Joyce Chan is head of sustainability at HOK’s London studio. A champion of innovative sustainable design, she has applied her 12 years plus experience to a range of UK and international projects. She tells ADF why sustainability needs to remain a top priority
WHY DID YOU ORIGINALLY DECIDE TO ENTER THE PROFESSION?
I took a slightly unusual path into architecture. My first degree focused primarily on environmental and sustainable design, and this provided me with a different perspective and training for when I subsequently shifted over to architecture. I was driven to become an architect because I wanted to be the person who draws and manages the projects, and who ensures that the green objectives are followed through.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR JOB THE MOST?
The sheer variety of my role is very appealing. The opportunity to work as project architect on a range of hugely different projects, from a townhouse renovation to a west end office, is something that has attracted me to my current role. I enjoy the variety each day brings, whether speaking at a conference on smart cities or WELL, or heading up R&D into a fascinating sustainability and innovation topic such as community isolation and how we can create spaces that actively engage communities. I also travel a lot with my role, and really enjoy visiting different cities.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
There are some fantastic new ideas out here, such as building technologies that open up possibilities to use greenery to design a facade that will also provide a carbon absorption role. However, the challenge is always to champion the ‘outside the box’ thinking against practicalities such as cost, and trying to find a balance. It is however always very rewarding to work with clients that are committed to making a difference in terms of sustainability. I’d also add that finding a work and life balance is also an ongoing challenge, thanks to my two demanding boys who never sleep!
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO CLIENTS WHEN THEY ASK FOR A CLEAR DEFINITION OF SUSTAINABILITY?
I think it is always important to pose the question back to the client, to find out what they mean when they reference sustainability. Do they have a clear commitment to carbon reduction, or are they looking to reduce energy bills? We’re always passionate that commitments to sustainability should eventually lead to other great initiatives, such as wellbeing and health benefits.
IS THE TERM SUSTAINABILITY OVERUSED AND MISUNDERSTOOD?
It’s not overused, and in fact given its importance I don’t think we shout it loud enough! However, it can certainly be misunderstood. Sustainability isn’t simply about introducing more trees or photovoltaics into a development; it is an evidence-based approach that uses the power of environmental design to inform analysis. It can also have many meanings. It’s not something that is solely measured by carbon.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT AND WHY?
I think, for any architect, nothing can beat the delivery of a completed project that you’ve designed. I’ve worked on the delivery of many exciting and challenging projects during my career, including on the very first BREEAM airport terminal and on the world’s largest corporate research campus. Most recently at HOK, I worked on a smart retrofit at Park Street in London, and enjoyed the challenge of working on an existing, historic building. The office concept was to retain the original townhouse characteristic, but to introduce a playful and chic dimension for the Mayfair professional. The project includes smart technology, which helps the FM team to keep energy demand low. In addition, as part of our wellness strategies to introduce health and fitness considerations into design, we’ve introduced a roof-light to help maximise natural daylight and make the space even more inviting.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE CURRENTLY IN DELIVERING SUSTAINABILITY?
It’s not enough to just design a good, sustainable building. Subsequently proving its effectiveness in the ways it is used through post occupancy engagement and evaluation is vital, but unfortunately this isn’t something that is always requested. The architect is often less involved at the later stages of construction, yet an analysis of energy data and an appraisal of lessons learned post occupancy is so important for designing future projects.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR WORK/LIFE BALANCE, DOES IT TIP IN THE DIRECTION OF WORK TOO OFTEN?
I’m the mother of two boys, ages four and one, and I’m also currently progressing a Ph.D. programme with the University of Loughborough, while simultaneously working as the sustainable design leader at HOK in London. I’m used to multi-tasking, I thrive on adrenaline, and I find that learning new things every day motivates me enormously. The directors of the studio are very accommodating, allowing me to split my time between work and academic research. I have a very busy schedule at home and the office, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST IMPORTANT INNOVATION IN SUSTAINABILITY IN RECENT YEARS? Without doubt, it’s data, and our ability to collect and apply it, including to building design and smart cities. It’s essential to post occupancy evaluation, with sensors and smart meters helping us to understand and better control building and energy use, and also sometimes helping change human behaviour in relation to the environment, particularly with smart meters. Increasingly, smart technologies are making us more efficient and resilient.
WHAT SINGLE CHANGE/INNOVATION WOULD MAKE YOUR JOB EASIER?
I think there should be more incentivisation from Government for post occupancy evaluations to be undertaken, so that CRC commitments to carbon reduction can be more clearly and regularly demonstrated, and that a broader range of data and metrics can be learned from.
WHAT’S YOUR CURRENT FAVOURITE MATERIAL FOR DESIGN?
It’s not so much a material as a construction process. I think that the important role of modular construction, and how we can prefabricate a kit of parts to create much needed affordable housing using plug and play components, cannot be underestimated. BIM would ensure that the quality was controlled, and the materials used would of course be the most sustainable and appropriate to the design.
DO YOU BELIEVE THERE SHOULD BE A SINGLE SUSTAINABILITY MEASUREMENT SYSTEM FOR THE INDUSTRY?
The growing number of green rating systems can be confusing, and it often takes weeks to determine which system should be adopted on a project. However, I don’t believe that a one-size-fit-all approach would work. I think we need to create alignment and identify overlaps between the different competing systems such as BREEAM, WELL and Fit-WELL. It’s good to be moving towards an increasingly evidence based approach.
DOES TOO MUCH EFFORT GO INTO INITIAL ESTIMATES OF A PROJECT’S SUSTAINABILITY, AND NOT ENOUGH TO ASSESSMENT IN USE?
This is definitely the case. There is a performance gap between predictive energy models and the multiple variables associated with human behaviour and typical building use once occupied. Post occupancy analysis is essential.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE NEXT BIG CHANGE COMING IN SUSTAINABILITY FOR ARCHITECTS?
It’s measuring the non-measurable. For example, in designing buildings we need to look at whether occupant happiness or wellbeing can be a building metric. My Ph.D. focus is also on wellness and building informational modelling, factoring people into the BIM model equation using artificial learning and intelligence. It’s a hugely exciting area for development, in both guiding good design and in important post occupancy metrics.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR 2018?
Managing the triple challenge of full time work, research and parenthood through the year! I’m also enthusiastic and committed to seeing net-zero projects under construction in 2018.