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Andreas Wagner, Professor for Building Physics and Technical Building Services from Karlsruhe, emphasises the importance of user satisfaction in office buildings.
© Cornelia Moosmann
Interview with Professor Andreas Wagner
14.10.2015

“User satisfaction plays a major role”

User satisfaction plays a major role in office buildings. It affects the social interaction between employees and increases their motivation and productivity. Together with a 24-member team of authors, Professor Andreas Wagner from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology has recently published a technical book on the topic. In the BINE interview, he talks about the factors, costs and potential.

BINE Information Service: Buildings have always been planned for people. Why has there been an increased focus on user satisfaction in recent years?

Professor Andreas Wagner: Here I would like to mention three aspects: Firstly, the increasing automation of air conditioning technology, which we have been observing since the 1980s. Many people now have reservations about their use because they restrict their ability to intervene. A second aspect is the increasing proportion of office buildings that are built without air conditioning. Users are required to take a more active role in these buildings, for example in order to influence the room temperature. The last aspect relates to changes in the working environment in offices. We are once again seeing an increase in the design of open-plan office spaces. These increase the interaction between the employees and thus their ability to mutually influence one another. This is leading to a greater focus on issues such as noise interference and lack of privacy.

Which factors affect user satisfaction?

Wagner: Firstly all factors relating to the sensory perception of the environment: sensitivity to temperature as well as visual, auditory and olfactory influences. There are also social aspects relating to people’s coexistence in a room. In addition, I would also point out factors such as the general living conditions, satisfaction with the employer, or the location and accessibility of the workplace within the city. There is a variety of individual factors whose impacts can vary in individual cases.

Why has user satisfaction become so important in the workplace?

Wagner: At work I am usually an employee working for other people and therefore have an obligation to them. I’m usually more or less tied to my workspace. I’m not usually in a situation where I can say that I don’t like it here and I will sit somewhere else. However, there are now other organisation models available in regard to working in flexible workspaces. A very important aspect in this context is people’s performance and their motivation to work. These are considerably influenced by the immediate environment.

Is the aspect of user satisfaction placing greater demands on architects, building engineers or building operators and their facility managers?

Wagner: Actually they all have an equal obligation to consider user satisfaction and to formulate their own specific requirements. Missing from your list is the client right at the beginning of the chain, whereby it needs to be differentiated whether the client is the investor, owner or even the user of the building. The client has to consider what is supposed to happen in the building. Ideal, of course, is when the client is also the future user, because the client can then lay down very specific requirements for the spaces and floors. These can vary within a building. However, because the requirements from the client are usually rather general and abstract, the designers have to translate them in order to derive concrete guidelines for the indoor environment, lighting, etc. The operator should also be involved so that he can say whether these can be implemented in later operation. This then creates an overall building concept based on an integrated planning approach.

Is it worthwhile for the client to consider the satisfaction of the later users?

Wagner: What is the client’s role? A pure investor is interested in high returns and the value of the building on the market. Here the user satisfaction plays a major role because this can, for example, reduce the risk of vacancy and makes the building more competitive relative to other office buildings. When the owner is the owner-occupier and the company’s staff work in the building, the client can increase the motivation of its employees through increasing the user satisfaction. This promotes the company’s success and may also help to reduce absenteeism.

User satisfaction and energy efficiency go hand in hand

And how does a design that places high demands in terms of the user satisfaction affect the investment costs?

Wagner: This question cannot be easily answered. In my estimation, it does not have to have any influence on the investment costs. We have seen that the total investment costs of the buildings forming part of the EnOB research initiative do not differ considerably from comparable types of buildings. The costs depend more on the decisions made right at the very beginning, in other words in regards to the building quality I want to achieve. I can opt for gold taps, which probably does not make the users any more satisfied, or I can invest more in user comfort. This could include smaller office units or open-plan offices that provide the employees, however, with the necessary individual space.

And what about the operating costs and the energy consumption?

Wagner: With the operating costs it is more difficult because a building is never 100 percent perfect. If I’m going to take user satisfaction seriously, I will need to incorporate feedback loops, for example through surveys or interviews with users. This means increased personnel costs for the facility or building management. The energy consumption, I think, ought to be lower. Energy-conscious behaviour and high user satisfaction often go hand in hand. This is due to the fact, for example, that in both cases the users are informed extensively about the proper use of the building. This additional expenditure is offset, however, by the fact that companies with satisfied employees can increase their productivity.

Together with a team of authors you have published a technical book on the subject. Which target groups would be interested in the book?

Wagner: We want to inform the clients. When you talk with people responsible for buildings, then you quickly realise that they have little knowledge about user comfort. The clients’ point of view is particularly focussed on in the early chapters. The second, equally important target group are the designers. We want to supply them with detailed knowledge and an extensive presentation of the scientific discussion on the topic.

(mi)

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In interview

Andreas Wagner is Professor for Building Physics and Technical Building Services in the Department of Architecture at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). His work and research focuses on energy efficient construction, building performance analysis, lighting technology and visual comfort, thermal comfort and user satisfaction

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Projects, reports, news and analyses from research for energy-optimised building.