Dr Augustin Chevez and Brett Pollard at the CRC for Low Carbon Living annual forum in Sydney 13-14 November

HASSELL has appointed Dr Agustin Chevez to the Melbourne-based knowledge and sustainability studio as senior researcher, in a boost to its workplace design research capacity, which will include trying to measure the value of design.

Working closely with head of the studio Brett Pollard, Dr Chevez will be contributing to evidence-based design strategies for commercial workplaces.

Mr Pollard said Dr Chevez’ exceptional mix of academic and design backgrounds will help HASSELL to further develop its research programs, particularly in the commercial and workplace sector.

“Agustin will be working with us on new evidence-based design strategies so we can deliver even better designs to meet the needs of our clients and the wider community,” he said.

Dr Chevez said the studio aims to strike a balance between an academic and rigorous research approach and the design of future workspaces through the perspective of social dynamics in order to ensure that what is designed will work for a client in terms of achieving organisation objectives.

“We are also trying to measure the value of design,” he told The Fifth Estate.

“There are a lot of claims made about design, but not many of them are backed up with proof. We are trying to understand what kind of measurable value design can provide.”

In terms of how this relates to sustainability and the materiality of workplaces and their impact on health and productivity, for example, the minimisation of volatile organic compounds in design specifications, Dr Chevez said these are aspects that are currently well understood.

“This is very well covered by things such as Green Star, and there is a good robust framework [for healthy interiors]. What is not clear is how we design what is sustainable that fulfills the needs of clients,” he said.

“Green Star is great, but there is the question of how to meet business objectives [with design], and how to make sure that every resource that is put into a building meets the business’ needs.”

The studio will be setting up projects with both universities and industry, and Dr Chevez said the aim is to provide research that has the “rigour of a university but doesn’t take three years.”

“The labs [we work in] are the organisations, looking at how they operate and understanding the complex dynamics of space, its social dimensions and the interactions that happen within space,” he said.

Among his work will be to  build on projects such as SA Water House, where pre- and post-occupancy studies showed significant reductions in sick leave and a 290 per cent increase in graduate staff applications in the year after the building opened.

This was in addition to the 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 70 per cent reduction in potable water use achieved for the building, Dr Chevez said.

“Another area of focus will be to develop and measure the effectiveness of designs to support collaboration and new modes of working, exemplified by projects such as HUB Melbourne and Sydney.

“I will also be seeking to identify and extrapolate the learnings from education projects such as the Advanced Engineering Building and Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland to see how they can be applied to other project types.

“All this research will be used to inform our design thinking and ensure our project work is supported by evidence.”

Dr Chevez is also an adjunct research fellow at the Centre for Design Innovation at Swinburne University of Technology, and recently completed a PhD in workplace architecture by research, examining the question of whether technology is indeed driving change, a message he said we have been “bombarded with”.

What his research found is that it is not technology that changes workplaces, it is people that are inside the core of change, and technology is the enabler of it while economics is the driver.

“An organisation has to have an economic driver to make change,” Dr Chevez said.

“And change has to be compatible with the organisational culture.”