Modern society is strongly focussed on performance and efficiency. There is a constant drive to make production processes, machines and human activities better, and concepts like high performance computing, job performance and economic performance are of great interest to the relevant stakeholders. This also applies to the built environment, where building performance has grown to be a key topic across the sector. However, the concept of building performance is a complex one and subject to various interpretations. The dictionary provides two meanings for the word performance. In technical terms, it is ‘the action or process of performing a task or function’. It may also mean the ‘act of presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment’ (Oxford Dictionary, 2010). Both interpretations are used in the building discipline; the technical one is prevalent in building engineering, while the other one frequently appears in relation to architecture and buildings as work of art (Kolarevic and Malkawi, 2005: 3). But the issue goes much deeper. As observed by Rahim (2005: 179), ‘technical articles of research tend to use the term “performance” but rarely define its meaning’. In the humanities, performance is a concept that implies dynamic, complex processes with changing values, meanings and structures (Kolarevic, 2005b: 205).

Whether approaching building performance from a technological or aesthetic perspective, buildings are complex systems. Typically they consist ...

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