skip to primary navigationskip to content

The Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies

- the research arm of the Department of Architecture

Studying at Cambridge


Activity-Space Research

Investigator: Dr William Fawcett
Advisors: Mr Andrew Chadwick (Chadwick International) and Professor John Worthington (DEGW)

Activity-space planning is concerned with the quantified relationship between activities and the buildings they occupy – the amount and type of space that is used by given activities. This has extremely large resources and sustainability implications. The knowledge economy’s new patterns of building use call for innovative and sustainable activity-space planning.

The Activity-Space Research (ASR) initiative began in 2005 with the appointment of Dr William Fawcett as the Chadwick Fellow in Architecture, supported by Chadwick International (architects and space planners) through Pembroke College, Cambridge. The ASR initiative has built up an exceptional network of expert contacts and collaborators who are involved in management, design and policy-making for buildings in three sectors: commercial offices, higher education and healthcare. The ASR team holds regular research Workshops in Cambridge. Over 90 experts have participated in one or more of the Workshops. The findings to-date highlight the need for theoretical research to supplement practical experience. The proposal that a mathematical approach should be a major focus of research has been strongly supported.

Buildings are very expensive to provide and maintain, and they also have a significant positive or negative impact on how well activities are carried out. Therefore, an effective match between buildings and activities is an extremely important objective.

ASR studies have focused on three building types – offices, higher education and healthcare – but the issues are also relevant in many other contexts.

• There are about 120 million m2 of commercial offices in England and Wales. The expenditure by businesses on rents is of the order of £23 billion per year; maintenance and utility costs are additional to this. Dispersed computing and flexible working means that many offices are now oversized, creating opportunities for increased efficiency and competitiveness.
• UK Higher education institutes occupy 24.9 million m2 of buildings costing £1.5 billion per year to keep operational (HEFCE). Observed levels of space utilisation are very low. Intense pressure of costs and student numbers, coupled with new teaching styles, mean that established space-use practices are being reassessed.
• The NHS estate comprises 27.5 million m2 of occupied floor area, with recorded maintenance costs of £600 million per year (NHS Information Centre). Utilities costs are additional to this. Emerging activity-space use patterns are of vital concern, as rapid advances in clinical practices may conflict with long-term commitments to new hospitals.

Key social and technical changes that affect activity-space use include:
• mobile telecoms and distributed computing
• educated, self-motivating and highly-valued employees
• concern for work-life balance.
These expand individual choice about how, when and where activities take place. Work activities, for example, used to be concentrated in particular buildings at particular times, but have become dispersed: many people now work in their employer’s premises, at home, at client sites, and so on, at more or less any time of the day or night. These trends are well-documented (eg. Worthington, 2006) and can be expected to increase. The new patterns of building use present managers and designers with activity-space planning challenges where past experience is of little help. There is uncertainty about basic issues: how much space is needed? – what kind of space is needed? – how should the space should be managed? The ASR team is engaged in addressing such questions.

Selected bibliography
- I Ellingham & W Fawcett (2006) New Generation Whole-life Costing: property and construction decision-making under uncertainty (Taylor & Francis)
- W Fawcett & A Chadwick (2007) ‘Space-time management and office floorspace demand: applied experience and mathematical simulations’ Journal of Corporate Real Estate vol.9, no.1, pp.5-24
- W Fawcett, I Ellingham & S Platt (2008) ‘Reconciling the architectural preferences of architects and the public: the Ordered Preference Model’ Environment and Behavior vol.40, no.5, pp.599-618
- W Fawcett & J-Y Song (2009) ‘Modelling the use of space and time in the knowledge economy’ Building Research & Information vol.37, no.3, pp.312-324
- W Fawcett & D Rigby (2009) ‘The interaction of activity, space and cost variables in office workstation sharing’ Journal of Corporate Real Estate vol.11, no.1, pp.38-51
- W Fawcett (2009) ‘Optimum capacity of shared accommodation: yield management analysis’ Facilities vol.27, no.9/10, pp.339-356
- J Worthington (ed) (2006) Reinventing the Workplace (2nd edn) Architectural Press

Dr William Fawcett, Chadwick Fellow in Architecture tel +44 (0)7968 566262