UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


CBES Platform Grant: Built Environment Systems Thinking

Apartment block in Singapore

7 July 2017

The Complex Built Environment Systems group (CBES) is a dynamic team of academics working together to gain a deeper understanding of the physical performance of built environment choices and their implications for energy use, health, conservation, productivity and climate change.  CBES is primarily interested in developing solutions to the practical problems of designing, constructing, and managing appropriate environments within and around buildings.  

In 2006, CBES was awarded a prestigious five-year platform grant from EPSRC in recognition of its "world-leading" research into the complex built environment.  This platform grant was renewed for another 5 years in 2011 in order to allow CBES to focus on the unintended consequences of de-carbonising the built environment.

In 2017, CBES was awarded a further five-year extension to the previous two prestigious five-year Platform Grants from the EPSRC in recognition of its ‘world leading’ work. This latest extension has included several strands of new work. It investigated the complex relationships, potential unintended consequences, and synergies across housing, energy and wellbeing theme; focused on improving systems thinking capabilities around home owner decision-making; explored interactions between systems thinking and the complexity science movement at the conceptual level with examples from decarbonising cities; revisited the meaning of scientific model validation and credibility, and focused on inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration when addressing  sustainability problems challenging the complex built environment. Much of this work is currently ongoing.


PI: Michael Davies

Co-Is: Mark Barrett, May Cassar Ben CroxfordPaul Ekins, Robert LoweTadj OreszczynPeter Raynham, Ian Ridley, David ShipworthPhilip Steadman, Matija Strlic and Alex Summerfield.

Rs: Henoc Agbota, Zaid Chalabi, Esfandiar BurmanSibel Eker, Naomi Luxford, Alex Macmillan, Neil May, Eleni Oikonomou, Caroline Rye, Cameron Scott, Serban Scrieciu, Clive ShrubsolePhil Symonds, Gurdane Virk and Nici Zimmermann


Recent outputs include the following selection of papers published / accepted since January 2016 plus two research papers of note being in receipt of awards:

