Buildings are not romantic but research can be

Mithra Moezzi responds to Richard Lorch’s End of an Era article.

My science classes in 7th and 8th grade, taught by “Mr. Van” Herwynen, led me to think of research as careful, refined, and about value and outcomes, not ego. The romantic ideal from middle school has not been easy to find in my day to day. Building Research & Information has been comforting in this regard. It does not flinch in publishing critical results; it respects those who work on and with buildings from outside the academy; it enters nooks, crannies, and atmospheres of how buildings and building research work; reviewers are treated gratefully and humanely, which reinforces a desire to give back in kind. My first question is how the culture and strengths of the current editorship can continue to be fostered in research and professional communities or can be remembered until there is space to re-adopt.

Richard mentions rapid change in the discoverability of research articles. It is now easy to access a dozen new articles or reports every week that one feels one should read — though my reading rate is lower. My second question is thus about how researchers and professionals read, and how or if we, as individuals and institutions, can temper seduction to celebrity articles, symbolic bibliographies, or low-care adoption of catchy vocabulary or flash. The seduction is understandable within current reward systems and limited bandwidth, but it can substitute for progress. To manage the onslaught of things to read, the absorption of which seems impossible and even ill-advised, we need a place where we know that rigorous reviewing, without mindless gatekeeping, has been applied. Richard and his editorial board have provided that shelter.

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Mithra Moezzi is a research affiliate of Portland State University in Portland, Oregon and an independent researcher (Ghoulem Research, QQForward).

A very different kind of editor

Jan Rosenow responds to Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial. 

BRI is a journal that stands out. It impresses for its high quality, depth and breadth of topics. It was Richard Lorch who played a major role in making what BRI is today – a prestigious international journal where academics and professionals present their original work on buildings to a global audience. I am proud to have published in this journal and have recommended it to fellow academics many times.

Richard’s exemplary role as an editor can be demonstrated by my first interaction with Richard in 2015 when we submitted an article on energy efficiency and the policy mix drawing on data from a pan-European study. Until that point, my experience with editors had been mixed, ranging from disengaged to diligent. Richard, however, stood out as an editor who not only facilitated the review and publishing process effectively, but actively engaged with the substance of what we had submitted. He had read our article and the reviewers’ comments very carefully and synthesised lengthy and dense comments from four reviewers in such a way that gave us clear direction. This was not easy as there were conflicting comments and the reviewers disagreed on the direction we should take the article. It was for Richard’s ability to identify the key issues we needed to address and those comments we could pay less attention to. I have never come across an editor who engaged with the authors so actively and provided such direction.

It is with great disappointment that I learned about his dismissal as the editor and the subsequent resignation of the entire editorial board. This could well be the end of BRI as a truly outstanding journal. It can only be hoped that the publisher reconsiders its decision and makes the right decision which is to continue Richard Lorch’s service to be the editor of BRI.

 

Jan Rosenow

Dr Jan Rosenow is the European Director at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a global team of energy experts. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford University, Associate Faculty at SPRU, Sussex University and a Research Associate at the Free University of Berlin.

Why BRI needs a professional editor

Mark Levine comments on Richard Lorch’s “End of an Era” editorial

Re. the editorial “The End of an Era” by Richard Lorch published in BRI volume 4 2018: I wholeheartedly agree with and endorse the basic points that Mr. Lorch brings out about the publishing enterprise writ large. I am personally distressed that he will be leaving BRI at the end of this year. He personifies the advantages of having a professional editor who can devote up to full-time to editorial activities as distinct from an academic who can spend much less time.

There is an important nuance involved in the decision of whether to use a professional or academic editor. For a journal that is dedicated to research in a discipline (e.g., physics) or sub-discipline (e.g., nuclear physics), an academic editor is preferable. An academic can be counted to know the field and its academic practitioners, as well the most interesting research topics. The editorship requires specialized knowledge but only a part-time commitment by the editor.

On the other hand, a journal that is intrinsically interdisciplinary, such as BRI, needs a full-time professional editor who is not committed to one field of research but is willing and able to become knowledgeable about many fields. In the case of BRI the editor needs to be able to converse with researchers working in areas as diverse building energy analysis, real estate, urban studies, ethnographic studies of building occupants or owners, occupants’ behavior, building design, international comparisons of buildings design and performance, and the list goes on. The professional editor must, over time, gain an understanding of the key issues for analysis in these many areas and the individuals who are carrying out the most significant research. This is a full-time job and one for which few academics are either qualified or interested in doing.

