July 2015

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BIM Designed - Certified Green - Carbon Neutral
But what about the occupants and is it really sustainable?
Chris ThorneChris Thorne,
Freelance Intelligent Buildings Consultant,
Founder, Developer
Model IB

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Meeting human need is a non-negotiable condition for sustainability – (Hudgens, 2007)1

Door to SustainabilityAs BIM (Building Information Modelling) takes its place on the stage of innovative building design and cohesive collaboration, environmental certification – LEED2, BREEAM3 and others - assure quality, and systems convergence streamlines and enhances operational efficiency and response, we should have arrived on the doorstep of sustainable buildings. But hold on a minute – as we look inside we need to ask ‘has the wellbeing of occupants and users been fully considered and is sustainability performance actually being measured’?

A study of over 700 American construction professionals found that architects, owners, human resources executives and contractors are willing to pay more for buildings with demonstrated positive impacts on health, and cited many financial benefits to such buildings, including lower healthcare costs, higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement, lower absenteeism and higher productivity (McGraw Hill Construction, 2014)4

There is an emerging movement of advocacy for the development and implantation of health and wellbeing strategies in the built environment (Clements-Croome, Aguilar and Taub, 2015)5. So let’s consider ‘Wellbeing’, which according to American Psychologist Abraham Maslow is a comprehensive term that encapsulates a hierarchy of needs that includes physiological, psychological, social and personal needs (Maslow, 1943)6

Human Need Satisfied WebTo evaluate and measure the satisfaction of human need within a building, wellbeing, a holistic framework has been adapted by Model IB (www.modelib.com) from the works of Professor Max-Neef  in  'Human Scale Development: Conception, Application and Further Reflections.'  The resultant ‘Human need satisfier web’ defines areas within which relative questions can be developed and put to a broad range of people associated with the building – architects, designers, consultants, users, occupants, facility managers, community members and so on – and their collective response captured and assessed.

Example questions
Is the human ‘Subsistence’ need satisfied in terms of:
Beingdoes the building have qualities support good health?
Havingdo the building’s attributes nurture career progress?
Doingdoes the building facilitate productivity?
Interactingdoes the building stimulate social interaction?

As the satisfaction of each need is questioned from four dimensions – being, having, doing and interacting – in the context of a specific building and, ideally, engages a large percentage of people directly associated with the building, it serves to collates a very broad and robust data set on wellbeing. The scale of such may run into 100’s or even 1000’s of people for large buildings.

iphoneHandling such may seem like a daunting task. However, in practice the engagement of people is enabled via standard smart devices to facilitate fast and convenient interaction, and captures real-time private input without undue hindrance. This straightforward approach can be deployed at the design, soft landing and post occupancy stages, and also over the buildings life-cycle as a scheduled periodic evaluation to account for changes in the building, its operation, its occupant or the simple evolution of society.  Wellbeing assessment can therefore easily become a fluid aspect of the buildings life cycle performance monitoring. 

In addition to the wellbeing of people, clarity needs to be maintained when we describe, recognize or interpret buildings as sustainable7, because measured sustainable performance data is typically not available and assessed in the formats of ‘threat’ versus ‘response’ or ‘erosion’ versus ‘replenishment’ or ‘usage’ versus ‘replenishment’. Instead the construal of sustainability in buildings  is mostly left down to design and it compliance with various governing authorities. For example the WDBG8, defines six fundamental principles of sustainability in design:

  1. Optimize site potential
  2. Optimize energy use
  3. Protect and conserve water
  4. Optimize building space and material use
  5. Enhance indoor environment quality
  6. Optimize operational and maintenance practices

These of course differ across authoritative entities in different regions, sectors, and are often shaped to meet environmental certification criteria. Nonetheless, actual sustainability performance measurement is not usually incorporated and is left down to professional interpretation.