  • Zimmermann, N; Symonds, P; Dianati, K; Baghaei Lakeh, A; Robertson, L; Wilkinson, P; Davies, M; (2020) A participatory process for modelling green infrastructure implementation in London. SALUS Journal (In press).
  • Murage, P., Kovats, S., Sarran, C., Taylor, J., McInnes, R., & Hajat, S. (2020). What individual and neighbourhood-level factors increase the risk of heat-related mortality? A case-crossover study of over 185,000 deaths in London using high-resolution climate datasetsEnvironment International, 134, 105292. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2019.105292
  • Watts, N., Amann, M., Arnell, N., Ayeb-Karlsson, S., Belesova, K., Boykoff, M., . . . Montgomery, H. (2019). The 2019 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climateThe Lancet. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(19)32596-6
  • Claude, S., Ginestet, S., Bonhomme, M., Taylor, J. G., Marincioni, V., Korolija, I., & Altamirano, H. (2019). Evaluating retrofit options in a historical city center: Relevance of bio-based insulation and the need to consider complex urban form in decision-making.  Energy and Buildings. doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.    2018.10.026
  • Sharpe, R. A., Machray, K. E., Fleming, L. E., Taylor, T., Henley, W., Chenore, T., . . . Wheeler, B. W. (2019). Household energy efficiency and health: Area-level analysis of hospital admissions in EnglandEnviron Int, 133 (Pt A), 105164. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2019.105164
  • Symonds, P., Rees, D., Daraktchieva, Z., McColl, N., Bradley, J., Hamilton, I., & Davies, M. (2019). Home energy efficiency and radon: an observational studyIndoor Air. doi:10.1111/ina.12575
  • Huebner, G. M., Chalabi, Z., Hamilton, I., & Oreszczyn, T. (2019). Determinants of winter indoor temperatures below the threshold for healthy living in EnglandEnergy and Buildings, 109399. doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2019.109399
  • Crawley, J., Biddulph, P., Northrop, P. J., Wingfield, J., Oreszczyn, T., & Elwell, C. (2019). Quantifying the Measurement Error on England and Wales EPC RatingsEnergies, 12 (18), 3523. doi:10.3390/en12183523
  • Symonds, P., Hutchinson, E., Ibbetson, A., Taylor, J., Milner, J., Chalabi, Z., . . . Wilkinson, P. (2019). MicroEnv: A microsimulation model for quantifying the impacts of environmental policies on population health and health inequalitiesScience of the Total Environment, 697. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134105
  • Petrou, G., Symonds, P., Mavrogianni, A., Mylona, A., & Davies, M. (2019). The summer indoor temperatures of the English housing stock: Exploring the influence of dwelling and household characteristicsBuilding Services Engineering Research and Technology. doi:10.1177/0143624419847621
  • Pineo, H., Glonti, K., Rutter, H., Zimmermann, N., Wilkinson, P., & Davies, M. (2019). Use of Urban Health Indicator Tools by Built Environment Policy- and Decision-Makers: a Systematic Review and Narrative SynthesisJ Urban Health. doi:10.1007/s11524-019-00378
  • Pineo H, Glonti K, Rutter H, Zimmermann N, Wilkinson P, Davies M. (2018). Urban Health Indicator Tools of the Physical Environment: a Systematic Review. Journal of urban health : bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 95(5), pp. 613-646. doi: 10.1007/s11524-018-0228-8
  • Zimmermann N, Symonds P, Davies M, Wilkinson P, Dianati K, Taylor J, ... Milner J. (2018). Urban systems complexity in sustainability and health: an interdisciplinary modelling study. The Lancet Planetary Health, doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30106-2
  • Eker S, Zimmermann N, Carnohan S, Davies M. (2017). Participatory system dynamics modelling for housing, energy and wellbeing interactions. Building Research & Information, (7), doi: 10.1080/09613218.2017.1362919
  • Taylor J, Mavrogianni A, Davies M, Wilkinson, P, Shrubsole C, Hamilton I, Oikonomou E, Biddulph P. Housing as a modifier of air contaminant and temperature exposure in Great Britain: A modelling framework Indoor Air 2016, Ghent, Belgium, 03 Jul 2016 - 08 Jul 2016.
  • Symonds P, Taylor J, Chalabi Z, Mavrogianni A, Davies M, Hamilton I, Vardoulakis S, Heaviside C, Macintyre H. Development of an England-wide indoor overheating and air pollution model using artificial neural networks Journal of Building Performance Simulation 1-14 02 Apr 2016.
  • Taylor J, Davies M, Mavrogianni A, Shrubsole C, Hamilton I, Das P, Jones B, Oikonomou E, Biddulph P. Mapping indoor overheating and air pollution risk modification across Great Britain: A modelling study Building and Environment 99:1-12 01 Apr 2016. 
  • Macmillan A, Davies M, Shrubsole C, Luxford N, May N, Chiu LF, Trutnevyte E, Bobrova Y, Chalabi Z. Integrated decision-making about housing, energy and wellbeing: a qualitative system dynamics model Environmental Health 15 Article number ARTN 37 08 Mar 2016.
  • Shrubsole, C., Taylor, J., Das, P., Hamilton, I. G., Oikonomou, E., & Davies, M. (2016). Impacts of energy efficiency retrofitting measures on indoor PM2.5 concentrations across different income groups in England: a modelling study. Advances in Building Energy Research, 10 (1), 69-83.
