2016). These levels vary in methods and the degree of engagement of researchers and participants, and encompassing the phases of planning, conducting and applying. They can be described briefly as follows: Indicative: This level provides a general assessment of the most important positive and negative aspects of the building from the users' point of view. It involves a brief data collection period, characterised by walk-throughs, interviews and survey questionnaires with occupants. It is not exhaustive and may reveal more complex problems that need to be addressed with an investigative or diagnostic POE. It can be completed in a few hours or days. Investigative: If a relevant problem identified in an indicative POE requires further research, an investigative POE is carried out. This second level implies a more robust amount of data to be collected, the use of more specialised methods, and possibly the disruption of occupants' routines and building use due to the prolonged engagement in the research endeavour. It can take weeks to months to complete. Diagnostic: This level is characterised by its approach which is both longitudinal and cross-sectional. It may involve one or more buildings and a research process that may take months to a year or more to complete. It is more akin to research conducted by specialised institutions or scholars. The scope can be very specific but also have sector-wide implications. Possible applications of the information gathered through POE A more recent review of the literature on POE studies highlights the variegated range of purposes behind it: impact of indoor environmental quality on occupants, design and well-being, testing of technologies, informing future decision-making or feedforward, and impact of building standards and green rating systems, to name a few (Boissonneault & Peters, 2023; Li et al., 2018). The breadth of applications and rationale for conducting POE studies show that it is a powerful tool for assessing a wide array of issues in the built and living environment, and partly explain the interest it holds for researchers. However, the industry is still lagging behind, which hinders the dissemination and further implementation of the findings and results.  More collaboration between academia and industry is therefore crucial as the great impact lies in applying POE and BPE as a structural part of the sector’s practice. Moreover, since POE primarily relies on fieldwork and the collection of empirical data, a more comprehensive assessment that incorporates mixed methods and a systematic approach can yield greater benefits for the entire building production chain. The collected feedback, analysis and resulting conclusions can create learning loops within organisations and bring about real changes in the lives of current and future building users. Therefore, a robust POE should be accompanied by the implementation of the concomitant action plan to address the problems identified. For this purpose, a theory of change approach can be helpful. In this sense, POE can become a very effective facility management tool (Preiser, 1995). Some examples of the varied uses of data provided by robust POE and BPE include the creation of databases for informed decision-making, benchmarking and integration into BIM protocols or GIS-powered tools. In this sense, generating data that can be compared and benchmarked is critical to the long-term impact and value for money of undertaking the activity. It is therefore imperative to recognise POE for its benefits rather than viewing it as a liability or a mere nice-to-have feature. On the other hand, POE inherently involves a wide range of disciplines within the built environment, including design, engineering, psychology, policy and finance, among others. This multidisciplinary aspect can be leveraged to promote transdisciplinary research to help better understand the relationships between buildings and people It delves into the impact of these relationships, considering human behaviour and well-being. This perspective is often referred to as the building performance-people performance paradigm, as denominated by other POE researchers (Boissonneault & Peters, 2023). Architectural geographers, for instance, have explored the various meanings and emotions ascribed by inhabitants to buildings, particularly council estates in the UK, through actor-network theory-informed research (Jacobs et al., 2008, 2016; Lees, 2001; Lees & Baxter, 2011). Similarly, the work of organisations such as the Quality of Life Foundation encompassed in the Quality of Life Framework (Morgan & Salih, 2023; URBED, 2021), has highlighted the link between the places where we live and its impact on our quality of life through systematic POEs conducted in collaboration with social housing providers and local authorities. Amid the climate emergency and the pressing need to curtail carbon emissions, there is now a need for the sector to innovate and mitigate the impact of building construction and operation. It has been argued that sustainability cannot be achieved only by adopting energy-efficient technologies or by promoting certifications such as LEED, Passivhaus, or assessment protocols such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology). As discussed earlier, conducting these assessments is an effective tool to mitigate and solve the discrepancy between the expected energy performance of the designed building vis à vis that of its real-life counterpart, the so-called performance gap. POE can be used to ascertain the social performance gap by including qualitative and well-being-related indicators (Brown, 2018). In this way, buildings are evaluated not only in terms of their ability to comply with building regulations and environmental goals, but also in meeting social objectives in order to provide greater sustainability and affordability, particularly in housing.

