The Building Research Establishment – What’s it all About?

The Building Research Establishment – What’s it all About?

28th April 2016

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) was created in 1920 following a proposal by the UK Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) that an organisation should exist to investigate various building materials and methods of construction suitable to use in new housing in the wake of World War 1.  The Building Research Station (BRS) was formed to carry out research for the Building Research Board, the forerunner of BRE.  The BRS studied the behaviour of reinforced concrete in floors and the development of a British Standard for bricks to offer the UK’s first ever standard for construction materials.

During World War 2 BRS staff engaged in a variety of unusual tasks, including creating a 1/50th scale model of the Mohne Dam to be used by Barnes Wallis in his early research that led to the development of the bouncing bomb as featured in the classic film, The Dam Busters).  Several other Research Boards were formed under the DSIR including the Forest Products Research Laboratory (which covered all aspects of using timber as a building material) which was brought under the umbrella of the BRS in 1972.

The Fire Offices’ Committee (FOC), formed in 1909, represented the loss prevention interests of several insurance companies and in 1920 the DSIR recommended that a Fire Research Board should be created.  However, this was not done and the FOC continued working independently until the DSIR, the FOC and other interested parties opened the central Fire Testing Station in Elstree, Hertfordshire.  This facility was made available to the staff of the BRS who carried out testing on the fire resistance of structures.  In 1946, following World War 2, the DSIR and the FOC jointly established the Joint Fire Research Organisation (JFRO) to carry out research on all aspects of fire prevention and extinguishing.  The JFRO was renamed the Fire Research Board (FRB) and was amalgamated into the BRS in 1972 and at the same time the BRS was renamed the Building Research Establishment.

During the 1990s the BRE operated for a time as an Executive Agency of its parent Department before being totally privatised in 1997.  In a bid to hold on to the authority and independence that BRE enjoyed while it was publicly funded, a new organisation, the Foundation for the Built Environment (FBE) was formed to own BRE.  FBE members came from all of the industries that BRE worked with which meant that BRE was not driven in any particular direction by commercial pressures.

In 2005, the Foundation was renamed the BRE Trust to avoid confusion with the Prince’s Foundation for the built Environment, an educational charity created by the Prince of Wales, which had a similar name.  The BRE Trust is a registered charity whose mission is to support built environment research for the benefit of the public.  BRE is able to certify and approve products that it tested with BRE Certification which took over the Loss Prevention Certification Boards and its services are now recognised globally.