As U of T renovates buildings, researcher studies links between built environment and well-being


As the University of Toronto implements building energy retrofits across its three campuses to meet its ambitious goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a group of researchers will use the opportunity to improve the well- be students, faculty and staff.

The research project, titled “Wellbeing and The Built Environment: A New Framework for U of T Campus Building Performance Assessment,” will be co-led by Marianne TouchieAssistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, and aims to create a new standard for overall building performance.

“We want to inform the renovation process by trying to link specific aspects of the built environment to the well-being outcomes of the people who live and work in those spaces,” says Touchie. “We plan to do this through pre- and post-renovation assessments using measures of indoor environmental quality and feedback from residents.”

The project is supported by the Dean Strategic Fund of U of T Engineering and includes John Robinsonprofessor at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the School of the Environment, Alstan Jakubiecadjunct professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, and Blake Poland, associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Researchers will work alongside facility teams led by Ron SaportaChief Operating Officer, Real Estate Services and Sustainability at U of T.

Researchers will deploy sensors to measure indoor air quality and temperature, and use an app that accepts real-time feedback from building residents.

“One aspect of the study that I’m really excited about is testing the large-scale use of a technique called Photovoice,” says Touchie. “We will encourage respondents to take photos of aspects of the built environment on campus that add or detract from their well-being.”

Not only will the project assess environmental and economic benchmarks, but it also aims to measure the impact of these renovations on the people working and living in these buildings.

“It is a complex subject with many distinct aspects of the individual, the space, the building and the wider community, all of which impact how the inhabitant feels” , explains Touchie. “Previous research has tended to focus independently on thermal comfort, visual comfort, or indoor air quality, and what we’re really trying to do is bring all of these together under a common framework. “

The Earth Science Center, seen from Huron Street, is among the places on campus the researchers intend to study (photo by Chris Thomaidis)

Touchie and his collaborators will develop the assessment approaches this year and plan to begin pre-renovation assessments in early 2023. They hope the project will contribute to the growing body of knowledge about how aspects of the built environment influence people’s well-being, and that the assessment methods they develop can be incorporated into the U of T building renovation process.

“While these renovations are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate climate change and achieve the U of T’s climate positive goal by 2050, through this project we hope to find ways to leverage these renovations to also be ‘people positive’ by upgrading spaces to improve comfort, productivity, health of students, staff and faculty,” says Touchie.


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