Designed vs. Actual Occupant Behaviour in Buildings

A Historical Perspective


  • Zsófia Deme Bélafi Department of Building Services and Process Engineering | Faculty of Mechanical Engineering | Budapest University of Technology and Economics



Occupant behaviour, occupant-centric design, personas, history of design


Energy efficiency and actual energy use in buildings depend on various factors. As building technology, construction quality, climate representation, advanced design tools and other non-human-related aspects are under scientific investigation and development for many decades, energy consumption in buildings started to decrease and reached a certain level. However, the desired net zero or even net positive energy consumption levels are far from reality yet in many cases. It was found that there is an essential component which is still underestimated and little researched: humans. Without understanding and appropriately representing building occupants and their needs in the design process, it seems impossible to estimate real, in-use energy consumption levels. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, occupant needs and behaviour were in the centre of many design cases. For example, prefabricated concrete block apartment buildings that were mass-produced in the Soviet era in Eastern Europe. These residential units were designed to fit the era’s occupants in all aspects. The purpose of the rigorous design process was to make sure that the mass-produced buildings will fit well the families moving in. Somewhat differently, today our goal in occupant-centric design is to improve energy efficiency and to make sure that occupants have a comfortable and easy-to-use space to live or work. However, the results and methods applied by our ancestors should be examined and from many aspects their rigorous occupant-investigations can teach us a lot and can improve our practices today. This paper analyses the process of module-design of the 50-60’s and their resulting apartment and occupant type “templates” using documents of the era and interviews with designers and other participants of that process and highlights the parts that are adaptable to today’s design practices.




How to Cite

Bélafi, Z. D. (2022). Designed vs. Actual Occupant Behaviour in Buildings: A Historical Perspective. CLIMA 2022 Conference.

Conference Proceedings Volume