Planning: Evaluation: post construction and post occupancy

Internal view of library with lounge seats, table and chairs and bookshelves
Gordon Library

Following the completion of the building, the library is ready for occupation. This could also be the appropriate time to evaluate the new library building.

Evaluating the building

Evaluation of the building’s functionality may happen a number of times within its lifecycle. An initial evaluation of the building’s functionality, within the first year, may be useful while contact with the building design and construction team is still fresh. Ongoing reviews will ensure that with minor amendments, the building adapts to changing service and social trends as well as demographics. In creating a stimulating user experience the layout of the building may change quite significantly, similar to a museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions. 

User surveys ensure that the design and operations of the building meet clients’ needs and that the library is truly a people’s place. Staff from other libraries and designers may visit your building to undertake their own evaluations as part of a process of beginning the design of their new library. Their feedback can also be useful.

Library Development Plans will influence how the building is used and how well it reacts and contributes to a local area’s strategic plan. Conversely post-occupancy evaluation can influence a Library Development Plan.

Defects liability period and first year

 Once the builder believes that works are complete and in accordance with the contract, an occupation certificate will be sought from the building certifier, verifying that the building is suitable to be occupied. A notice of practical completion will then be issued and a final inspection undertaken. Following the inspection, a list of incomplete work and defects are prepared for the builder to address and rectify. At this point, the owner usually may take possession. The builder usually provides a handover package which contains information relating to the maintenance and operations of the building as well as warranties. On handover day, ensure that inspection reports, warranties and maintenance procedures are provided by the builder.

The first year is critical as it is in this period that the majority of significant problems in new buildings will occur. Within a one-year period, the defects listed at the final inspection, plus any others arising within the first six months of this period must be rectified. This is a critical time to raise concerns regarding omissions or defects.

The first year of use will also frequently highlight functional issues relating to the building design. Areas, which had been dedicated for a particular use, may be used in unanticipated ways, or not used sufficiently. It is important to remain flexible in this period and consider whether some of these spaces, with some amendments, could be better used.  Consideration of the lifecycle of the building is now important, recognising that the ongoing maintenance and operations of the building will be the greatest financial outlay for the building owners.

Building operations and management

Those managing the building need to have a clear understanding of how to operate it. This will usually involve building operations and maintenance manuals, as well as emergency procedures and plans of management. 

Ideally a Building Operations and Management Manual (O&M Manual) should be drafted during the building design and construction phases. This manual will cover operating procedures, describe the building systems and planning, provide maintenance regimes and list procedures for repair and replacement.

In some instances, the operations manual will be a requirement of the building certifier to issue an Occupation Certificate (OC). The information required for an OC may include maximum number of people allowed in the space, clear fire egress widths, regime of fire equipment maintenance and hours of operation.

Maintenance and operations regimes are critical to good building design. Frequently a draft maintenance plan, including description of key building materials and equipment warranties, will be provided as part of the design development phase report. Those taking responsibility for the building’s operation and management should be key stakeholders during the design and construction phases. At handover/building commissioning, the O&M Manual should be complete.

Like any product, a building may not perform optimally if incorrectly used. This is particularly true of environmental systems and building services, such as air conditioning. Understanding the regime of ongoing inspections and maintenance program is key to an efficient and safe building, as well as forecasting (and mitigating) operational costs.

Building performance monitoring

It has become commonplace for buildings to be computer modelled during the design phases. This not only provides information on its appearance and structural integrity, but also its environmental performance. The modelling allows engineers to predict a range of building performance factors such as energy consumption, water use, thermal comfort and air quality. The design however, is significantly influenced by how it is operated, as well as by other unforeseen influences such as errors in calculation and building/materials defects. Ongoing monitoring of the building, usually through a computerised building operations system, can provide real time feedback on whether the building is performing as intended. If problems or failures are identified and rectified, a significant ongoing cost can be avoided. Other monitoring may include air quality. Research into the indoor environment indicates that improvement in air quality, oxygen level and day lighting, can significantly reduce sickness and absenteeism as well as increase concentration and morale.

Lifecycle costing

The operational costs of a building will be a significant factor in its post-occupancy evaluation but should also be considered at a much earlier stage. 

Visiting and evaluating libraries

By visiting libraries as part of the library design process, library staff and building designers undertake an informal form of post occupancy evaluation. The factors which are used in assessment are similar both to a formal post occupancy evaluation and a benchmarking visit, although design may be of more interest to a building design team than operations. Visits and benchmarking exercises are a critical part of the library design process and the design team should come prepared with a checklist to critically evaluate existing libraries as well as taking the time to interview staff, maintenance personnel and clients.

Post occupancy evaluation

Post occupancy evaluation (POE) may be undertaken with a range of goals in mind. The purpose of a POE is to measure the functionality and appropriateness of a design and its performance in relation to a brief or to common standards. It may be used to optimise a building’s functionality by adapting to needs. POE verifies if design criteria are correct or valid so that they may be used again as a standard. It is used to test user comfort and satisfaction, and to test the validity of new technology. It can justify a need, such as a new library, or establish best practice. The degree of investigation may vary from indicative to highly scientific.

The Evaluating your library building template provides a good basis from which to start your evaluation and can be expanded to include factors which are critical in your area.

End of life

The design of a building will influence its ability to be reused, extended or recycled. Buildings with simple framed structures will adapt far better to a new or expanded use than those with a greater number of load bearing walls. Some materials are far more easily recycled than others – timber is far more easily demolished or recycled than concrete. When considering a new facility, the post occupancy evaluation of the current facilities should include a benefit analysis of building reuse. This can be computer modelled by asset and engineering consultants.

Related content