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Luka Oreskovic is originally from Croatia. He joined Oxford Brookes in January 2017 and the title of his thesis is ‘Evaluating the Real Environmental Performance of an ‘Exemplar’ Eco-Housing Development in Oxfordshire’.
I first heard about Oxford Brookes University back in 2010 when I was searching for top UK architecture schools and courses about sustainability in architecture. I saw an advertisement for a PhD scholarship at Oxford Brookes and, after arriving in Oxford, I was really impressed with the new modern buildings and great facilities at the Headington campus.
I had been searching for a while for the opportunity to undertake a PhD programme with the right research topic, and supported by a scholarship. I was interested in learning more about sustainability in architecture, therefore seeing the opportunity to undertake a funded PhD study about an eco-housing development in the UK seemed very attractive. Also, to have Professor Rajat Gupta, a well-known researcher in the field, to be my Director of Studies was an excellent opportunity.
Before commencing my research programme, I worked for 7 years in architecture and adjacent fields, such as construction management of domestic projects, consultancy in sustainable buildings and sustainable urban landscaping. I worked in Europe, Central America and South East Asia.
It was quite challenging to switch from the industry to the academic mind-set and work dynamics. However, the support and resources provided by the University helped with this transition.
In line with international action on limiting global warming, the UK Government has delivered Planning policy statement 1: eco-towns supplement (PPS1) defining advanced environmental standards of future eco-housing settlements. A housing development in Oxfordshire is the sole project complying with the planning supplement, aspiring to achieve targets such as zero carbon emissions from dwelling use, 80 litres/ household/ day water consumption, > 45% of non-car travels and high waste recycling rates by combining energy efficient design and "green" infrastructure aimed to foster pro-environmental behaviours amongst residents. Energy monitoring results of new low-carbon homes have revealed up to three times more energy used than targeted (performance gap), while assessments of pioneering eco-developments reported difficulties in making their residents’ lifestyles more sustainable.
Taking a socio-technical approach, this study aims to assess the real energy and environmental performance of the first two phases of the case study eco-housing development in Oxfordshire. Broad assessment includes empirical monitoring (dwelling energy use, energy generation, water use and indoor conditions) and gathering resident feedback in terms of experience and satisfaction with dwelling use and environmental behaviours (transportation, waste recycling and food purchasing). Based on real performance data, case study findings will contribute to the evidence base about real environmental performance of eco-housing neighbourhoods, provide feedback to the project delivery team and planning policy makers, but also inform practitioners in future planning, design, delivery and monitoring processes of similar ambitious projects.
I enjoy having access to literature, being able to share ideas and receive and give support to my colleagues during this programme. There are numerous challenges a student faces over 3-4 years of study and it is no wonder many of us struggle, some even stop studying. The main strategy I came up with is to be part of a supportive research community, but also to build up your mental strength, inner discipline, perseverance, flexibility, motivation and patience, in order to cope with continuous work pressure, but also the weather and reduced quality of life as a student.
Research training offered is an introduction to approaches in research and methodologies. Each study is different and requires a deep dive into literature.
My old personal and professional future plans now need to adapt to the reality of changing climate, causing multiple socio-economic and environmental issues globally, occurring faster than previously expected by existing scientific models. Once understood, this is indeed an incredibly hard thing to accept, and to still find meaning and joy in the things we do every day.