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Hybrid Physical-Digital Spaces: Transforming the Design, Operation, and Experience of Built Environments to Promote Health and Wellbeing

Hybrid Physical + Digital Spaces image

Project Team

James Landay (CS), Sarah Billington (CEE),  Lucy Bencharit (Cal Poly SLO), Kyle Douglas (CEE), Jen King (HAI), Elizabeth Murnane (Dartmouth Engineering),  Pablo Paredes (SoM)

Research Overview

Observed Problem: 

Considering that people in the U.S. spend 87% of their time in indoor spaces, we assert that buildings are powerful yet underleveraged loci for promoting human wellbeing.

Primary Research Objective:

Our primary research objective is to fundamentally advance the science on how built environments impact human wellbeing and, in turn, generate guidelines that can revolutionize the way spaces are designed, operated, and experienced.

Potential Value to CIFE Members and Practice:

  • Insights will have major implications for how buildings are designed and operated, depending on characteristics of the spaces, occupants, and various metrics related to wellbeing, performance, and sustainability that may be of interest to building managers, employers, and occupants themselves.
  • By packaging our data collection toolkit as a reusable platform and by contributing actionable privacy-preserving design guidelines, we aim to help trigger a paradigm shift toward indoor spaces that are more sensitive to and support human needs, and we hope this will serve as a foundation on which other researchers and practitioners from both academia and industry can build.

Research provides relevant insights for:

occupants, owners, operators/facility managers, designers

Research and Theoretical Contributions:

Smart buildings of the future can go beyond existing bottom-line outcomes, such as sensing and control for energy savings or thermal comfort, to be more interactive and human-centered: aware of and responsive to occupants’ cognitive, mental, and physical needs, while respecting privacy and promoting positive indoor experiences. It is imperative to increase understanding of exactly what built attributes have what impacts and on whom, in a scalable, longitudinal, and inclusive manner. We expect to:

  1. Develop an extensible and secure data collection and machine learning platform for detecting and predicting wellbeing outcomes of interest. We also plan to package our platform as a reusable toolkit that can be applied by other researchers and building operators.
  2. Deploy the platform through a mixed-method study with industry partners to capture rich, longitudinal, ecologically valid data about behavioral, psychological, and physiological states of occupants and their everyday work environments. By including an at-home baseline, we will also explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has temporally or fundamentally changed perceptions, usage, and management of work environments for various stakeholder groups.
  3. Discover relationships between built features and wellbeing outcomes and derive implications for building design and operation.

Industry and Academic Partners:

View, Inc. and TIAA/Nuveen

Research Updates & Progress Reports

Fall 2020 Progress Report:

We continued analyzing our lab study data and as well as several online studies exploring the impact of materials, natural light, and diverse representations on sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and environmental efficacy. We continued with development of our app for collecting objective and subjective information about and from building occupants for our field studies.

Winter & Spring 2021 Progress Report:

We launched a large online survey (n=480) to study the impact of access to nature in the work environment (office or home) on wellbeing (including creativity, stress, and environmental behavior) for people who had worked in an office prior to Covid and were working from home at the time. This longitudinal survey has been administered twice with the third round scheduled for later this year.
We also continued to work with our partner View Inc. around developing plans for a field study, but the work has stalled due to COVID restrictions. Development of the necessary data collection app and field study design continued, and we are seeking additional partnerships both on campus and with other industrial partners to secure a deployment soon. Technical development of the data collection app includes making sure the personal data collected is secure as well as that the automatic questionnaires are triggered at the correct times. We are also conducting workshops exploring users expectations of privacy in smart buildings.

We are working on several papers related to our lab study, online studies, and methodologies for studying the impact of building design on wellbeing. In the spring we also began designing studies to use VR to explore different design options and will be comparing this experimental approach to in-person lab studies as well as our online, less experiential studies.

Original Proposal


Funding Year: 
Stakeholder Categories: 
Operators/Facility Managers