Created on 22-10-2023

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)


Area: Community participation

Sustainability is primarily defined as 'the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment' (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, n.d.) and is often used interchangeably with the term “sustainable development”(Aras & Crowther, 2009). As defined by the UN, sustainable development is the effort to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987) and is often interpreted as the strategies adopted towards sustainability with the latter being the overall goal/vision (Diesendorf, 2000). Both of these relatively general and often ambiguous terms have been a focal point for the past 20 years for researchers, policy makers, corporations as well as local communities, and activist groups, among others, (Purvis et al., 2019). The ambiguity and vagueness that characterise both of these terms have contributed to their leap into the global mainstream as well as the broad political consensus regarding their value and significance (Mebratu, 1998; Purvis et al., 2019), rendering them one of the dominant discourses in environmental, socio-political and economic issues (Tulloch, 2013). It is, however, highly contested whether their institutionalisation is a positive development. Tulloch, and Tulloch & Nielson (2013; 2014) argue that these terms -as they are currently understood- are the outcome of the “[colonisation of] environmentalist thought and action” which, during the 1960s and 1970s, argued that economic growth and ecological sustainability within the capitalist system were contradictory pursuits. This “colonisation” resulted in the disempowerment of such discourses and their subsequent “[subordination] to neoliberal hegemony” (Tulloch & Neilson, 2014, p. 26). Thus, sustainability and sustainable development, when articulated within neoliberalism, not only reinforce such disempowerment, through practices such as greenwashing, but also fail to address the intrinsic issues of a system that operates on, safeguards, and prioritises economic profit over social and ecological well-being (Jakobsen, 2022). Murray Bookchin (1982), in “The Ecology of Freedom” contends that social and environmental issues are profoundly entangled, and their origin can be traced to the notions of hierarchy and domination. Bookchin perceives the exploitative relationship with nature as a direct outcome of the development of hierarchies within early human societies and their proliferation ever since. In order to re-radicalise sustainability, we need to undertake the utopian task of revisiting our intra-relating, breaking down these hierarchical relations, and re-stitching our social fabric. The intra-relating between and within the molecules of a society (i.e. the different communities it consists of) determines how sustainability is understood and practised (or performed), both within these communities and within the society they form. In other words, a reconfigured, non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relationship is the element that can allow for an equitable, long-term setting for human activity in symbiosis with nature (Dempsey et al., 2011, p. 290). By encouraging, striving for, and providing the necessary space for all voices to be heard, for friction and empathy to occur, the aforementioned long-term setting for human activity based on a non-hierarchical, non-dominating intra-relating is strengthened, which augments the need for various forms of community participation in decision-making, from consulting to controlling. From the standpoint of spatial design and architecture, community participation is already acknowledged as being of inherent value in empowering communities (Jenkins & Forsyth, 2009), while inclusion in all facets of creation, and community control in management and maintenance can improve well-being and social reproduction (Newton & Rocco, 2022; Turner, 1982). However, much like sustainability, community participation has been co-opted by the neoliberal hegemony; often used as a “front” for legitimising political agendas or as panacea to all design problems, community participation has been heavily losing its significance as a force of social change (Smith & Iversen, 2018), thus becoming a depoliticised, romanticised prop. Marcus Miessen (2011) has developed a critical standpoint towards what is being labelled as participation; instead of a systematic effort to find common ground and/or reach consensus, participation through a cross-benching approach could be a way to create enclaves of disruption, i.e. processes where hierarchy and power relations are questioned, design becomes post-consensual spatial agency and participation turns into a fertile ground for internal struggle and contestation. Through this cross-benching premise, community participation is transformed into a re-politicised spatial force. In this context, design serves as a tool of expressing new imaginaries that stand against the reproduction of the neoliberal spatial discourse. Thus, sustainability through community participation could be defined as the politicised effort to question, deconstruct and dismantle the concept of dominance by reconfiguring the process of intra-relating between humans and non-humans alike.