  • Impact of the new Chilean air-tightness regulation on indoor air pollution in dwellings with inefficient heating sources Findings from a Field Study. Narvaez, R., Shrubsole, C., Altamirano-Medina, Indoor Air Conference 2016 Ghent, Belgium. 
  • Estimating Current and Future Indoor Air Pollution and Temperatures in England. Taylor, J., Symonds, P., Mavrogianni, A., Davies, M., Shrubsole, C., Hamilton, I., Chalabi, Z. and Wilkinson, P.  Indoor Air Conference 2016 Ghent, Belgium.    
  • Makantasi A.-M., Mavrogianni A. Adaptation of London's social housing to climate change through retrofit: a holistic evaluation approach. Advances in Building Energy Research. 2016; 10:1, 99-124.
  • Loucari C., Taylor J., Raslan R., Oikonomou E., Mavrogianni A. Retrofit solutions for solid wall dwellings in England: The impact of uncertainty upon the energy performance gap. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology. 2016.
  • Taylor J., Symonds P., Mavrogianni A., Davies M., Shrubsole C., Hamilton I., Chalabi Z., Wilkinson P. Modelling population exposure to high indoor temperatures under changing climates, housing conditions, and urban environments in England. In: International Conference on Urban Risks (ICUR); 30 June - 2 July 2016; Lisbon, Portugal.
  • Hsu S.-C., Hamilton I., Mavrogianni A. Comparing spatial interpolation techniques of local urban temperature for heat- related health risk estimation in a sub-tropical city. In: Urban Transitions Global Summit 2016 - Towards A Better Urban future in an Interconnected Age; 5-9 September 2016; Shanghai, China. 
  • Eker, Sibel; Zimmermann, Nici: Understanding the Mechanisms behind Fragmentation in the Housing Construction and Retrofit, 34th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, 17–21 July 2016.
  • Taylor J., Picetti R., Symonds P., Heaviside C., MacIntyre H., Wilkinson P., Davies M., Mavrogianni A. Estimating changes in heat-related mortality following built environment adaptations in the West Midlands, UK. In: Public Health England (PHE) Annual Conference 2016; 13-14 September 2016; London, UK.
  • Joshi R., Mavrogianni A. A holistic modelling framework for retrofitting hard-to-treat homes in London: Energy, comfort, cost and value propositions. In: International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA) Conference - Building Simulation and Optimisation (BSO) 2016; 16-17 September 2016; Newcastle, UK. 
  • Taylor J., Symonds P., Mavrogianni A., Davies M., Shrubsole C., Hamilton I., Chalabi Z., Wilkinson P. Estimating current and future indoor air pollution and temperatures in England. In: Indoor Air 2016; 3-8 July 2016; Ghent, Belgium.
  • Schneider dos Santos R., Taylor J., Davies M., Mavrogianni A., Symonds P. Modelling and monitoring tools to evaluate the urban heat island’s contribution to the risk of indoor overheating. In: International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA) Conference - Building Simulation and Optimisation (BSO) 2016; 16-17 September 2016; Newcastle.
  • Stave, Krystyna; Zimmermann, Nici; Kim, Hyunjung: What are System Dynamics Insights? 34th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, 17–21 July 2016.
  • Yates, T. A., Khan, P. Y., Knight, G. M., Taylor, J. G., McHugh, T. D., Lipman, M., . . . Abubakar, I. (2016). The transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in high burden settings. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 16 (2), 227-238. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(15)00499-5.
  • Taylor, J., Yates, T., Mthethwa, M., Tanser, F., Abubakar, I., and Altamirano, H. (2016). Measuring ventilation and modelling M. tuberculosis transmission in indoor congregate settings, rural KwaZulu-Natal. International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, doi:10.5588/ijtld.116.0085.
  • Milner, J., Taylor, J., Hamilton, I., Barreto, M., Davies, M., Haines, A., Sehgal, M., Wilkinson, P. (2016). Climate change related temperature increases and associated health risks for cities in the SHUE database. In: International Society of Environmental Epidemiologists (ISEE) Conference - 2016; 1-4 September 2016; Rome, Italy.
  • Picetti, R., Taylor, J., Symonds, P., Macintyre, H., Heaviside, C., Davies, M., Wilkinson, P. (2016). Estimating the health impact of housing adaptations on heat-related risks in the West Midlands region (UK).  In: International Society of Environmental Epidemiologists (ISEE) Conference - 2016; 1-4 September 2016; Rome, Italy.
  • Li, Y., Lalor, M., Taylor, J., Altamirano-Medina, H. (2016). Assessing the role of UK buildings on the transmission of tuberculosis. In: Indoor Air 2016; 3-8 July 2016; Ghent, Belgium.
  • Taylor, J., Mavrogianni, A., Davies, M., Das, P., Shrubsole, C., Biddulph, P. & Oikonomou (2015). Understanding and mitigating overheating and indoor PM2.5 risks using coupled temperature and indoor air quality models Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 0 (0), 682-690 Winner of the CIBSE Napier Shaw Bronze Research Medal, awarded for the most highly rated research paper published in BSER&T.
  • Shrubsole C., Macmillan A., Davies M., May N., (2014). 100 unintended consequences of policies to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock. Indoor and Built Environment 23: 340-352Awarded Best Paper 2014:  Indoor and Built Environment Sage Publishing. 