AspectsModel IB considers the building as a system structure by adopting the philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd's 'Aspects Of Reality'9 to serve as a framework for performance evaluation.  This theory is well supported within the sustainable development (SD) community and offers a guide to areas within which SD may be considered and understood, described and discussed (Basden, 2005)10 (Brandon and Lombardi, 2005)11.  When applied, the ‘Aspects of performance influence framework’ provides a distinct set of concepts by which a building's setting, and operating environment, can be considered and defined. Building specific sustainability indicators (SI's) can be identified for each of the fifteen aspects through a process of information exchange with experts such as designers, consultants, assessors, engineers and facility managers, to establish a comprehensive measurable sustainability performance model of the building.

As an example, if we selected the Biotic aspect from within the framework, then Model IB would guide towards the identity of sustainability indicators that impact on the natural environment, eco-footprint, pollution and waste etc. A simple example is potable water.

Beyond just measuring the sustainable existence of potable water in the building – e.g. water used over the current period versus water available over the next period – a broader multidimensional approach is adopted. This is based upon a star format of six orientors of system sustainability as defined by Professor Hartmut Bossel (1999)12, an environmental systems analysis and respected authority in the field of sustainable development.

Six orientor measurements

For each of the six orientors a threat and response measurement is defined, quantitative or qualitative, and populated with either real data from the field or other verifiable source such as expert opinion. This allows for a very broad influence on sustainability to be captured for each indicator.

In practice the administrator is presented a menu driven online form to discuss and complete this development task with the team.

BIOTIC sustainability

And so as human need information is captured and sustainability performance measurement defined, the system progressively builds a data model for the building using cutting edge inference technology - as used by NASA, the medical and banking fraternity among others -  to establish multi-level sustainability performance predictions. The inherent complexity of this is effortlessly managed through an online menu driven control dashboard.


From the dashboard the administrator is able to configure and run the performance model for any registered building, and input live data to establish a real time sustainability performance prediction or simulate change to establish impact upon the sustainability performance.

Building Data Control Panel

Building Data Control Panel

And so the answer to the question ‘has the wellbeing of occupants and users been fully considered and is sustainability performance actually being measured’ could now be yes, and moreover there are tangible and fully verifiable data and configuration reports to back that up.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Model IB exists as a stand-alone application with potential to become a BIM add-on. It serves to plug a current information gap and offers significant contribution to design and operational decision making, illuminating buildings that have a positive impact on health and taking the guess work out of sustainability performance prediction. 

If you would like to watch a presentation on Model IB please visit the following link

If you would like more information on Model IB then please visit



1 Hudgens, G. (2007) The Future of Sustainability: Have Your Say.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland.

2 LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design: http://www.usgbc.org/leed

3 BREEAM - Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method: http://www.breeam.org/

4 McGraw Hill Construction (2014) The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design and Construction on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity

5 Clements-Croome, Aguilar and Taub (2015) Putting People First: Designing for health and wellbeing in the built environment. Copyright British Council for Offices.

6 Maslow AH (1943) A theory of human motivation.

7 Sustainable - Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level:

8 WDGB –Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences: http://www.wbdg.org/design/sustainable.php

9 Dooyeweerd, H. (1955) A New Critique of Theorectical Thought. Presbyterian and Reformed Publisher Company, Philadephia, USA

10  Basden, A. (2005) The Dooyeweerd Pages.  University of Salford, Manchester, UK. http://www.dooy.salford.ac.uk/index.html

11 Brandon, P. S. & Lombardi, P. (2005) Evaluating Sustainable Development In The Built Environment. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford

12 Bossel, H. (1999) Indicators for Sustainable Development: Theory, Method, Applications. International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada.

About the Author

Chris Thorne, Freelance Intelligent Buildings Consultant, Founder and Developer of Model IB

Chris holds a Master of Science degree in Intelligent Buildings, from the University of Reading UK, and is a CIBSE affiliate currently pursuing chartered status. As a freelance consultant he specializes in integrated intelligent building solutions and sustainable operations. Formerly the General Manager for Andover Controls Corporation China, and a long term employee of both Honeywell and American Auto-Matric Inc, he offers extensive commercial, strategic and technical aptitude in the field of intelligent buildings engineering.


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