Frankly, although I do not know the motivations of Taylor and Francis in terminating Mr. Lorch, I suspect it had to do with cost savings.  A full-time professional editor is expensive. Academic editors are either low cost or free.

T&F has three choices after Lorch’s departure: another professional editor, academic editor or editors, or shuttering BRI. The first choice seems unlikely, as it will be virtually impossible to find a professional editor who would be nearly as knowledgeable of the field, conversant with the research community, or as dedicated as Richard. The third choice seems unlikely as, if this were T&F’s intention they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by just doing that. The second option – academic editor – seems very likely. Not only is this a risky way to go, it probably doesn’t even make good business sense. The most likely outcome is that the journal will decline in quality and readership under such an arrangement, to the disadvantage of all: the dwindling reader, the research community, T&F, and of course the terminated editor, Mr. Lorch.

As an example, I’m on the editorial board of another journal that experienced disastrous results after changing from a full-time professional to part-time academic editors. I can’t go into any details here, but the transition to academic editors completely failed. This is what I had expected to happen. As I’ve suggested, this is what I fear will happen to BRI.

 

levine-md-400-600-300a[1]Dr. Mark Levine led the energy division of LBNL with >400 people for over a decade.  He led the analysis effort of building energy performance standards for the U.S. Department of Energy, and an 8-year project that introduced building energy standards, supported their analysis and policy development in five countries in Southeast Asia.  He created the China Energy Group at LBNL in 1988. He was the co-founding Director of the U.S. China Clean Energy Research Center, a major governmental initiative between the two countries. Dr. Levine was a member of four editorial boards of journals and boards of nine leading non-profits. He served as a co-ordinating lead author of the Nobel prize-winning IPCC report. 

Boundary spanning for construction excellence

Flora Samuel comments on Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial. 

We at the University of Reading School of Architecture are trying to make a new kind of school which works in collaboration with the construction industry. This takes effort and a special kind of vision as there are many cultural hurdles to negotiate at every level, not least on what constitutes the highest quality research across architecture and the built environment, but one thing that we have all agreed upon is that publication in BRI is the kitemark of quality in our field. In the terminology of STS (science and technology studies) the BRI journal has played an extremely important role as a boundary spanner – mediator –  between different parts of this fractured and dysfunctional industry and, most importantly between industry and practice and, I would argue, between women and men. This has been a long term project, as anyone who has tried to piece together the recent history of construction research will know. As Richard’s End of an Era piece makes clear institutional memory is desperately lacking meaning that the built environment sector is characterised by the reinvention of wheels.

Richard has been a remarkable focus filter, enabling us to see what really matters – coaching us into clarity, sometimes painful but all done in the best possible spirit. If you have ever tried to get past his reviewers you will know what I mean, and all done in record time. Every field needs a truly excellent journal that sets out the standards of knowledge, something to aspire to, something that we can measure ourselves against, something that reveals the seriousness of our endeavours to others. Journals like this need editors like Richard Lorch. BRI without Richard will not be the same.

cme-Flora-Samuel

 

Flora Samuel is Professor of Architecture in the Built Environment in the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading.

What comes after BRI?

Kirsten Gram-Hanssen comments on Richard Lorch’s “End of an Era” editorial

As Richard Lorch writes in his editorial, when he leaves BRI, it will be the end of an era. For those of us who were the readers, writers and reviewers of the journal the question unavoidably is: what comes next after BRI? The purpose of scientific journals is to secure quality and transfer of new research to the rest of the research community and, in the case of BRI, to other users of research as well.  Scientific journals are one way to ensure this quality and transfer of research, though it only works if the research community support the journal to a high degree. The review process is the backbone of securing quality and as an established researcher, you are asked to contribute with this time-consuming unpaid work ever more often, as the amount of journals and issues are continually increasing. Delivering this service to a journal makes very good sense, for a journal with which you have a connection, because the journal serves a higher purpose for the research community, of which you are a part. Though this loyalty to a journal includes a two-way dialogue and this is now lost in one of the journals which to a high degree previously have relied on this.

Will BRI survive? Maybe, but not without severe loses from the undoubtedly many researchers who will no longer find it relevant to send papers to or serve as reviewers for the journal. The questions are thus also: Where do we now take our manuscripts; which journals do we now contribute with reviews to and where will we in the future find the most relevant papers from other researchers to read? One answer to these questions is, that we atomise and individualise, and send our papers to numerous different existing and new-coming journals within a variety of related subjects. Or, is there a possibility of making a more collective move?

