Post-Occupancy Evaluations as a Learning Tool

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Post-occupancy evaluation studies (POE) originated in the United Kingdom in the 1960s as a method to assess and document how buildings are being used and whether they met the original design intent. Although there was some initial interest in the U.S., until recently there was very little enthusiasm for an organized framework to evaluate a project’s successes or failures. 

The reasons for the POEs unpopularity in the U.S. include the time and cost associated with conducting them, a fear of questioning the design work, and a lack of an agreed-upon process or metrics. However, with the recent focus on research in design and integrating evidence-based design into the building solution, the POE has become a critical part of the feedback loop in the process.

There are numerous reasons why both clients and architects have become supportive of the POE process. From the client’s perspective, a post-occupancy study informs them if their goals for a particular

project have been achieved and, if not, provide them with information as to why not. From the architect’s perspective, a POE provides a method of evaluating evidence-based design strategies that have been incorporated into the design. 

Wolfgang Preiser, Ph.D., an early proponent and author of numerous studies on POEs, defined the POE as “the process of evaluating buildings in a systematic and rigorous manner after they have been built and occupied for some time.” 

There are three types of POEs, each of which has a different purpose and is conducted in a different timeframe. For healthcare projects, the most common approach is a performance POE completed approximately one year after occupancy, which may be focused on the functional components (e.g., patient and staff flow, clinical utilization of rooms, medical equipment placement), the technical components (e.g., energy use, lighting, water usage), or both.

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