Improving the environmental performance of buildings is a key factor in climate change efforts because building construction and operations are responsible for a large portion of Canada’s carbon emissions. The effort to reduce the emissions and energy consumption profiles of buildings is critical to municipal, provincial, federal and global targets.
We see a parallel rise in interest in subjective wellbeing (SWB), and community wellbeing (CWB). Wellbeing is expressed in activities ranging from meditation to gardening, hiking, and the effect that our indoor environments have on wellbeing, health and productivity. Our focus in this project is on human wellbeing, at both individual and community levels, in the built environment.
Wellbeing is interpreted here as emerging from normal everyday activities called social practices. These practices are both shared and co-created between people. They, and wellbeing, are therefore a result of social and individual activities and qualities that can be structured by the built environment
There is a history of speculation about the effect building and infrastructure features on human wellbeing, but little evidence. We can ask people to assess their own sense of wellbeing, and satisfaction with the comfort of their home, office, building and neighbourhood – and then we can assess how wellbeing and comfort interact. As a result, we hope to learn how the built environment might enhance or decrease human wellbeing.
Our interdisciplinary research group believes that we can improve human wellbeing at the same time as we optimize the environmental performance of our buildings. The research group’s goal is to understand how to develop net positive environmental and human performance outcomes in the built environment.
The WBE projects include the “Practicing Wellbeing in the Built Environment”, the “Community Wellbeing in the Built Environment”, and the “Campus Wellbeing” project. These projects seek to explore the impact of buildings on occupant wellbeing in new and retrofitted buildings, assessed before and after a move through pre- and post-occupancy evaluation. We use qualitative methods including survey, interview, and Photovoice (interpretation of meanings through pictures) with occupants, and quantitative methods, through sensors and monitoring of environmental building performance.
Our research questions seek to uncover relationships between the built environment, in different typologies (home, office, and hybrid home-office situations), and wellbeing as it is expressed in everyday activities, or social practices. We hope to understand what building features of different typologies might affect wellbeing and community wellbeing in positive and negative directions, and ultimately how wellbeing could be designed into built environments.
A. What features of built environments contribute to wellbeing?
1. What common building features enable practices that influence wellbeing?
2. What personal space features enable practices that influence wellbeing?
B. What ‘interventions’ can enhance wellbeing practices in an existing built environment?
1. How do wellbeing practices compare between (i) home and office work locations (ii) with and without WELL certification in a commercial office setting, and (iii) with and without the EnerPHit/PH certification in a residential setting?
2. What interventions/processes can be employed to enhance wellbeing in each built environment, with and without significant changes to the physical building?
3. What interventions, processes and practices enable the transition from passive occupant to active inhabitant, with respect to wellbeing?]
Funders & Partners
We are funded by two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) awards, the Insight, and Insight Development grants. We are partnered with the International Institute for Well Building (IWBI), and the Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC), and work with the CMHC, CItyHousing Hamilton, YWCA Hamilton, Toronto and Regional Conservation Authority, and ERA Architects.
WBE Research Team
Dr. John Robinson, Professor, Munk School of International Affairs and Policy and School of the Environment; Adjunct Professor at Copenhagen Business School is well-known for spearheading the development of UBC’s groundbreaking Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), a living lab on sustainability in the built environment, which has led to dozens of grad theses, postdoc projects and papers published. Upon moving to the University of Toronto in 2016, Dr. Robinson founded the Sustainable Built Environment Performance Assessment (SBEPA) research group, which has developed the conceptual framework on performance gaps providing the conceptual context for this project. He is also Chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability, which has identified the six Living Lab building projects in which the research proposed here will take place. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Sustainable Buildings Canada, and the Research Advisory of the International Well Building Institute, both of which are partners in this application. Building on these experiences and relationships, Dr. Robinson provides overall academic leadership for the project and contributes directly to the theoretical development of the research.
Marianne Touchie is an Associate Professor jointly appointed in the Departments of Civil & Mineral Engineering, and Mechanical & Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto and Director of the Building Energy and Indoor Environment Lab.
Dr. Touchie’s research team focuses on improving the energy performance and indoor environmental quality of existing buildings to make them more comfortable, healthy and sustainable through comprehensive retrofits. This work includes field monitoring of building energy performance and indoor environmental parameters as well as occupant behaviours and perceptions through surveys. Much of her research has been in the high-rise residential sector and particularly social housing buildings.
Dr. Touchie is also the President of the Building Science Specialist Board of Canada and the former Chair of ASHRAE’s Technical Committee 2.1 of Physiology and Human Environment.
Marianne is a Co-Investigator on the Practicing Wellbeing project, and the Principal Investigator on the Community Wellbeing project. She also leads the CMHC Post Occupancy Evaluation Report.”
Dr. J Alstan Jakubiec
Dr. J. Alstan Jakubiec is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto where he focuses on the design of buildings and cities with an emphasis on human comfort, performance simulation, and low-energy design strategies. He believes that through data-driven processes, designers can create comfortable built environments that will support social interaction, require less energy, and last longer before being razed. Alstan co-created the popular DIVA tool for calculating the daylighting and energy performance of buildings and cities and actively develops new software tools as part of his research. Alstan teaches sustainable design and modelling classes and co-founded Mapdwell, a technology company dedicated to providing information to homeowners about the renewable energy potential of their rooftops. In the previous five years while in Singapore, Alstan has focused more energy on post-occupancy evaluation and monitoring of buildings, where he developed new design measures for lighting after analyzing nearly 1,000 occupant surveys, measurement data, and simulations in offices, schools, and residential buildings. As part of this focus, Alstan monitored 50 participants in detail for 6 weeks, understanding how they respond to their built environment to maintain personal comfort and utilize energetic systems.
