Skip to content

Designing for Short Life

My first post upon returning to academia after working in industry was a study into the economic and practical viability of developing building components that could be used in several short life applications during their long physical and financial life.  This work was a response to the, at the time, new trend of moving healthcare provision from the secondary (i.e. hospitals) to the primary (i.e. GP surgeries and patients’ homes) health estate.  This was creating notable uncertainty in the use of remaining health building space, often causing many expensive building services components (such as air handing units, chillers, pumps, and so forth) to be discarded when the need for them expired; often long before they reached the end of their physical or functional life.

This work explored the interactions of competing models of building and building component obsolescence.  It drew upon models of component remanufacture well-established in the automotive and transportation sectors and linked these with the emerging principles of sustainable development (such as the Delft Ladder) and more established principles of life cycle costing.  It built financial and process models to explain how high-value building services components could be designed and procured to be reused several times (in different functional applications) before the cost of their recovery and remanufacture finally caused financial obsolescence.

The results suggested that this business model could be viable and that industry representatives were supportive of it.  Approaching the problem from a building economics point of view, it inadvertently touched upon several aspects of health space provision and of sustainable construction that remain at the forefront of debate today.

Published works:

  • Thomson, D.S. (2000). The development of packaged, reusable building services components: a pilot study in the UK national health service. PhD thesis, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
  • Webb, R.S., Thomson, D.S., & Kelly, J.R. (2000). Building services component reuse: A response to the need for adaptability. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 21(2), 91-97.
  • Thomson, D.S., Kelly, J.R., & Webb, R.S. (1998). Attitudes to Building Services Component Reuse in the UK Healthcare Sector. Facilities, 16(12), 349-355.
  • Thomson, D.S., Kelly, J.R., & Webb, R.S. (1998). Designing for Short Life: Industry Response to the Proposed Reuse of Building Services Components. In Cobra’98, RICS Construction and Building Research Conference, Oxford: Oxford Brookes University, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 2-3 September.
  • Webb, R.S., Kelly, J.R., & Thomson, D.S. (1998). Designing for Short Life: The Emerging Need for Packaged Reusable Building Services Components in the UK Healthcare Sector. In 15th International Congress of the International Federation of Hospital Engineering, Edinburgh, 15 June.
  • Webb, R.S., Kelly, J.R., & Thomson, D.S. (1997). Building Services Component Reuse: An FM Response to the Need for Adaptability. Facilities, 15(12/13), 316-322.
  • Webb, R.S., Kelly, J.R., & Thomson, D.S. (1997). Designing for Short Life: A Study into the Development of Reusable Packaged Building Services Components in the Healthcare Sector. In Proceedings of the Cobra ’97 Conference. University of Portsmouth, England, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 10-12 September.