Created on 08-06-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9)


Area: Design, planning and building

Sustainability of the built environment The emergence of the contemporary environmental movement between the 1960s and 1970s and its proposals to remedy the consequences of pollution can be seen as one of the first steps in addressing environmental problems (Scoones, 2007). However, the term “sustainable” only gained wider currency when it was introduced into political discourse by the Club of Rome with its 1972 report “The Limits to Growth”, in which the proposal to change growth trends to be sustainable in the far future was put forward (Grober, 2007; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a; Meadows et al., 1972). Since then, the use of the term has grown rapidly, especially after the publication of the 1978 report “Our Common Future”, which became a cornerstone of debates on sustainability and sustainable development (Brundtland et al., 1987; Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015a). Although the two terms are often used indistinctively, the former refers to managing resources without depleting them for future generations, while the latter aims to improve long-term economic well-being and quality of life without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Kopnina & Shoreman-Ouimet, 2015b; UNESCO, 2015). The Brundtland Report paved the way for the 1992 Earth Summit, which concluded that an effective balance must be found between consumption and conservation of natural resources (Scoones, 2007). In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly published the 8 Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2000), which led to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) published in 2016 (UN, 2016). The 17 SDGs call on all countries to mobilise their efforts to end all forms of poverty, tackle inequalities and combat climate change (UN, 2020; UNDP, 2018). Despite the rapidly growing literature on sustainability, the term remains ambiguous and lacks a clear conceptual foundation (Grober, 2007; Purvis et al., 2019). Murphy (2012) suggests that when defining sustainability, the question should be: Sustainability, of what? However, one of the most prominent interpretations of sustainability is the three pillars concept, which describes the interaction between the social, economic and environmental components of society (Purvis et al., 2019). The environmental pillar aims to improve human well-being by protecting natural capital -e.g. land, air and water- (Morelli, 2011). The economic sustainability pillar focuses on maintaining stable economic growth without damaging natural resources (Dunphy et al., 2000). Social sustainability, on the other hand, aims to preserve social capital and create a practical social framework that provides a comprehensive view of people's needs, communities and culture (Diesendorf, 2000). This latter pillar paved the way for the creation of a fourth pillar that includes human and culture as a focal point in sustainability objectives (RMIT, 2017). Jabareen (2006) describes environmental sustainability as a dynamic, inclusive and multidisciplinary concept that overlaps with other concepts such as resilience, durability and renewability. Morelli (2011) adds that it can be applied at different levels and includes tangible and intangible issues. Portney (2015) takes Morelli's explanation further and advocates that environmental sustainability should also promote industrial efficiency without compromising society's ability to develop (Morelli, 2011; Portney, 2015). Measuring the built environment sustainability level is a complex process that deploys quantitative methods, including (1) indexes (e.g. energy efficiency rate), (2) indicators (e.g. carbon emissions and carbon footprint), (3) benchmarks (e.g. water consumption per capita) and (4) audits (e.g. building management system efficiency) (Arjen, 2015; Berardi, 2012; James, 2014; Kubba, 2012). In recent years, several rating or certification systems and practical guides have been created and developed to measure sustainability, most notably the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) introduced in the UK in 1990 (BRE, 2016) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) established in the US in 2000 (USGBC, 2018). In addition, other overlapping methodologies and certification frameworks have emerged, such as the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2002 (EPB, 2003) and the European Framework for Sustainable Buildings, also known as Level(s) in 2020 (EU, 2020), amongst others. The sustainability of the built environment aims to reduce human consumption of natural resources and the production of waste while improving the health and comfort of inhabitants and thus the performance of the built environment elements such as buildings and spaces, and the infrastructure that supports human activities (Berardi, 2012; McLennan, 2004). This aim requires an effective theoretical and practical framework that encompasses at least six domains, including land, water, energy, indoor and outdoor environments, and economic and cultural preservation (Ferwati et al., 2019). More recently, other domains have been added, such as health and comfort, resource use, environmental performance, and cost-benefit and risk (EU, 2020). Sustainability of the built environment also requires comprehensive coordination between the architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and environmental systems of buildings in the design, construction and operation phases to improve performance and avoid unnecessary resource consumption (Yates & Castro-Lacouture, 2018).

