Richard Lorch Building Research & Information

How did you get to where you are now?

My background is as a practicing architect taking an interdisciplinary approach to the built environment. My involvement with Building Research & Information (BRI) began when I was a young researcher examining institutional responses to environmental issues. Eventually, I was invited to join the Editorial Board and took an active role. I was appointed Editor when Tony Kirk retired.

What do you like most about the Editor-in-Chief role?

There are many aspects of this role that are rewarding because they all help to create a community and increase its capabilities:

  • Facilitating the reviews of papers. The discussion with referees and editorial board members on papers ensures a rich set of comments on which decisions are based. It is particularly satisfying when authors say the feedback and guidance has been helpful for shaping the paper or their future research.
  • Providing individual attention to the author and the text.  The dialogue with each author about the strengths and weaknesses in the text facilitates a shared goal of creating a sound, clear and robust text that has meaning and value to readers around the world.
  • Setting the agenda for research priorities and special issues that identify cutting edge themes, seeing this through to publication, and engaging stakeholders to respond to the research findings.

What’s your vision for the journal?

Academic publishing and research evaluation are changing. So a priority is to maintain and enhance our quality in a period of 'fast' change and to continue to be a valued resource. BRI articles have a reputation for quality and long 'shelf life'. I also want to maintain the personal relationship and trust that we have developed with authors and continue to provide detailed assistance to them with shaping their articles.

BRI has always had a wide spectrum of contributions.  As a result, it has become a major platform for trans-disciplinary research on the built environment. BRI will continue to provide leadership on cutting edge trans-disciplinary topics, to identify new frontiers of research and practices in the built environment.

Equally important is our work with the potential users of research to create impact after an article is published. BRI takes an active role in bringing people together to discuss and act upon research findings in the journal. Recent examples of this have directly led to legislative changes in California, industry-led change in other countries and changes in design and construction practices, standards and curriculum development.

What kind of papers are you looking for?

I welcome submissions from researchers from around the world that advance the intellectual agenda and develop novel concepts, theories and practices with the highest standards of originality, significance and rigour. In particular, I value inter- and trans-disciplinary research.  BRI publishes papers that draw on different methods and provide quantitative or qualitative results.

Over the past 25 years, BRI has gained a strong reputation for examining what concepts such as 'environmental', 'green', 'sustainable', 'healthy', 'regenerative' and 'resilient' mean for the built environment both conceptually and practically. We are interested in questions such as how these terms can be evaluated and assessed at different levels, what constitutes appropriate targets, whether the supply side has the capabilities to deliver (and what new capabilities are needed), the changing demands and conflicting aspirations from civil society, and engagement with inhabitants. Evidence-based research on actual performance and outcomes in buildings is a vital component.

What do you feel is the biggest achievement from the journal so far?

I serve three overlapping communities: authors, other researchers and the actual end users of research results. BRI has been at the forefront of overcoming the many disciplinary boundaries that exist in the built environment and we've forged strong links between the academic community, professional practitioners, academic societies and professional institutes and stakeholders.

Unusually for a research journal, we're endorsed by 10 different societies - spanning from professional to research organisations. BRI acts as partner with other organisations to foster understanding, raise impact and create real change.

In what way has the journal developed and grown over the years?

A significant change is that those in the supply side of the built environment have acknowledged that they are not the only valid voices to discuss the topic.  The addition of many other disciplinary perspectives - geographers, sociologists, ecologists and healthcare professions to name only a few - has been a welcome addition into the built environment arena. This is reframing and broadening the research agenda and situating the built environment in a much wider context.

The refereeing process has become increasingly rigorous and detailed to provide constructive, insightful feedback to authors.  As a member of the European Association of Scientific Editors, the peer review process has developed to ensure fair, robust evaluations of submitted research.

Over the years, we've developed special issues to provide leadership on emerging topics or to provide a wider international perspective.  We then follow publication with seminars or other events and are keen to work with authors and others to develop this further. 

Recently, I have just initiated a BRI book series for authors who envision projects of greater length and scope than offered by the traditional format of a journal article.  The emphasis of the book series is to bridge an important gap between researchers and the users of research - students, practitioners and policy makers. The first book will be published later this year and there are several more in the pipeline. 

What do you hope to see in the coming years from both the field and the journal? 

There will be increasing uptake of research by those responsible for creating and maintaining the built environment.  The challenges facing the built environment, particularly those involving mitigation and adaptation to climate change, environmental degradation and human development will require trans-disciplinary approaches. BRI is actively involved in bringing these communities together and encouraging dialogue, feedback and action.  Particularly, we are addressing the gaps between research findings and public policy.

There has been a shift from an emphasis on new buildings / new construction to the issues raised by existing buildings. At the same time, the scope of the journal is broader: from the focus on individual buildings as units of assessment to a scale that embraces building stocks, neighbourhoods, larger urban landscapes and global resources.  It is important to understand the factors that contribute to longevity, as well as how the existing cohort of buildings can be upgraded.  As the planet becomes increasingly urbanised, the demands created in cities will require new approaches to anticipate and respond to these pressures.

Academic journals will undergo further changes to embrace the digital world.  This should make journals more accessible and less expensive. It will further reduce the time from submission to publication.  Open Access has shown that different business models can be developed, although there are both ethical and financial challenges. However, I expect that other, better models will be offered to authors and readers in the future. We now use social media to communicate with our audience and hope to increase the benefits this can have for readers and others.  How all of us expect to receive and use information is also changing - the signal to noise ratio is important to get right!

In light of these changes, my challenge will be to sustain and enhance the community of people that coalesce around BRI and increase the bandwidth with the end users of research.