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Hybrid Spaces for Enhanced Wellbeing

Co-Lead Principal Investigators
Sarah Billington, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment
James Landay, Professor of Computer Science

Co-Principal Investigators
Nicole Ardoin, Associate Professor of Education and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment
Alana Conner, Sr. Resident Scholar, Psychology
Martin Fischer, Professor in the School of Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy

Many Americans are overstressed, overweight, tired, sick, distracted, wasteful, unhappy, and isolated. At the same time, people in countries like the United States spend 87% of their time indoors1. Although there are hypotheses about buildings’ effects on occupant wellbeing, the evidence is sparse and few of these hypotheses have been tested at scale or over time. A scientific approach to designing buildings could both create knowledge as well as improve the physical and mental health of large populations.

“Smart buildings” are being built today, yet they primarily focus on using basic sensing, feedback and control for energy savings, temperature comfort, and security. Buildings of the future should go beyond this to infer the mental and physical states of the occupants. The information technology and the non‐structural materials in these new buildings will adapt based on these inferences to help shape human behavior

Our vision is to expand the existing science to create a new engineering discipline of hybrid physical+digital spaces. Our long-term objective is to develop a building information platform that promotes both environmental sustainability and occupant wellness and that can be easily employed in building design and management. This platform will use information technology and readily modifiable, environmentally sustainable building features to adapt buildings for occupant performance and wellbeing while encouraging sustainable behaviors, both automatically and by encouraging occupant intervention. Our initial scope comprises places of work and education.

We propose to develop pattern detection sensors and software that measure occupant behavior, cognition, emotion, relations, and physiology, as well as determine associations between building qualities and occupant wellbeing and behavior. Leveraging these insights, we will then create a set of digital and physical adaptations and rigorously test their effects on occupants. Ultimately, we will combine our sensors, software, and adaptations in holistic building management systems that support functionality, sustainability, and human wellbeing. In creating this system, we will advance both the research and the practice of sustainable, human-centered building design and management. Specific advancements include:

(1) Expanding Internet of Things research to capture rich data for modeling and inferring occupants’ behaviors, cognitions, emotions, relations, and physiological states; (2) Using statistical modeling and machine learning to connect these human states to building features, informing the understanding of how buildings impact wellbeing and behavior; (3) Bringing nature indoors by engineering biophilic building modules with adaptable acoustic and thermal properties; (4) Using large ambient displays, wearable and mobile devices, and persuasive design techniques to create novel digital adaptations based on occupant activity and wellbeing that contribute to the understanding of behavior change over longer periods of time; and (5) Extending building management systems so that they simultaneously promote building performance, environmental sustainability, and occupant wellbeing and sense of belongingness.

Since there is a risk that people may adapt to nudges and adaptations over time, our research emphasizes carrying out longitudinal studies that allow us to understand these potential changes and adapt our interventions to maintain their effectiveness over time.