Who does building research?

In the 1970’s both the US Government and the European Union invested a considerable amount of money in research as they searched for ways to protect their population again any future oil price rises.  Just when the world economy was stabilising the Yom Kippur War pushed the price of crude oil even higher.  In the latter half of the 1980’s the price of oil fell and all interest in research and alternative energy systems was lost. 

The lasting legacy of the OPEC oil price rise and the Yom Kippur War was that the rate of increase in crude oil consumption, which had been 7.1% per annum since 1900, fell to 3.1% per annum for nearly two decades.

Solar Building Architecture is a technical review of the research that took place in the USA in the 1970’s into renewable energy and its application to buildings.  This book was edited by Bruce Anderson who made the following observations:


Without research there will be no future.

“The engineering and manufacturing communities, together with the federal government officials, tended to rally behind active systems.  Architects and other design professionals favoured passive approaches.  The construction trades and the general public favoured energy efficiency”.

It is clear that the latter won the argument although they failed to address the real problem which is the absence of a sustainable source of energy when the supply of hydrocarbons is checked.

“Most federal solar research programs focused on the development of high performance technology.  The construction industry was left with the task of integrating this technology into market acceptable buildings.  Here the emphasis was on ease of construction, low first cost, operational dependability, appearance, marketability, and owner satisfaction – not high performance”.

There is no group of people who are more resistant to change than those that work in the construction industry.  Their only interest is in spending as little as possible so as to optimise their profits.

“Given the major objective of building designers, is it fair or realistic to suggest that, like the scientist, research engineer and product developer, the building designer also perform research per se?”

Little has changed in the construction industry in the last 50 years.  Architects and Engineers have a legal obligation to safeguard their clients interest which means not taking any unnecessary risk.  We are always seeking to push our designs to the limit of the technology.

All that was adopted by consultants and contractors was the need to conserve heat loss by increasing insulation and, the benefits of fitting double glazing and doors with better seals.  Almost everything else that was learnt was set aside and more recently erased thanks to the introduction of the internet.