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Over 100 years of science-led solutions

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Discover the history of BRE and how we became a profit-for-purpose organisation to make the built environment better for people and the environment.

History Detail

BRE’s history stretches back over 100 years. In that time, BRE has evolved into a world-leading organisation with a mission to solve built environment challenges.

The beginning of building research

In 1921, the British government established the Building Research Station (BRS) as a government-funded laboratory. Its aim was to conduct research that would help raise living standards and provide better quality housing, particularly for soldiers returning from the First World War and their families.

Some of the earliest work of BRS studied the behaviour of reinforced concrete in floors, and developed the British Standard for bricks – the UK’s first standard for construction materials.

Originally based at Acton, west London, in 1925 BRS moved to Bucknalls, a large Victorian house surrounded by 38 acres of land in Hertfordshire. The site is now known as the BRE Science Park. A number of other Research Boards were formed by the British government around the same time, including the Forest Products Research Board. In 1927, the Forest Products Research Laboratory (FPRL) opened at Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire. Its remit covered all aspects of timber usage, strength testing, and investigating decay and insect attack. BRE still holds a timber library at the BRE Science Park.

In 1935, a central Fire Testing Station was opened at Elstree in Hertfordshire. This facility was available to staff of the Building Research Station, who used it to carry out tests on the fire resistance of structures.

Pioneering research through the 20th century

During the Second World War, our scientists continued to carry out research, working on explosive-resistant concrete, how to combat incendiary bomb fires and repair damaged structures. They also created a 1/50th scale model of the Möhne Dam used by engineer Barnes Wallis to develop thebouncing bomb used in the Dambusters raid s.

In 1949, a remote office of the Building Research Station opened near Glasgow in Scotland, concentrating on the impact that building materials, techniques, and particularly climate had on construction north of the border.

The Fire Research Station (FRS) was established at Borehamwood in 1949. FRS was a key centre of research into fire prevention and control.

Following the Second World War, the UK’s housing crisis meant that new technology and design skills were needed, particularly for tall buildings. In the 1950s, BRS helped introduce tower cranes to make handling materials on construction sites more efficient. BRE also supported the introduction of the first national building regulations, first in Scotland in 1963, then in England and Wales in 1966, and Northern Ireland in 1973.

In 1966, our new Structures lab started testing how life size building elements respond to changes in the environment - such as how a four-storey building behaves in an earthquake.

The BRS, Forest Products Research Laboratory and Fire Research Station merged to become the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in 1972.

The ‘Front Room Fire’ film made by BRE in 1985 for the Fire and Rescue Service showed how devastating a small furniture fire could be. This led to a complete overhaul of the furniture industry’s approach to fire safety. The Burn Hall (the largest of its type in Europe) was built for fire testing and is still a key part of our work today.

Leading the way in safety and sustainability

We launched BREEAM, our environmental assessment method, in 1990, to measure and reduce the impact of buildings on the environment. Our BREEAM standards are now the most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings, infrastructure and communities in the world.

In 1993, fire research colleagues took part in a project for the European Space Agency (ESA) to study fire safety in space.

In 1994, FRS moved to a purpose-built office and seminar unit in Watford called the ‘Environmental Building’, a model of environmental design and construction. Over the years, its diverse research ranged from investigating the fires at Bradford City Football club and Windsor Castle, to pioneering the development of computer fire modelling which is now the bedrock of Fire Safety Engineering design worldwide.

Profit for purpose

In 1997 the Government announced that BRE was to be privatised, and the Foundation for the Built Environment (FBE) was set up to own the organisation and maintain its independence. Members of the Foundation came from all aspects of the industries BRE worked with, to keep BRE independent and impartial.

The Foundation was renamed The BRE Trust in 2005. The BRE Trust is a registered charity, with a mission to support built environment research for the public benefit. BRE’s commercial model is profit for purpose. The profit that we make is invested back into the business, providing funding for our people, products and services to further our reach and impact.

As an independent organisation, BRE was also now able to certify and approve the products it tested, and BRE Certification was born in 1999. A year later, BRE took over the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) to assess and certify fire and security systems and services. It joined FRS in the Environmental Building with extensive new laboratory facilities for fire detection and suppression research and testing.

In 2006, its services now recognised worldwide, BRE Certification was renamed BRE Global, and other aspects of environmental certification and rating, including BREEAM, were brought under the BRE Global brand.

Preparing for the future of innovation, safety, and sustainability

As the construction industry began to develop modern methods of construction (MMC), we created space at the BRE Science Park to enable innovators to build and test their proof-of-concept buildings.

We worked with the Olympic Delivery Authority to make sure it met the sustainability benchmarks set for the Olympic Park for London 2012.

We opened the BRE Academy in 2013 to deliver world-class training and education for people involved in the built environment.

In 2015, BRE China launched, with the goal of developing towns and cities in a more sustainable way and helping meet carbon reduction commitments. In 2018, we opened a new BRE office in Ireland so we could continue to deliver for our customers in Europe following Brexit.

2018 also saw BRE set up the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) together with other key partners to transform the construction industry into a safe, high quality, resilient and low-carbon sector.

In 2022, BRE celebrated a century of building safety, sustainability and innovation. We are ready to to tackle the built environment challenges of the next 100 years, like climate change.

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