Recent examples of engagement include:

  • Having become aware via the Integrated decision-making about Housing, Energy and Wellbeing (HEW) project, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) engaged us to advance their systems thinking skills around the ‘ Benefits and Drivers of Home Energy Efficiency’. In two phases, we engaged a team at BEIS in participatory system dynamics modelling, developed a simulation model of how financial and non-financial aspects affect the uptake of energy efficiency measures among home owners, and analysed policy effects and synergies.
  • A series of workshops engaging academics across BSEER and from other UCL departments were organised to debate the role of complexity-based and systems thinking in contributing to more effective and meaningful solutions to sustainability aspects of the built environment. Examples include: a workshop discussing salient concepts from Systems Thinking and Complexity Science organised in June 2019; and several workshops organised in 2019 and 2020, discussing the fluid concept of model validation from different disciplinary perspectives, when tackling sustainability challenges.
  • We were involved in 2016 in a series of on-going projects which involves over 50 successful collaborations with other research teams / institutions.
  • In April 2016 we were visited by a large team from Tsinghua University for a 2-day workshop regarding the new EPSRC funded ‘TOP’ (‘The ‘Total Performance’ of Low Carbon Buildings in China and the UK) project. We have undertaken the initial round of interviews with stakeholders for the system dynamics work and also arranged for access to suitable buildings for the monitoring work which has now begun.
  • The HEW report has been published.  This involved very significant engagement with approximately 50 stakeholders and hence this work is a major knowledge exchange success for CBES. A large stakeholder workshop was held at the end of June
  • We launched the new UCL IEDE Master’s Degree in ‘Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings’ at VISION - a event aimed at architects, specifiers and their clients.
  • Members of CBES contributed to the Committee on Climate Change UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report, providing vital evidence to assist with government policy on climate change adaptation and mitigation for the built environment
  • The UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings (UKCMB) held its launch conference at UCL The aim of the UKCMB is the development of a moisture-safe built environment in the UK. The centre is the brain child of CBES member Neil May. The UKCMB team has been awarded Innovate UK funding for a 2 year KTP project co-funded by the Property Care Association (PCA).
  • The EPSRC funded ‘MERLIN 2 ‘project (led by Peter Raynham) to undertake work to reduce the energy consumed by road lighting, whilst maintaining the visual benefits, continues. This project is aimed at understanding the needs of pedestrians at night
  • Flood House, launched in April 2016, was a collaborative project between UCL IEDE CBES Staff and  The Bartlett School of Architecture This mobile prototype structure travelled along Thames Estuary for four weeks as part of the Radical Essex project
  • We now have a series of ‘so-what?’ reports published on the ARCC network where we disseminate CBES research in an easily to read format for a wider audience.
  • CBES continues to contribute to the Scientific Board of ‘Healthy Polis’ – the International Consortium for Urban Environmental Health & Sustainability. 

For further information please contact: Michael Davies

Image credit: Serban Scrieciu