Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The architecture of identity: Sensory investigations in the post-occupancy evaluation of a university’s ‘new building’ #myUWEBBSview

Warren, Samantha; Shortt, Harriet


Samantha Warren

Profile Image

Harriet Shortt
Associate Professor in Organisation Studies


We report on preliminary findings from an innovative post-occupancy evaluation of the Bristol Business and Law School’s new building at the Frenchay Campus, University of West of England (UWE), UK. This project is an academic-industry collaboration between UWE, Stride Treglown (the building architects), ISG (the construction firm), and Godfrey Syrett (the furniture designer/ manufacturer) to explore the user experience of the new building following occupation by staff and students in April 2017 ( The aim of the project is to generate data on the operation of the building in ways that better represent lived, sensory dimensions to using the space, particularly as they intersect with socio-cultural understandings of a contemporary university’s mission and purpose (Lefebvre 1974/1991, Merleau-Ponty 1962/2002). Somewhat surprisingly, architects are not routinely involved in the post-occupancy evaluations of new buildings which are more usually carried out by construction firms with surveys overly focused on technical attributes, such as energy efficiency and air quality etc. (Hay et al., 2017). This project arose, in part, as a response to ISG and Stride Treglown’s desire to employ a creative methodology that would go beyond the technical-function ‘building performance’ metrics (e.g., see RIBA 2016) and provide them with more qualitative, emotionally rich data based on user experiences of the space over a period of 12 months.
Conceptually, we hope the project will generate insights into the ways in which the senses are imbricated with identity, and how identity-theories might be ‘fleshed out’ through attention to how the social meshes with the sensory in an organizational context. In doing so we put forward a materially grounded perspective on identity at work in line with recent developments in this area (e.g., Aslan 2017).
We are interested in how individuals’ identities in-and-through space can be explored in sensory terms, e.g., how building users’ sensory practices are fostering new and/or different relationships with themselves and others. We take inspiration here from Hancock and Spicer’s (2011) critique of a new university library and its intention to provide a learning space for a changing generation of students. For example, the ethos of the Bristol Business and Law School building is to be as transparent, collaborative, flexible, and open as possible – how has this impacted on working practices? Is this working as predicted? Has it been differently understood by users? What can we learn from this project that can help us develop and design buildings in the future?
The building was imagined by university management and architects to be part of the organization’s strategic identity – to foster a culture of equality and transparency among its staff and students, in line with the Faculty’s mission: to be professionally engaged, vocationally relevant, internationally connected and academically strong. To be seen as connected and contemporary, comprehensive and engaged. The building was envisaged as a vehicle through which to materialise these aims with stakeholders (Knittel-Ammerschuber 2005). The architectural design and fittings are intended to enable the cutting through of traditional hierarchical and function lines and our study investigates the extent to which this desire has been realised in the perceptions and behaviour patterns of its inhabitants.


Warren, S., & Shortt, H. (2019, February). The architecture of identity: Sensory investigations in the post-occupancy evaluation of a university’s ‘new building’ #myUWEBBSview. Presented at Swansea University Research Staff Seminar Series, Swansea University, Swansea, Wales

Presentation Conference Type Lecture
Conference Name Swansea University Research Staff Seminar Series
Conference Location Swansea University, Swansea, Wales
Start Date Feb 13, 2019
End Date Feb 13, 2019
Acceptance Date Feb 13, 2019
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Swansea University: Staff Research Seminar Series