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Creating 'healthy' buildings in HE

Being able to simulate activities in a building, prior to actual construction, can enable institutions to plan their estates in a healthy way

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | September 30, 2017 | Estates

Dr The Anh Han is a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Teesside University

University estates is big business now. Not only are institutions themselves committing more funding into their buildings and facilities than at any time before, there are many commercial organisations which have successfully established themselves as key partners in helping universities deliver their estates strategies.

For those that fund, design, build, manage and maintain universities across the UK, this has been somewhat of a golden period. Whether you specialise in construction, architecture, energy efficiency, facilities management, or maybe you are a student accommodation provider, everyone seems to be benefitting from the drive for improved facilities as the sector seeks to directly enhance the student experience and the facilities available for cutting-edge teaching, research and business engagement.

A potential development in Higher Education is the opportunity brought by what we call healthy building simulation. This is the use of interactive simulation platforms that assess the level of physical activity taking place in a concrete building design prior to actual construction. Essentially this work facilitates suitable design that enables a healthy level of activities in a building whilst maintaining its desired specification regarding safety, accessibility and energy efficiency. At Teesside University we are looking at this innovation, and are currently trialling healthy building simulation in our Phoenix Building.

The Phoenix Building is one of our flagship buildings on campus. It is home of DigitalCity, a partnership between the University and the Tees Valley Combined Authority which works with both digital and non-digital business to stimulate digital innovation and investment. It supports digital start-ups, helps SMEs who want to use digital to grow, and works with bigger companies to help put digital at the heart of their business. It also houses our broadcast quality sound and high-definition video production facilities, which are among the best in the UK. So it is the ideal test bed for our healthy building simulation work.

What we have done to date is successfully develop various small-scale simulations which capture human cognitive and social behaviours, and these have the potential to be integrated into large-scale commercial building models

What we have done to date is successfully develop various small-scale simulations which capture human cognitive and social behaviours, and these have the potential to be integrated into large-scale commercial building models. This programme is being led by myself and colleagues including Dr Yifeng Zeng in the University’s School of Computing, Media and the Arts. The research brings together a wide range of disciplines ranging from game programming and animation to Artificial Intelligence (AI) behavioural modelling, energy consumption and sport science, which all have strong traditions at Teesside University.

My personal expertise spans a wide range of multidisciplinary topics including AI cognitive modelling, dynamics of human cooperation, evolution of cognition, evolutionary game theory, agent-based modelling, intention recognition and knowledge representation and reasoning. These terms may seem very niche, but actually their applications are around us on a daily basis – it’s just most people don’t know about them.

The outcomes of this work, which will take 12-18 months to complete, could bring huge opportunities for the HE sector. Being able to simulate activities in a building, prior to actual construction, can enable institutions to plan their estates in a healthy way. To be able to test plans for healthy activities, and develop a framework to check these before committing to build, would be hugely significant. It would give the sector something it doesn’t have right now. 

Of course, healthy building simulation is not restricted to the world of Higher Education. From our perspective, and given Teesside University’s proud track record for successfully supporting businesses, we see this as something we could potentially support commercial organisations with. Surely everyone, you would think, will want to develop ‘healthy’ buildings?

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