This thesis, “A Strategic Approach to adaptability in office buildings”, is the result of a doktor ingeniør-project financed by a NBI project called “Buildings in a life cycle perspective”. The work was carried out at the Department of Building Technology, Faculty of Architecture, Planning and Fine Arts at NTNU in the period 1997 - 2001.
The main objective of this work is to develop and present knowledge about adaptability in office buildings and how this knowledge can be enhanced. Adaptability is thought to be important in order to reduce mismatches between buildings and their user organisations. Mismatches will occur in the Building – User Relationship over a period of time. The level of mismatch will vary, but at one point the mismatch exceeds the acceptable mismatch level, and major adaptations in the building, in the use of the building, or in how the user organisation finances and procures real estate, are needed. The acceptable mismatch level will vary from situation to situation, but there will always be some level of mismatch in the Building – User Relationship, and minor adaptations must be carried out continuously.
As opposed to many of the earlier works that have dealt with these issues, this work is mainly focused on adaptability, not only on flexibility. Adaptability is here defined as “the ability to change, responding to internal or external changes”, and it is seen as something that approaches the problem “from the top”. Flexibility, on the other hand, is seen as more solution-oriented, giving possibilities for change within a limited set of alternatives. Flexibility is still seen as important, but as one of several ways to achieve physical adaptability, together with partitionability, multifunctionality, and extendability. This work is also more based on a social-constructivist approach to the problem, and on the socio-technical relationships between buildings and users, rather than on technical solutions.
The main reason to engage oneself in the study of adaptability in office buildings is that we have seen the changes that have taken place in offices during the last 100 years, and that we expect these changes to accelerate. During the history of office buildings there has been a large variety in office layouts and workplace design. The use of the building and the workplace ideals may change, but the actual building is more durable. Thus, most buildings will meet a change in requirements during their lifetime, to which they have to be adapted. Some existing buildings adapt readily to change, others are more difficult to alter. The building will be adapted if the value of adapting the building into new or future use is thought to be greater than the value of the alternatives and the cost of adaptations. This value can be both financial value and value of use.
The value of use is most clearly seen in the Building – User Relationship (BUR). This is a dialectic relationship between buildings and users, where the two sides are believed to mutually affect each other. When the organisation changes, the building must be adapted in response to a new situation. On the other hand, the organisation will adapt itself to the possibilities and constraints in the building. The BUR is not necessarily only concerned with one user. It can also be seen as the relationship between the building and several users or between the user and several buildings. Major and continuous changes and adaptations will happen in both cases, and the same approach, with some adaptations, can be used.
Because the BUR is thought to be constantly changing, there is always a mismatch between supply (what the building can offer) and demand (what the organisation needs). This mismatch must be managed in order to create the best possible fit between the building and the user organisation.
To manage the mismatches, one has to consider planning and decision-making under uncertainty. An understanding of the direction and the future on the demand side (the user organisation), as well as a strategy for developing the supply side (the building) must be developed. The interface between the two has to be managed in a long-term perspective. In order to deal with this, a strategic way of managing the mismatch is chosen, and the Strategic Approach to adaptability is based on a strategic iterative decision-making process. The metaphor of design has been used to explore and explain the iterative decision-making process, which is based on interaction between the phases of awareness, analysis, and action.
The main ingredients in the Strategic Approach are:
1. A “mindset”, which is a way of thinking about changes in the Building – User Relationship. This mindset includes knowledge about organisations and buildings and how they change and affect each other.
2. Strategic, iterative decision-making based on a process of awareness, analysis, and action. This decision-making process can be applied in different situations. Two situations of special relevance to the Building – User Relationship have been described in this work: The management of BUR mismatches, which is the continuous process of adapting buildings and user organisations to each other, and the Strategic Approach used in the building’s life cycle, from initiative concept, programming, design, and construction, to use and operation.
3. Some tools can be applied within the strategic decision-making process to aid decision-making. For ex. assess uncertainty, for financial analysis, to anticipate the future, to evaluate buildings, to structure planning processes, for visualising, or for problem solving. In this work, two tools have been described in detail: scenarios and layering.
4. Measures are actual solutions that can be applied (a) to the building, (b) to the use of buildings, or (c) in finance and contracts, to enhance adaptability. Actual measures are outside the scope of this work, where the main focus is on strategic decision-making and the Building – User Relationship. They are, however, mentioned when appropriate, i.e. in the description of design strategies and of layering.
This study is mostly explorative, and an interpretative research approach has been used. This means that concepts and theories have been developed during the enquiry. An iterative research process with empirical and theoretical studies was used. The research instruments were interviews, workshops, and case studies, as well as a final example case, which is used to demonstrate the Strategic Approach in practice.
4 cases are presented: Dagbladet, a major retrofit process of a building complex with several buildings of different ages, which focused on a layered and phased retrofit process. Gjensidige, a new corporate headquarters for a large insurance company, which in its new building focused on strategic decisions and end-user involvement.
Office XX, an experimental building with technical solutions that encourages flexibility and give possibilities for easy assembly and disassembly of the building or parts of it. And finally K-bank’s new headquarters, Colosseum Park, which was developed as a commercial multi-purpose office building.
The Strategic Approach is finally applied to an example, in order to show how it could have been used in practice. A description of the real sequence of events is compared to an idealised version of the example; a simulation of the Strategic Approach used in the Consultants Inc. project”. The study shows that Consultants Inc. might have benefited from using the approach. The next step will, however, be to test the Strategic Approach in a pilot case and monitor the long-term effects on adaptability and BUR mismatches.
The main results from this work have been:
- That a Strategic Approach based on an understanding of the dynamics in the Building-User Relationship, and a strategic decision-making process has been developed, as well as some tools and methods which can be applied within a Strategic Approach. Some of this is developed in this project. Other issues are based on previous works, but used within the framework, the Strategic Approach developed in this project.
- That a Strategic Approach has been shown to be important and necessary to improve adaptability in office buildings.