Seniorforsker Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, SBI

 

Kirsten Gram-Hanssen is a Professor at the Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg Unviersity

What makes a great journal?

David Eisenberg reflects on Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial.

Reading Richard Lorch’s reflection, “End of an Era,” brought into focus crucial aspects of the concerns so strongly expressed and actions taken by his colleagues and the extraordinary community of people who have come to know and work with him, and to rely on his knowledge, integrity, judgment and more. His editorial leadership and excellence at BRI is clear to everyone, including, most disturbingly, those who chose to terminate his contract.

As someone who has spent over two decades engaged in developing awareness within the building regulatory community of the spectrum of too-often ignored human and environmental impacts of the built environment, I developed a genuine appreciation for Richard’s approach and stewardship of the journal. The fact that my work was largely outside the realms of academic and formal research did not discourage Richard from reaching out to me to invite me to both contribute to the Journal and to engage in meaningful conversations about my views on critical topics. While maintaining high standards for rigorous integrity and accuracy in the field of formal research, Richard grasps the importance of seeing issues whole and in context, including the limits of specialisation and the tendency to create silos of knowledge with a level of confidence that belies their lack of interdisciplinary awareness and associated complexity.

Richard’s forward-looking orientation—not merely seeking gaps in knowledge and understanding about the current aspects of building-related impacts, outcomes, and performance, but also the potential importance of emergent issues—has enabled him to curate special issues of the journal on areas in need of serious reconsideration or new thinking. A prime example is the issue “Building governance and climate change: regulation and related policies,” for which Richard reached out to me to provide an overview based on my two decades of advocacy work in this arena of public policy. When the paper I submitted for peer review was critiqued by the reviewers for it’s lack of research citations and formal technical research – a point I had made to Richard when he invited a contribution – he asked me to turn it into a much shorter commentary. Grateful for the opportunity to share my experience and observations of the building regulatory sector and it’s myopic tendencies and problematic patterns, I also appreciated his editing and suggestions in helping me make my points more concise and clear.

What stands out for me now, is what will be lost in this change of leadership for BRI. It is Richard’s unique combination not only of his breadth and depth of knowledge and connections in this realm, or his unsurpassed skills as editor-in-chief, but his open, creative, intuitive commitment to bringing together the best minds on relevant topics, and bringing forward important issues, while continually striving to have the journal serve communities of practice by tying research to useful and critical outcomes in the real world of building and development. It is possible that there is someone else who stands at this intersection and can offer what Richard has, but that possibility seems hopelessly slim. More importantly, as reflected so well in the special issue I mentioned above, we have no time to lose to address existential risks connected to climate change and the built environment. Undercutting the potential contributions of BRI to that issue alone at this time is enormously consequential and, in my view, unconscionable.

David Eisenberg headshot

 

David Eisenberg is Executive Director at the Development Center for Appropriate Technology. Tucson, Arizona, USA

www.dcat.net

Reflecting on changes at BRI

Elizabeth Shove responds to Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial.

A journal with the title ‘Building Research and Information’ is not the most obvious home for adventurous and creative – not to mention policy relevant debate.  Nor is it clearly inviting to the social sciences.  But what makes a journal worthwhile, and what keeps it alive and interesting is not the title: what matters, in this case, is the approach and commitment of the editor.  Over the years, BRI has become a really influential ‘site’ through which to extend, expand and refresh a range of fundamental and also contested topics not only about the technicalities of building, but about buildings in use and in action.  For example, questions about what buildings are ‘for’; what services they offer, and what meanings of comfort they unwittingly reproduce have all been tackled.  In supporting articles and special issues that develop well researched, but also unconventional lines of enquiry Richard, as editor, helped establish fresh dialogue and exchange across and between fields and disciplines that do not usually meet.  It is, of course, impossible to know what the lasting effect of this might be – which ideas and agendas have been shifted, which topics attract just that bit more attention, and which are reformulated in new and interesting ways as a result?.  But it is very clear that this has been a generative process that depended on the extensive network, and the good will that Richard himself established and it is also clear that this will not be replaced any time soon. 

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Elizabeth Shove is Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University and PI of the DEMAND research centre (Dynamics of energy, mobility and demand).