Building Passports could prevent RAAC-style scandals

RAAC-style health and safety worries afflicting UK schools could be prevented with a passport system for buildings, according to engineers at Sheffield University.


The new documentation framework – dubbed Building Passport - could better record information on how buildings are designed, constructed, maintained and modified. The system is being designed to store all the key details about the construction of a building - including what materials were used, when they were last checked and when their lifecycle is due to end - all in one place.

Existing building passports, such as Material Passport frameworks, help developers reduce waste and contribute to a more circular economy. Other proposals for new passports are said to focus on building renovations to help improve energy performance, or to ensure that health and safety aspects of a building are properly understood prior to emergencies and in-keeping with changing policy.

According to Sheffield University, the use of these passports is limited to only a few exemplar cases and important data is fragmented across different systems, which makes it difficult to access, and often they have not been updated since a building was first constructed. The new system being developed at Sheffield, in the University’s Resources, Infrastructure Systems and built Environments (RISE) Group, aims to consolidate these existing passports into one standardised framework.


In a statement, project lead Will Mihkelson, a research associate in Sheffield University’s Department Civil and Structural Engineering, said: “The current RAAC [reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete] issue is a trademark example of why we need a building passport system. Having this one, standardised system that is used by everyone will make it far easier to monitor the condition of buildings going forward, so potential issues such as RAAC can be identified and addressed much earlier and in a way that maximises the safety and sustainability of the building.”


Charles Gillott, a research associate in Sheffield University’s Resources, Infrastructure Systems and built Environments (RISE) Group, said: “[Building passports] can help us to understand how [a building] was constructed, should be maintained and could be adapted or deconstructed in the future. In the context of RAAC, this would have allowed issues to be pre-empted, sped up the identification process, and enabled remediation works to be carried out much more cheaply and quickly."

In addition to helping avoid future health and safety failings, the passport system being developed at Sheffield University is also aiming to make it easier to reuse more buildings rather than demolish them.

To this end, the Sheffield engineers have been developing and testing their passport system on a refurbishment project led by London-based Orms architects. The team has produced a template that is linked via Airtable software to the architect’s 3D building models.

The researchers have created a prototype template as a first attempt to create an industry-standard system. 

Will Mihkelson added: “We hope this will raise awareness of the need for a building passport system and create next steps towards developing an industry standard. We hope that building passports of the future will be stored on a central database, ideally through something like OS, so that they are accessible for decades to come and enable analyses of the UK building stock.

“Before this can be done, there is a clear need to consult with industry more widely so that there is consensus on the minimum required information and how this is effectively communicated to all stakeholders. For this to happen, the industry needs to come together to encourage the UK government in the right direction, as they have done already with the proposal for a Net Zero Carbon Building Standard."