Alstan is a Collaborator on the Practicing Wellbeing Project, providing architectural and modelling expertise, along with his grad students.
Dr. Blake Poland
Dr. Blake Poland is a Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Director of the Collaborative Specialization in Community Development (cdcp.ca), and head of the Social & Behavioural Health Sciences Division of the DLSPH. Trained in social/health geography (PhD McMaster 1994), Blake’s research has focussed on the settings approach to health promotion, the health of marginalized groups, the sociology of tobacco control, and community development as an arena of practice for health and social care professionals. Since 2006, his attention has turned to ecological public health, community resilience, urban sustainability transitions, social movements as agents of change, the inner work that supports environmental activism, and authentic dialogue as a tool for transformative learning. Blake teaches courses in social theory (CHL5001), community development (UCS1000), building community resilience (GGR434 & CHL5126). His research draws on practice theory, relational world views, qualitative and community-based research approaches.
Blake provides expertise from this qualitative and public health perspective on the Joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing projects.
Sylvia Coleman, PhD, LEED AP is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Munk School of International Affairs and Policy at the University of Toronto, and a Social Anthropology instructor at Capilano University. Her background is interdisciplinary, with undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and the Environmental Sciences, and graduate degrees focusing on cultural and sustainability aspects of Architecture. Sylvia obtained her interdisciplinary PhD from the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) under Dr. John Robinson, joint with Dr. Ray Cole of the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Sylvia’s research culminates in a focus on the occupant experience, and methodologies for learning what that is. For buildings and spaces that are created for people, she is interested in the building from the occupants’ perspectives, or “from the inside out”. This expresses itself within architecture as an expertise with pre-and-post occupancy evaluation (Pre-OE and POE processes and surveys), and an exploration of the effect of built environment conditions and design strategies on occupants. Sylvia has led or had a hand in diverse aspects of green building research and teaching, offering an understanding of research foci ranging from certification systems to LCA assessment and building material assessment for design strategies, to how design strategies enhance or hinder wellbeing, productivity and pro-environmental behaviour.
Sylvia provides research, methodological, publication and project support and direction on the joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing projects, and a co-author on the CMHC report.
Garrett Morgan MSc., MScPl., AICP, LEED GA, WELL AP is a Doctoral Candidate and Course Instructor in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto where his dissertation research explores the role of equity in the development of the municipal climate action plans of the world’s “most sustainable” cities. Outside of the academy, he is an urban planner, governance strategist, communications advisor, and sustainable development consultant with professional experience in the public, private, and non-profit sectors in rural, suburban, and urban environments in Canada and the US with expertise in housing, community development, resilience, and hazard mitigation. He currently serves as the Vice Chair, Board of the Directors at the Toronto-based Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) which advances the right to housing in Canada.
Garrett is a Research Assistant on the joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing projects, providing methodological, publication and communications support and leadership.
Yuan Cao is a Doctoral Candidate supervised by Dr. Marianne Touchie and Dr. Seungjae Lee in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto. Her Ph.D. research explores the multi-domain impacts of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) on occupants’ wellbeing and behaviour in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs). Prior to graduate studies, Yuan obtained her bachelor’s degree from the Department of Building at the National University of Singapore and had a research background in building innovation technologies and building information modelling (BIM). She led three major nationwide BIM surveys and conducted over 40 in-person interviews with industry experts from the Canadian building sector. Yuan is also a member of the ASHRAE Health and Wellness in the Built Environment Multidisciplinary Task Group (MTG. HWBE) and Subtask 1 of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Annex 79 on Occupant-Centric Building Design and Operation. She is passionate about improving occupants’ comfort and well-being in residential buildings through better IEQ and smarter building operations.
Yuan provides research support and leads the monitoring and smartwatch aspects of the joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing projects.
Norene Lach is a Master of Public Health student at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. She is passionate about the role of communities in promoting health and wellbeing, bringing past experience in academic, community, and government spaces. Her research has explored how to build community resilience through community-institutional partnerships. She has also led community mental health programs for youth, and supported policy development at the municipal, provincial, and federal governments. Norene’s work is guided by an anti-oppressive and intersectional lens, with a deep interest in addressing the social determinants of health and broader issues of social justice.
Norene provides research support and publication leadership on the joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing project.
Judy Tran obtained a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. She volunteered as part of the inaugural Toronto Planning Review Panel, an initiative to help the City Planning Division guide growth and change in Toronto, from 2015 to 2017.
Judy is the project manager on the Joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing projects, and the Campus Wellbeing project, since summer 2022.
Dr. Seungjae Lee
Dr. Seungjae Lee, PhD, LEED AP is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto and Director of the Intelligent and Interactive Buildings Lab. Dr. Lee’s group focuses on developing reliable and scalable Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions for building energy systems to improve building energy performance, indoor environmental quality, and grid reliability and resilience. The group also explores uncharted fields of building science research, especially human-building interactions, to increase the depth and breadth of domain knowledge and facilitate engineering innovation.
Dr. Lee contributes to the design of data collection and experiments, data analyses, and occupant wellbeing and behaviour modelling Judy is the project manager on the Joint Practicing and Community Wellbeing projects, and the Campus Wellbeing project, since summer 2022.