Created on 24-06-2022

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), K.Hadjri (Supervisor)


Related publications

Alsaeed, M., Hadjri, K., & Nawratek, K. (2024, March). A comparative analysis of UK sustainable housing standards. In 7th Residential Building Design & Construction Conference, Pennsylvania, USA.

Posted on 17-07-2024




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Do we truly need a framework?

Posted on 13-11-2023

Over the course of three days, the RE-DWELL network met again in Delft with the hope that this gathering would not be our last, as the RE-DWELL conference is set to take place in Barcelona on May 16-17, 2024. A heartfelt acknowledgement is extended to the TU-Delft team, particularly Marja Elsinga, Marietta Haffner, and Tijn Croon, for their remarkable efforts and impeccable organisation of such a workshop. The workshop was not marked as another academic meeting but also as a transdisciplinary meeting in which the ESRs, supervisors and representatives from partner organisations actively participated. The focal point of many debates, however, was the RE-DWELL framework and its structural components. This blog post, therefore, delves into the significance and applicability of frameworks in addressing challenges related to housing affordability and sustainability. What constitutes a framework and its function? The term "framework" embodies a broad concept that takes on varying meanings across different fields. From a linguistic perspective, it represents a system of rules, ideas, or beliefs used for planning or decision-making, akin to a supportive structure upon which decisions can be constructed. In the realm of architecture, a framework serves to establish common practices, a set of principles, and a detailed description of singular or multiple activities. These activities often revolve around addressing a design challenge, translating it into practical language, and utilising architectural elements to surmount the challenge. Notably, building standards, regulations, and policies can also be viewed as types of frameworks, as they share the overarching goal of establishing common practices and achieving specific outcomes. In contrast, within the realm of social science, a framework takes on a different connotation. It typically refers to a theoretical or conceptual structure that forms the bedrock for understanding and analysing complex social phenomena. This framework aids researchers in organising their thoughts, framing research questions, and interpreting findings. Social science frameworks manifest in various forms, often drawing from established theories or perspectives within the specific field under investigation. While this blog post merely scratches the surface of framework typologies, it is essential to recognise their diversity. Some noteworthy examples include the conceptual framework, which centres on the theoretical structure supporting the understanding of a research problem; the theoretical framework, comprising a set of concepts and propositions guiding research; and the programming framework, a pre-established set of rules and tools for building software applications. Deciphering the RE-DWELL Framework As of now, the precise nature of the RE-DWELL framework remains elusive. However, it can be asserted with confidence that it does not conform to a mere checklist, a tick-box approach, or resemble systems like BREEAM or LEED. Instead, the RE-DWELL framework operates with a simpler structure, aiming to unify language, create a common ground, and establish a transdisciplinary perspective on the interconnected fields of housing, sustainability, and affordability. Do we truly need a framework? In short, yes, absolutely, we need a framework. The absence of a formal and universal language that brings all stakeholders to the same table persists as a challenge rarely addressed. Establishing such a framework requires concerted efforts and collaboration among the ESRs, supervisors, and partners. Crucially, it necessitates dismantling the borders that each field has erected around its knowledge. This is with hopes of promoting simple and effective practices to achieve the desired affordable and sustainable housing in Europe. Finally, let us maintain optimism and look forward to meeting again in Barcelona!

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5)

Workshops, Reflections


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