UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


TOP project publishes its first paper: ‘bridging the gap’

UCL IEDE researchers working on the TOP project have published their first paper in a series on the performance gap in buildings.


9 February 2018

'Bridging the gap: The need for a systems thinking approach in understanding and addressing energy and environmental performance in buildings.'

The paper examines the settings of China and the UK and relates their historical context, design, construction and operation issues affecting energy performance, indoor environmental quality as well as occupant health and wellbeing. It suggests an approach enabling understanding of the drivers of the performance gap.


Innovations in materials, construction techniques and technologies in building construction and refurbishment aim to reduce carbon emissions and produce low-energy buildings. However, in-use performance consistently misses design specifications, particularly those of operational energy use and indoor environmental quality. This performance gap risks reducing design, technology, sustainability, economic, health and well-being benefits. In this paper, we compare settings of the Chinese and the UK buildings sectors and relate their historical context, design, construction and operation issues impacting energy performance, indoor environmental quality, occupant health and well-being. We identify a series of key, common factors of ‘total’ building performance across these two settings: the application of building regulations, the balance between building cost and performance, skills, construction and operation. The dynamic and complex interactions of these factors are currently poorly understood and lead to building performance gaps. We contend that a systems approach in the development of suitable building assessment methods, technologies and tools could enable the formulation and implementation of more effective policies, regulations and practices. The paper illustrates the application of the approach to the UK and Chinese settings. A full application of a systems approach may help to provide a more dynamic understanding of how factor interactions impact the ‘total’ building performance gaps and help address its multiple causes.

The TOP (‘The Total Performance of Low Carbon Buildings in China and the UK’) project seeks to address the issue of ‘total performance’ in order to reduce the energy demand and carbon emissions of buildings while safeguarding productivity and health. The project is funded by the Engineering and Physics Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and will run until 2019.

If you’re interested in finding out more information about TOP, visit the project page.