Leading building performance

By - , Build 183

In a new series, BRANZ scientists tell Build about what stirred their interest in science and what gives them the most job satisfaction. This time, Mark Jones, Building Performance Research Team Leader, says why his work makes a difference.

Q. What’s your background?

I was originally from Warwickshire in the UK but grew up and went to school in Manchester. After completing a chemistry degree at the University of Nottingham, I became interested in the applied nature of science and moved to Durham University to complete a PhD in polymer science.

After research positions at Durham University and Lancaster University, I took up the role of polymer scientist at Industrial Research Ltd (IRL) in Auckland. Although I only intended to work there for a year, I enjoyed living in New Zealand as well as the projects I was involved in. This included building-related projects where I could apply my background to problem solving.

When a senior scientist role in polymers came up at BRANZ, it was too good an opportunity to miss, and I moved to Judgeford. For many of the 20 years I have been at BRANZ, I have been a leader of research teams, and I still really enjoy being involved in the science.

Q. What drew you to a career in science?

Unlike many of the people I studied science with, my family had no scientific background, but from an early age, I was generally curious with an inquisitive nature. I remember a childhood trip to the Science Museum in London, and after that, I became increasingly interested in maths and science and these were the classes I most looked forward to. I was lucky to have some great teachers at secondary school who were very supportive and encouraged me to pursue science as a career.

Growing up in Manchester and being reminded of the many scientific and technological breakthroughs that have occurred there, such as Ernest Rutherford and Alan Turing’s achievements, also played a role in my interest.

Overall, the attraction of science is in its diversity, the challenges you encounter and the opportunity to be innovative. Although frustrating at times, there is a huge sense of achievement when something works and you are able to use your problem-solving skills to make a difference and help others.

Q. You are team leader of BRANZ’s Building Performance Research. What specific areas are researched?

I am fortunate to work with a team of talented scientists and engineers with a range of skills. Much of our current work is in the Warmer, drier, healthier homes research programme. We are involved in research and knowledge transfer for industry and key stakeholders around improving the performance of our homes, schools and buildings. The aim is to provide evidence-based information to help the industry produce and maintain warm, dry, healthy environments.

The team also delivers the national House Condition Survey, which helps us identify issues with New Zealand’s housing stock and opportunities to improve and maintain it.

Q. What comes into play when deciding the research programmes to focus on?

Over the last few years, BRANZ has established research programmes to develop end-to-end solutions to some of the most pressing issues currently facing the industry. Ongoing issues were identified with the performance of both the new and existing building stock, which can have a significant impact on the people living, working and learning in them.

Consultation and collaboration across BRANZ and with external researchers, industry, government and other stakeholders is part of identifying research strategic priorities and has been key in guiding the research.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing the research programmes you lead?

For us to be successful in achieving the goals and objectives of our research, we need to be able to influence and change behaviours. This is one of the biggest challenges that we have with much of our research across BRANZ. This is much more than just educating people and communicating our research.

A systems thinking approach is required and a better understanding of attitudes and beliefs if we are to overcome the barriers we are facing and support lasting change, not quick fixes. Another challenge is the impact of climate change and how we work together to address the critical issues. To meet the challenges of climate change, most buildings need to be improved, and solutions for this need to be developed and assessed holistically.

Q. What’s been a career highlight? What have been the wins?

Nothing excites me more than when the research we have been involved in makes a difference. It has been encouraging to see our research play a role in providing impartial evidence to influence changes to the BuildingCode, standards, the Residential TenanciesAct and the healthy homes standards and in improving our buildings.

Other highlights have been our contributions to developing national statistics for housing quality to help improve our overall understanding of housing in New Zealand.

Leading the development of the House Condition Survey and evolving its scope over several years to meet changing needs has also been a highlight. Working with a great team of people in BRANZ and externally to improve and extend the survey from what was a three-centre survey to the largest nationwide housing quality survey for over 80 years was a particular achievement.

Q. Anything else you want to add?

I believe in getting the best teams in place by collaborating across BRANZ and with researchers from other organisations and partnering with industry and stakeholders to make change happen. We don’t always have to agree, but we can work through these differences to make an impact together.

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