The second webinar of ULI UK’s ‘Measurable and Immeasurable Series’ discussed the role of nurturing human experience in the urban environment and was led by Fabienne Nicholas, Director at Contemporary Art Society, who has extensive experience in cultural placemaking and urban strategy and three industry leaders who are all working to deliver better human experiences in buildings and places.
Harry Badham, the UK Head of Development at AXA Investment Managers, takes a customer-focused view that factors in the viability of assets through a, long-term approach to property development.
Dr. Peggie Rothe is the Chief Insights & Research Officer at Leesman. The company developed Leesman Index, a tool to assess the effectiveness of hard and soft workplace infrastructure in supporting employees’ productivity and wellbeing.
Alex Foutris is the Head of Client Services at Bewonder*, a creative marketing, placemaking and human experience agency. Measuring human experience underpins their approach to deliver experience-focused property management.
Can we truly measure human experience in the built environment and how do non-financial metrics influence how we manage and use our urban realm? If so, what measures do we have and how can we effectively use them?
Workplace experience is by definition subjective. Peggie says that the only way to understand it is to start asking building users. While that sounds logical, there is also a danger in dealing with subjectivity. Leesman turns such subjective information into something measurable and comparable by standardising questions and creating a vast dataset. Each response may be subjective; yet the database created over 10 years of surveys provides powerful insight into the relationship between the work environment and workplace experience. As a result the Leesman Index offers a credible model to gain useful insight into what is deemed to be immeasurable, such as human experience.
Nonetheless, there are still many challenges in practice. As Harry pointed out, experience is complex and diverse. Design decisions cannot solely be based on workplace experience insight. Ultimately, it comes down to the question of financial performance. Would tenants see tangible benefit and pay higher premiums? This is not an unreasonable question for investors and employers. Alex certainly thinks more collaboration across the industry is needed to better understand how people’s positive experiences are translated into their behaviour that are beneficial for those decision makers.
While Peggie would like to see more data sharing across sectors so that their data on experience can be correlated with other data, such as spatial metrics and engagement levels, to understand the relationship between these parameters. Evidence is emerging to support the benefit of investing in employees’ wellbeing, or more generally social values. Further progress in this area will help increase investor and business owner confidence to incorporate human elements in their decision making.
All of us who are involved in the built environment industry bear a degree of responsibility for the future. Harry highlighted that it was evident by looking at the history of places like the City of London and Manhattan that tall buildings would be there in 50 or even 100 years’ time.
How can we respond to the future needs that may be different from ours? Are our needs already changing due to the pandemic? Will more people work from home? Although it is still quite difficult to anticipate the impact of the pandemic while we are still in the midst of it, what seems certain is that human experience should be at the heart of all decision making. Peggie strongly hopes that will be the case.
In the longer-term, an experience-based approach may transform the concept of buildings and places. Harry sees that we are shifting from the age of mixed-use to that of multi-use. Stations are no longer simply transport hubs but offices and social hubs at the same time. Office buildings could be occupied by completely different user groups at night to make the most of physical assets in our cities.
As we continue to tackle the climate change while the urban population grows globally, an experience-based, value-driven approach might hold a key for innovations to address complex issues our cities around the world are facing today.