The BRE -Building Research Establishment

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) conducts research for the construction industry in the UK. Formerly a government body BRE is now a private company and has its headquarters in Watford. BRE also has regional bases in Swansea and Glasgow and is involved in setting UK Building Regulations and other national and international standards and Building Codes. Since BRE ceased to be run by the government it now finances itself earning income from contracted work, the BRE Bookshop and research and product certification for commercial clients and operates as a not for profit charity. BRE also bids for research funding from the industries it serves and from the government and runs the UKAS Accredited Testing Laboratories. BRE is the UK’s biggest not for profit charity dedicated to education and research in the built environment. BRE Trustees are professionals with backgrounds in building use, management  and ownership, Others have experience in university departments, housing, product and material supply, and contract management/costing.

History of the BRE

BRE was first founded in 1921, and was originally known as the ‘Building Research Board’. It started in East Action as a part of the Civil Service dedicated to improving the quality of housing in Britain. During the Second World War this forerunner to the BRE participated in the development and research which succeeded in building the Barnes Wallis ‘Bouncing Bomb’, used by the RAF in the famous Dambusters Raid on the Mohne Dam in 1943. A small scale model of the dam which was used for testing the bomb is still on view at the BRE Building Research Centre in Watford. In 1917 the then ‘Department of Scientific and Industrial Research’ (DSIR) suggested creating a body to research into the best methods of construction and the best materials suitable for building new houses when the First World War ended. During 1920 the ‘Building Research Board’ had its first meeting and in 1921 the organisation started work. Some of the first research conducted was into developing the British Standard for bricks and examination of the performance of reinforced concrete floors. In 1925 the predecessor to BRE moved from East Acton to Bucknalls near Watford, a Victorian House located in 38 acres of land. BRE still occupied the same location today although since 1925 the area has been extended on a number of occasions. In 1949 an office of the ‘Building Research Station’ opened in a remote part of Scotland to focus on issues associated with building techniques and materials in the inclement northern environment

BRE was one of the original members of the ‘Building Services Research and Information Association’ (BSRIA) in 1976. Over the years the BRE has taken over several government organisations including the ‘Princes Risborough Laboratory’ and the former ‘Fire Research Station’. In 1990 BRE was made into an Executive Agency of government and was privatised in 1997. BRE now operates and owns both the ‘Eco Homes’ environmental rating system and ‘BREEAM’, the world’s leading rating system and environmental assessment process for buildings. Over a million buildings have registered for assessment since ‘BREEAM’ first started in 1990, and as of 2014, 250,000 buildings already have certified ‘BREEAM’ assessment ratings. BRE also promotes the German ‘Passivhaus’ ultra low energy building standard in the UK and offers regular and varied training courses. In 2013 BRE assumed responsibility for the UK and Ireland the management of ‘BuildingSMART’, an international body which exists to improve the exchange of information between construction industry software applications

BRE’s Hybrid Ancestry

The ‘Forest Products Research Board’ (FPRB) and the ‘Forest Products Research Laboratory’ were established in 1927 at Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire to handle all aspects of timber strength testing and utilisation with a particular focus on preventing insect attack and decay. FPRB was wound up in 1958 and some of the Laboratory’s functions transferred to the’ Timber Development Association’. In 1972, the Laboratory was merged with the ‘Building Research Station’ and renamed the ‘Building Research Establishment’ (BRE). The Princes Risborough staff moved to BRE’s Watford site in 1988. From 1990 the Fire Officer’s Committee (FOC) had been conducting testing in Manchester with a view to assisting insurance companies with loss prevention precautions. In 1935 FOC, DSIR and other interested parties opened a Fire Testing Station in Elstree, Hertfordshire which was available for use by the ‘Building Research Station’ for it to carry out research into the fire resistance characteristics of structures. In 1949 the Elstree operation was renamed the ‘Fire Research Station’ and in 1972 was merged into BRE . During 1975 the ‘Joint Fire Research and Testing Organisation’ was divided into the ‘Fire Insurers Research and Testing Organisation’ (later renamed the ‘Loss Prevention Council’) which from then on was privately run and ‘The Fire Research Station’ which remained government owned. In 1993 the ‘Fire Research Station’ left Elstree and moved to the BRE site at Watford where ‘Burn Hall’ the largest fire testing facility of its type in Europe was built on the BRE site. BRE’s larger scale explosion research and fire testing is conducted in a former airship hangar at Cardington in Bedfordshire.

The BRE Trust

The ‘BRE Trust’, the charity which owns BRE, was set up in 2002 to promote communication, innovation and knowledge for the benefit of the public. The ‘BRE Trust’ uses all the profits made by the BRE Group to pay for socially useful education and research projects with the stated aim of helping to build a ‘better world together’. Research is commissioned by the BRE Trust to tackle the challenges faced by the built environment. The construction industry recognises the research results which BRE publishes, as being  authoritative advice and guidance. The ‘BRE Trust’ aims to achieve

  1. A more sustainable and efficient construction sector with a high level of innovative practice
  2. Improved value for money and functionality in built facilities
  3. A higher quality built environment

In co-operation with industry, educational and research establishments, BRE provides financial backing to the Chairs of five ‘University of Excellence Centres’ and offers scholarships and bursaries to MSc and PhD students. Along with’ FBE Management Ltd’ and ‘BRE Global Ltd’,’ BRE’ itself, is a subsidiary company of the ‘BRE Trust’ whose charitable structure allows BRE to be kept as an asset for the nation, with the mission of  helping the construction industry and its clients to achieve higher standards and safety whilst staying independent of any single company’s commercial interests. The BRE ownership structure ensures that its objectivity and impartiality in research and guidance is maintained.

The ‘Centre for Fire Safety Engineering’ is a company connected with ‘BRE Global’ and is an independent body which offers certification of sustainability related services and products, and promotes security and fire standards. BRE is further linked to the ‘Centre for Fire Safety Engineering’, the research group located in the ‘Institute of Infrastructure and Environment at Edinburgh University’. The BRE backed Edinburgh operation conducts research into fires, structures, and the environment. Edinburgh University has an internationally renowned record in Fire Protection Engineering dating back to the early 1970. The Centre presently works in association with BRE to combine the skills and resources of both partners to facilitate research into fire protection engineering and education. With the support of BRE the ‘Fire Research Centre’ runs the ‘Rushbrook Fire Safety Laboratory’, an advanced experimental facility which researches into fire safety. The BRE backed Centre is closely involved in directing the development of Fire Safety Engineering best practice. Following privatisation BRE is now free to test and certify commercial products. BRE certification started in 1999 and in 2000 ‘BRE Certification’ took over the ‘Loss Prevention Board’, bringing back together the businesses which had originally been separated in 1975. By 2006, BRE’s services were renowned world wide and ‘BRE Certification’ was renamed ‘BRE Global’. ‘BREEAM’ was brought under the ‘BRE Global’ brand. The profits of the ‘BRE Group’ are gift aided to the ‘BRE Trust’ which invests it in research for the public benefit.  The result is that the UK now has a successful self financing operation which exists for the benefit of commercial clients who need research and are willing to pay, whilst the profits are ploughed back into research for the benefit of the public