It’s not easy being green

As environmentally conscious construction takes off, one researcher asks how it affects building occupants.

By Jessica Wallace
April 2015

As the construction of green buildings gains momentum around the world, Osama Mansour, a PhD graduate in UCalgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design (EVDS), poses a question: What are the perceptions and experiences of the people who actually work in these buildings?

In his research, Mansour noticed that the performance of some of North America's highly rated green buildings — as reported by users — sometimes falls short of the sustainability target.

A green building uses environmentally responsible, resource-efficient materials and processes throughout its life cycle, from design, to construction, to operation and maintenance. Green buildings should provide their occupants with a healthier, more productive environment. An international rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), endorses buildings for upholding green standards.

"Designing and constructing green buildings provide numerous benefits," says Mansour, "such as energy and water savings, preserving natural resources, and promoting a healthy indoor environment. However, with respect to social and cultural dimensions, there is little evidence that green buildings provide occupants with better experiences and higher levels of satisfaction than conventional buildings."

Mansour is helping to narrow the gap, working in building design and sustainability since 1997. His research, supervised by Professor Tang Lee in EVDS, compares user experiences in green and non-green buildings. His main objective is to better understand how people perceive and evaluate green building design features.

"There is little evidence that green buildings provide occupants with better experiences and higher levels of satisfaction than conventional buildings."


Findings show experiential factors of design more significant than LEED ratings 

In the current research, he applied two studies: a qualitative study in the EEEL building (LEED-certified) and Scurfield Hall (conventional construction) on the University of Calgary campus; and a quantitative, choice-based conjoint analysis in the City of Calgary Water Centre (LEED-certified) and Whitehorn Multi-Services Centre (conventional construction).

Mansour found that people are generally attracted to green buildings because of their environmental benefits. In the long run, however, experiential factors of design are more important than factors that drive the LEED rating system, such as energy and water savings.
Mansour recently defended his dissertation, "Enhancing Green Building Performance: A Human Experiential Approach." He hopes his interdisciplinary perspective will add to research aimed at improving the current green building rating system.

"This imbalance between the environmental performance and quality of experience offered for building occupants may be the direct result of current green building rating systems," he says.

In his research, Mansour recommends:

  • Designers should consider users' feedback from previous green building case studies and post-occupancy evaluations
  • Anticipated users should be highly engaged in the design charrette from the early stage of design
  • Build a database from the results of post-occupancy evaluations, as a resource for designing future green buildings


Mansour presented and published his research in the proceedings of two international conferences: ECO-Architecture 2014 in Siena, Italy, and the Sixth Annual Symposium of Architectural Research in Finland 2014.

Before pursuing his PhD at University of Calgary, Mansour received a PhD in architectural engineering from Ain-Shams University (ASU) in Egypt, taught building design and construction at the Faculty of Engineering at ASU, and spent three years as a visiting researcher at the University of Arizona.

"Pursuing such interdisciplinary research using literature and methods from different disciplines was such a great experience," notes Mansour. The multidisciplinary supervisory committee included Professor Lee; Sasha Tsenkova, professor of planning, EVDS; Scott Radford, associate professor, Haskayne School of Business; and Dennis Doxtater, professor emeritus at the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, University of Arizona.



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