UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Eleni Davidson

Towards an integrated, mixed-method approach to evaluate Environmental Quality and its effect on comfort in higher education buildings, considering the implications of a changing climate

Several key paradigm shifts in thermal comfort research have defined current practices in building performance evaluation, namely Fanger’s PMV-PPD and the adaptive thermal comfort model. However, the notion of comfort is an ambiguous one. Many researchers believing it still to be poorly understood, despite numerous standard assessment protocols revolving around the concept. Comfort has previously been defined as the combined feeling of wellbeing and relaxation. The factors that stipulate a comfortable environment vary from person to person, with the theory of perceptual relativity defining a belief that all environmental stimuli are evaluated in relation to previous experiences rather than any absolute criteria.

Many studies have adopted a heavily engineering approach to the evaluation of comfort, in the form of climate chamber studies. Whilst these methods have the benefit of experimental control and internal validity, it also disregards the contextual effects on environmental perception. Contextual Gestalt is the notion of the complete environment being more than simply the sum of its constituent stimuli and states that the relationships between stimuli could be just as determining as the individual stimuli themselves. Consequently, a more recent direction in environmental design research looks at the interaction between parameters that define Environmental Quality, based on the idea that sensory modalities interact and people are never subject to isolated environmental stimuli in the real world. Our experience of the environment is the result of an interplay of heat, light, sound and various other factors and it is this interaction between multiple stimuli that defines one’s state of comfort. Therefore, a more integrated, holistic approach is necessary for a realistic evaluation of comfort.

This PhD research aims to develop a more comprehensive view of the holistic impact of built spaces on people by adopting a cohort study design in a real world, higher education environment. As such, the research will look to answer the question, is there scope for an integrated Environmental Quality approach to understand perception of comfort/well-being in higher education buildings? Since climate change and the urgency of decarbonizing the built environment is the primary driver for innovation in environmental design, the research aims to answer the additional question using dynamic simulation modelling; what is the relationship between climate change and future higher education building performance with respect to Environmental Quality?