The University of Southampton

ReFresh: Remodeling Building Design Sustainability from a Human Centered Approach

Theme:
Human-Computer Interaction
Funding:
EPSRC

Summary on Grant Application Form More than two thirds of the worlds population will be living in cities by 2050, which made sustainable cities a key theme at the Rio+20 Summit. Over 40% of the UK population live their working lives carrying out knowledge work in offices - enclosed spaces in the built environment. Over 40% of the UK's GDP is driven by the knowledge work carried out in these buildings. While these buildings must meet basic environmental and safety standards, building codes are primarily defined around the performance of the physical infrastructure rather than capturing the performance of a person in a building in a city. Indeed, the energy agenda has recently focused on making these work environments as air tight and thus as energy efficient as possible. But what if this energy efficiency is costing our wellbeing, and thus our performance and capacity to contribute to environmental, economic and social sustainability? We are all familiar with working in buildings that are overhot, stuffy and have seemingly no air flow, and how our performance seems to suffer as a result. Yet such environments may be well within building specifications for environmental quality. There is a clear need to be able to quantify the impact of indoor air on human performance and determine what is optimal for quality performance.

We hypothesize that poor indoor environments are the result of approaching building performance on the basis of (1) what is easy to measure (e.g. energy/carbon) and (2) without properly considering effects of the environment on human cognitive performance. Poor design may have such a critical impact on the creativity and innovation required for knowledge work that we need a radical shift in design focus. That radical reconsideration may show that even small changes not just to design, but to the way information about both the building and the person is presented, may significantly improve performance.

The goals of the Refresh project are to put the human at the centre of building performance and to develop new measures and models that better capture the complexity of these interactions. We plan to measure the *dynamic* changes in and around the local environment on human performance in that environment. These measures will give us ways to create new models of building environments that in turn will be available to help inform policy for building quality that takes human wellbeing in these environments into account. These models will also help us to design new kinds of environmental interaction tools. For instance, much current attention is focused on smart meters to encourage us to change our behaviour around energy use. This is a very one-way view of our interaction with a buiding; it's all building to human. What if the building, however, knew something about our state and tasks? Would we be able to present a co-interaction meter that might suggest opening a window or going for a walk to get some air in order to complete a task when we're apparently becoming sluggish?

Our proposal brings together a novel mix of ICT and engineering sciences. As such, our results will affect a range of disciplines. Overall, our research explicitly aims to develop a methodology for assessing indoor climate for human performance as the outdoor microclimate is altered due to a changing neighbourhood. We will discover how dynamic changes may enable us to create not just a sustainable indoor environment, but an indoor environment which sustains. We will enhance the present energy-dominated portfolio of built environment research by taking a holistic view and integrating explicit feedbacks between urban microclimate, ventilation and human performance. Our approach will provide guidance on how to meet energy efficiency targets without compromising productivity.

Primary investigators

Associated research group

  • Agents, Interaction and Complexity
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