UCL Health of the Public


Spotlight on Dr Lusi Morhayim

12 May 2024

This month we speak to Dr Lusi Morhayim, Lecturer in Social Sciences of the Built Environment, to find out how her research is improving the health of the public.


What is your role and what does it involve?

With a background in architecture and urban studies, my research centres on the interplay between human needs and the built environment. Primarily relying on ethnographic approaches, I explore how individuals interact with their surroundings, examine the influence of the built environment and architectural design on well-being, and outline strategies for the built environment to effectively address social, psychological, behavioural, and cultural needs.

The scale and type of research I have conducted varies. Some of my work involves post-occupancy evaluations of different building types, focusing on improving architectural design. I also explore the political dimensions of space and access to health, healthy lifestyles, and environments. For example, I examine marginalised urban grassroots groups' demands for sustainable and liveable cities, through their appropriation of urban stress.

I am actively engaged in two groups developing academic and practical solutions to integrate health and built environment perspectives: Task Force on Health Promoting Built Environments (HPBE) and UCL’s newly formed Urban Health Network. 

How are you improving the health of the public? 

One of the recent projects I'm leading, funded by the UCL Social Science Plus scheme, aims to establish the connections between the built environment factors related to walkability, loneliness, and social engagement among older populations in disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Camden Borough. Collaborating with multidisciplinary research experts from epidemiology (Prof. Jenny Mindell and Dr. Rachel Frost), geography (Prof. Muki Haklay) and transportation planning (Prof. Nick Tyler), we're gathering data through mapping, photographs taken by residents, and interviews. 

Besides the scientific objectives of this research, we aim to equip vulnerable residents with a crowdsourced map that they help create, enabling them to navigate their environment independently and with more confidence. Additionally, we hope that some of the outcomes, such as reports and visual tools, will empower them to advocate for change in their local surroundings based on our findings.

Another recent collaborative project I led, thanks to UCL’s Grand Challenges award, resulted in creating a survey tool to examine built environment factors in cancer clinic settings that contribute to anxiety and stress among cancer patients. Working alongside my colleague from psychology (Dr Keri Wong) and UCL patient representatives, we co-developed a survey that integrated the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Index and relevant socio-spatial aspects of the built environments within the same tool.

What do you find most interesting or enjoyable about your work? 

The built environment can often be an overlooked element in wellbeing and health, as establishing direct connections can be challenging. However, we all spend time in indoor or outdoor settings that influence our health and wellbeing, in various ways. Contributing to this field and playing a role in bridging the gap between the built environment and health scholars and professionals is one of the reasons I enjoy my work.

I also appreciate that research in this field enables me to engage and connect with diverse groups of people and real places and conduct hands-on research that can have practical implications. I enjoy (and hope) that such research has the potential to impact individuals' daily lives, even if not always immediately. 

How have cross-disciplinary collaborations shaped your research?

My core research and training, environmental psychology/environment-behaviour studies, is an interdisciplinary field, which has always enabled me to collaborate with scholars across disciplines. Yet, each cross-disciplinary collaboration has been a new and invaluable learning experience. Collaborations offer the opportunity to challenge each discipline's limitations, develop innovative ways to frame research problems and design, create innovative methodological approaches, and hopefully move away from abstraction. 

What advice would you offer to others interested in developing cross-disciplinary research?

Being flexible and curious about different approaches, methods, and conceptualisations is the key. Successful collaborations demand genuine effort from collaborators to 'translate' their respective perspectives to one another so that the work can benefit from both (or more) disciplines. 

If you could make one change in the world today, what would it be?

This is a challenging question, and I wish I had a good answer. The definitions of and the thresholds set up for basic needs are often much lower than what is realistically needed. Inequalities around the world usually come down to the unequal distribution of basic needs such as shelter, education, and health resources, rather than the problem being the availability of resources and wealth. I wish regulations to address inequalities and their implementation worked more effectively to serve those with less power. And, that leads to a chain of other underlying problems, but I will stop here.