Professor Richard de Dear at the SAMBA launch

The University of Sydney aims to advance the science of developing, delivering and maintaining high performance buildings with an Australian-first Master of Architectural Science (High Performance Buildings) degree and a research lab that is partnering with the property industry to better assess and improve the indoor environmental quality of commercial buildings and the tools that assess it.

The IEQ Analytics Research Partnership and new masters degree have both just been showcased to prospective students and the property sector at launch event on Wednesday.

The research partnership is based at the university’s IEQ Lab. Director professor Richard de Dear told The Fifth Estate it aims to be of practical assistance to property owners by providing a more scientific and comprehensive methodology and specific technology for assessing IEQ, in addition to a resource of data compiled from building and occupant analysis that can shape initiatives to improve a building’s performance in terms of occupant wellbeing, staff productivity and staff retention.

The lab uses both data gathered “in the field” and also through experiments in two purpose-built rooms at the IEQ facility. All the various environmental parameters – temperature, humidity, air movement, ventilation rates, air quality, daylight, artificial lighting, sound and acoustics – can be precisely controlled or transitioned across a broad range of values, in any combination, while a sample of typical building occupants go about their typical daily activities for a selected exposure time, while registering their impressions on a comfort questionnaire.

MC Ashak Nathwani,
honorary associate senior lecturer Faculty of Architecture, Design & Planning, USyd with Dean Professor John Redmond looking on

Some of the elements used for in-situ assessments of an off-campus site such as a commercial office include web-based survey tools for post-occupancy evaluations, and hardware that provides high resolution measurement of IEQ parameters. Developed by IEQ Lab, the technology includes BOSSA nova, an integrated array of sensors that captures building data, and SAMBA stations on each floor that stream data directly to a central hub and then onto the lab’s server for analysis. An online dashboard gives building managers and others a real-time display of key IEQ measurements, creating an accurate report of building performance.

“We are building closer partnerships with key industry organisations and bodies with a view to enriching their organisations, and also to refine our research and focus it in ways that enriches it,” professor de Dear said.

The Property Council of Australia is one of the industry groups IEQ Lab has worked with to develop the research methodology and its implementation and application, including its use in the new masters degree. Other faculty research partners include AMP Capital, Arup, Brookfield Multiplex, Investa, GPT and Stockland.

He said the lab is able to assist businesses such as real estate investment trusts to “navigate through IEQ”.

“It’s like the dark arts [to some businesses]. We can assist them with how to use it, how to manage it, how to understand it,” professor de Dear said.

Compared to energy efficiency, “IEQ is more complex and harder to handle”.

“You can’t put a hard and fast dollar value on it,” he said.

“It would be oversimplifying if we say it’s all about productivity, which does have a dollar value.”

Professor de Dear said that the lab is able to provide an evidence basis for making the connection between the quality of the indoor environment, sustainability and the business case for investment in a better space.

“I see a lot of hyperbole [about IEQ], sometimes quite outlandish claims with no science behind them. Our research provides concrete evidence.”

He also said the lab aims to improve the way IEQ is assessed under some current ratings tools, noting that the “one day walk through” by an assessor that some tools require is “not a representative sample” of the building’s indoor environment and how occupants experience it.

“At a very pragmatic level we can help people towards Green Star Performance and NABERS IE ratings – help them and their consultants doing the assessments get the right evidence,” professor de Dear said.

“And we have got some concepts at the beta stage that we hope will improve the quality of those tools. In the collection of IEQ data we have got some game-changing ideas that will collect big data, massive data across groups of buildings that will allow for better management of IEQ across all buildings.”

New degree to progress high-performance buildings

The new masters degree, which is being taught through the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, brings together elements of architecture, engineering, mechanical systems, lighting design, facilities management, green building, building information modelling and IEQ assessments.

It aims to draw students with prior learning across fields including architecture, building science, engineering, facilities management and sustainability assessment, and then equip them as graduates with integrated knowledge that crosses disciplines and is applicable across building design, management, operations and upgrades.

The degree will be drawing on the data produced by the IEQ Lab.

“The university aims to facilitate teaching with leading-edge research,” professor de Dear said.

He said the integrated disciplines approach is essential for achieving better performing buildings, and a key aim of the course is to have participants from a variety of professional backgrounds able to understand the language of the other cognate disciplines that contribute to a building.

“It’s the only way we’ll get real progress, by breaking down the silos and working on integrated design,” Professor de Dear said.

“So the architects think more like engineers, and the engineers think more like architects, and then rather than bolting on sustainability at the end of the design process, as a team they embed it at the beginning of projects.”

BIM will be used in the later part of the course as a platform for a collaborative project by students from different disciplines. Professor de Dear said he thinks the future of BIM is to become the common platform that brings disciplines together.

MC for the event and lecturer for the High Performance Buildings Ashak Nathwani said a memorandum of understanding with the Property Council Academy would mean participants who successfully complete the Academy’s Operations & Facilities Management course will be awarded six credit points towards the new master’s degree.

IEQ Lab team from L to R: Craig Rousssac, Prof Richard de Dear, Dr Christhina Candido, Dr Jungsoo Kim, Jessica (Fan) Zhang, Renata de Vecchi and Ashak Nathwani

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  1. What an excellent research facility in combination with an interdisciplinary Masters program! It would be good to see the involvement of other professionals, such as plant scientists/urban horticulturists, to contribute to the essential “indoor green” component of offices. The perceived quality of places and spaces depends on much more than physical environmental parameters (temperature, humidity, ventilation, light etc.) which are addressed by architects and engineers. Biological environmental parameters, such as the presence of living, green plants, are also influential in people’s perceptions of office spaces (as they are for outdoor places). The involvement of behavioural scientists would help to understand these perceptions as well as the interactions between people within offices, and hopefully improve offices for human comfort, well-being, productivity and staff retention.