In the age of data-driven design, has POE’s time finally come?

At a time when research- and data-based methods are playing a larger role in architecture, there remains a surprisingly scant amount of post-occupancy research. But that’s starting to change.

January 05, 2018 |
BD+C Staff
MIT’s Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl

MIT’s Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl

When Steven Holl’s iconic Simmons Hall opened on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology some 15 years ago, the building’s provocative design—which earned it the nicknames “the sponge” and “the space waffle”—and quirky amenities sparked a series of scathing first- and second-hand accounts about what it was like to be one of the 344 residents of the porous, blocky structure.

The building’s 3,000+ small operable windows were difficult to open and required occupants to close as many as nine shades every night for complete privacy. The metal window screens acted as a Faraday shield, blocking cell-phone signals. The modular furniture allowed residents to customize their rooms, but only once a year, during move-in. The building’s curving walls and bulging ceilings made for less-than-desirable setups in certain rooms. 

It was the kind of brutally honest “customer” feedback that is commonplace in today’s Yelp and TripAdvisor society, but was scarce in the early 2000s. It took the right building type (dorm living), at the right university (research-focused MIT), with the right occupants (academically elite students eager to join the “sponge” experiment), to elicit such a response. (In Holl’s defense, there was plenty of positive feedback from occupants, and Simmons Hall has since matured to become largely beloved by MIT students.)

At a time when research- and data-based methods are playing a larger role in architecture—from computational design to machine learning to the use of beacons for data collection—there remains a surprisingly scant amount of post-occupancy research on newly built or renovated buildings. But that’s starting to change. 

FKP/CannonDesign, HDR, HMFH Architects, HOK, KieranTimberlake, Perkins Eastman, and Perkins+Will are among the growing list of firms with formal or informal POE initiatives. In the last year alone, Perkins Eastman has published two POE reports—one on a high-performance school in Cambridge, Mass. (, the other on a healthcare research center in New York ( 

In 2015, HMFH commissioned a research firm to conduct a POE study of three K-12 schools the firm designed. The resulting 97-page report provided a host of lessons for the firm’s designers ( 

Co-working space provider WeWork is performing some of the most advanced POE research, with its machine learning-based analysis of feedback from its tenants worldwide (

For decades, design firms buried their head in the sand when it came to evaluating the performance of their work. Clients weren’t asking for POE research, nor were they willing to pay for it. But with the rise of data-driven design and the proliferation of occupant-focused movements like Well and Fitwel, those days are coming to an end.

BD+C Staff | BD+C Editors

The Building Team Blog serves as the primary platform for BD+C's editorial team to opine about all things related to the AEC market, from the latest design tools to green building trends. Building Team Bloggers include Robert Cassidy, Editorial Director (, David Barista, Editor-in-Chief (, John Caulfield, Senior Editor (, and David Malone (

Related Blogs

Peloton bikes at Weinstein Properties, Bexley Triangle Park, Raleigh, NC

Peloton bikes at Weinstein Properties, Bexley Triangle Park, Raleigh, NC. Courtesy Weinstein Properties


September 04, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors

Peloton will no longer sell its bikes to apartment communities.

Suffolk Smart Lab in New York City, 2019 Giants 300 Report, 3 ‘Giant’ AEC market trends for 2019-2020  Photo: J. Michael Worthington, Jr., courtesy Suffolk Construction

The rise of data and data tools, like the Suffolk Smart Lab in New York City (pictured), is leading to more research projects among AEC firms. Photo: J. Michael Worthington, Jr., courtesy Suffolk Construction


August 15, 2019 | Giants 300 | BD+C Editors

We’re starting to see a shift toward custom research, thanks in part to the influx of data, data tools, and...

Amenities war no more? Research report explores multifamily market

The skylit 75-foot, three-lane lap pool at Hub, a 54-story rental tower of 750 apartments (150 affordable) in Brooklyn, N.Y., designed by Dattner Architects. Photo: Evan Joseph, courtesy Dattner Architects

July 31, 2019 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C Editors

Multifamily developers show no signs of pulling back on specialty spaces and unique offerings in an effort...

Annual mortgage payment plus property tax per average square foot of housing in US cities.

Source: World Business Chicago

April 30, 2018 | Multifamily Housing | BD+C EditorsRobert Cassidy

It's inaccurate to focus on property taxes as a percentage of home value without acknowledging the actual c...

Illustration: Pixabay

December 30, 2016 | Building Team | BD+C Editors

Women AEC professionals need you to take action. 

Lissette Méndez-Boyer (left) and Natalya Shimanovskaya work on their FABRICation project at Beyer Blinder Belle’s New York office. Photo courtesy BBB

September 06, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

AEC firms are taking a page from the tech industry, by infusing a deep commitment to innovation and disrupt...

Intel Co-founders (l. to r.): Andrew Grove, Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons   

June 27, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

“Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” The late Andrew Grove (1936-20...

Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis , U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons; photo filter via

May 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

As buildings become increasingly connected, opportunistic hackers have countless avenues into a building’s...

Lexus RX 450h self-driving car. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

May 09, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

Despite popular belief, the country is not in a great age of technological and digital innovation, at least...

Deep Learning + AI: How machines are becoming master problem solvers

The world’s top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo during the third match of the Google DeepMind Challenge match in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Reuters/Google/Yonhap

March 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | BD+C Editors

Besides revolutionary changes to the world’s workforce, artificial intelligence could have a profound impac...

Overlay Init