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The Impact of Building Envelope on Occupant Wellbeing and Knowledge-work Productivity

Scientist Eleanor Lee in at the test facility at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) for testing the performance of different glazing system (Reproduced from:

Project Team

Martin Fischer, Natasa Mrazovic

Research Overview

Observed Problem:

The built environment plays a critical role in our overall wellbeing and related knowledge-work productivity given the amount of time we spend indoors. It has been shown that sustainable and user-friendly buildings can drive better occupant wellbeing and subsequent gains in knowledge work productivity, firm performance, and building owner value. However, research has not been done to better understand which building envelope parameters might be more or less correlated with occupant cognitive function and wellbeing. Without this research, how can we truly design user-friendly and sustainable buildings?

Primary Research Objective:

Through experimental design, the goal of this study is to measure, analyze, and correlate the effects of five different sets of parameters: 1) building envelope; 2) Indoor environmental conditions; 3) outdoor environmental conditions; 4) occupant well-being; and 5) occupant knowledge-work productivity. Further, this research aims to develop and test the models and simulation prototypes so that future data collection of different types of envelope can be conducted virtually.

Potential Value to CIFE Members and Practice:

  • Provide insights on the effects of particular design decisions on occupant wellbeing and knowledge work productivity.
  • Development of simulation prototypes and a rating scale will allow designers to assess and quantify the impact of different façade systems without experimentation.
  • Provide insight to inform the useful application of various design simulation tools.
  • Develop a standardized process and standard rating scale that could be used by regulatory bodies to issue occupant wellbeing standards and regulations.

Research provides relevant insights for:

Design, Operations, Regulators/Permitting Agencies

Research and Theoretical Contributions

Furthers our collective understanding on the effects of building envelope decisions on building performance, mainly as relates to occupant well being and knowledge-worker productivity. Further, the research establishes a method to test the effects of building envelope decisions on occupant wellbeing through simulation rather than experimentation.

Industry and Acadmic Partners

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Permasteelisa Group (R&D)

Research Updates & Progress Report (June 15, 2020)

We started the research in Spring Quarter 2020 and finalized Quarter 1 research tasks according to the workplan in the CIFE Seed proposal:

  • Literature review: in-depth analysis of the experimental protocols for data collection in the existing related studies (published before the pandemic);
  • Established collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory (LBNL), specifically the Windows and Envelope Materials Group and Indoor Environment Group of the Energy Technologies Area;
  • Conducted interviews with the LBNL experts (Brett Singer, Cindy Regnier, Stephen Selkowitz and Eleanor Lee) --> established agreement on the location of the experiment, i.e., data collection: a controlled office environment at FLEXLAB®.

Additionally, based on the literature review and the interviews we prepared a preliminary list of the variables to be analyzed in this project, one step before the development of the experimental protocol. The full report with literature review and protocol analysis is provided may be found here.

According to the workplan in the proposal, next quarter we planned to develop detailed experimental protocols (define the scenarios, the required equipment, necessary research staff given the laboratory requirements, selection and interviews of human subjects, etc.) Unfortunately, the pandemic has tremendously impacted the use of office workspace. Remote work is today still mandatory in California and companies are exploring office re-design strategies to secure safe re-entry. This situation has paused the experimental research in workspace with human subjects.

Furthermore, according to the experts, we can expect changes in the office space requirements and new design rules; including physical distancing, cleaning, air quality, allowed space circulation, etc.

These changes and new rules will affect the experimental protocols in this research. We will continue to monitor the developments and as soon as the new guidelines or regulations for office work environment are established, we will incorporate the new rules in the protocols.

Finally, our plan to conduct the experiment, i.e., collect the data in Quarters 3 & 4 will be postponed until the experiments with human subjects in office environment are allowed. LBNL US-registered Institutional Review Board (IRB) will review and approve the protocol and oversee the study to ensure health and safety and protection of the human subjects.

In parallel, we are looking for a new industry partner and new funding sources for the research.

Original Research Proposal

Proposal 2019-14

Funding Year: 
Stakeholder Categories: 
Operators/Facility Managers