From data to strata? How design professionals “see” energy use in buildings

Sonja Oliveira, Harriet Shortt, Louise King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


Improving design for efficient energy use in the built environment is a critical area for decarbonisation policy and practice. To date, this research emphasises improving tools and technology for predicting and managing energy use in buildings. No studies to date have explored how energy use is conceptualised by building design professionals. As such, this paper asks - how do architects and engineers ‘see’ and perceive energy use in UK Higher Education (HE) building design? Addressing this question is key to advancing how design professionals and building stakeholders can work together more effectively when designing for decarbonisation. We present visual narratives from 14 UK-based design professionals that include over 100 participant-produced photographs taken to represent their ways of ‘seeing’ energy use when designing HE buildings. The photo-elicitation interviews and images are analysed using Grounded Visual Pattern Analysis. The contributions of this research are twofold; first, they show how energy use is ‘seen’ and understood as both dehumanised graphs as well as emotion, personal values, family, and the natural world. This duality and contradiction sheds new light on the underlying tensions and competing professional/personal demands associated with the work of professionals designing for decarbonisation. Second, the paper provides new directions for the study of energy using visual research methods. Participant-led photography generates a different set of data that provides a deeper understanding of designers' conceptualisations and moves us beyond the dominant technological focus that is currently emphasised in research, policy, and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103117
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Early online date17 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank all the participants who took part in this study as well as UWE Grant for Growth G4G Fund and partners involved for providing support for initiating the pilot for the study.

Data availability
The data that has been used is confidential.


  • Architects
  • Buildings
  • Design
  • Energy use
  • Engineers
  • Perceptions
  • Visual research methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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