Architects, AIA Foundation and Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Name Members of First Design and Health Research Consortium

Teams Chosen Reflect Wide Range of Research Activities into Design/Health Connection

Washington, D.C. – December 15 , 2014 – The American Institute of Architects (AIA), along with the AIA Foundation and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), today named 11 architecture schools and schools of public health as the charter members of the AIA Design & Health Research Consortium, which will help fund basic research on how design affects public health.

“The research teams chosen for this consortium include some of the nation’s leading thinkers about the growing connection between design and public health,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. “We chose them because their research has the best potential for affecting policy across a wide swath of issues at the intersection of the built environment and public health.” 

Over a three-year period, the AIA and its partners will provide institutional support and capacity building for consortium members to promote collaboration through local and national partnerships; enable the sharing of knowledge through private listserv activity, conference calls, and face-to-face events; and provide a new portal on for members to share research activity. Whenever appropriate, the AIA and its partners will promote the activities of the consortium with potential funders. 

Consortium member teams are: 

  • University of Oregon. The school will research the “built environment microbiome.” Although the microbial communities that inhabit buildings and urban areas are poorly understood and rarely recognized by architects and planners, the design of the built environment has been shown to influence which microorganisms are present and thriving and which are not. Building on a research framework established by the University of Oregon’s Biology and Built Environment Center, the school, in a new partnership with the non-profit Oregon Research Institute, will explore, quantify, and respond to the linkages among building and urban design, microbial communities, and human well-being. It will also research how parks and other green infrastructure may cleanse pollutants from the air and perhaps contribute a beneficial diversity of microbes to our urban air-shed. 

  • Drexel University. The Urban Design & Health team from Drexel’s School of Public Health and Westphal College of Media Arts & Design will focus on a depressed West Philadelphia neighborhood known as Mantua, where more than a third (34%) of residents live in poverty. The team’s research will evaluate and measure the impact of urban design on the health and wellbeing of community residents, including both nature-centered design projects (such as community gardens, an urban greenway and a new sustainable playground to be built at the McMichael Elementary school) and “non-natural ecologies” such as housing improvements.  

  • NewSchool of Architecture & Design, Innovative Design Science. The NewSchool of Architecture & Design’s translational design research collaboration provides directly relevant experience in bringing together unconventional, interdisciplinary partnerships to innovate and create environments that encourage healthy behaviors and improved public health outcomes.  The collaboration includes Innovative Design Science specializing in neuro-architectural issues and research-based design spanning the broad range of challenges identified by the AIA Design and Health initiative including the sensory and cognitive influences of design on circadian rhythms, visual attention, acoustics, cognitive function, medical errors, and educational outcomes. A partnership with Active Living Research, the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at Calit2/Qi, and the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego uses smart wearable wireless sensors to track how individuals react when exposed to changing conditions within the built environment in order to promote physical activity and healthy behaviors. 

  • University of Miami School of Architecture and Miller School of Medicine Department of Public Health Sciences. The University’sresearch focus will center on Miami-Dade County’s “Neighborhood Park Project,” a three-year project to provide better environmental, population and individual health outcomes through increased physical activity and social interaction. Two-thirds of the county’s 2.6 million residents are overweight or obese. Nearly 30% of the county’s adults regularly report no physical activity in the past 30 days. Ten percent of high-school students are obese and only 12% attend daily physical-education classes, compared to 44% in the rest of Florida. Their program seeks to use walkable, green, and accessible design of community-centered parks, within a 5-10 minute walk from home for those residents at greatest risk for physical inactivity, obesity, and social isolation, to turn around these public health statistics and move closer to community well-being.

  • University of Florida. The UF team’s research will go beyond today’s conventional health and safety standards to develop and test performance measures of residential building systems, materials, and spatial/design configurations, and of community infrastructure (e.g. streets/sidewalks, density) as to their impact on health of older adults.  The focus will be on environmental quality, safety, active living, and social connectedness – all key health concerns of an aging population.

  • Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The team will focus its research and translation activities on physical activity and identifying the ways in which architecture and urban design create built environments that support physically active lifestyles. While physical activity prevents cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and reduces blood pressure less than 50% of Americans meet current recommendations for activity.  The team will use GPS and GIS technologies to study how neighborhood built environments can support physical activity among residents of New York City and will develop methods to conduct similar research in Rio das Pedras, a favela community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.   The choice of research sites is motivated by two key UN projections: (1) by 2025, 379 million people (10% of the world’s population) are expected to live in megacities such as New York City and (2) by 2030, 2 billion people will live in “informal communities” such as Rio das Pedras.

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Architecture.  Stressful conditions of modern living threaten the health and well-being of millions of Americans and billions of people around the world. Through the study of physiological responses, the team from the Illinois School of Architecture will examine ways that residential environments can be designed to address conditions exacerbating stress and to enhance conditions that restore us following stressful experiences. The team intends to use the findings from their work to develop evidence-based design tools that will assist in the creation of healthier homes and neighborhoods.

  • Center for Health Systems & Design, College of Architecture, Texas A&M University. One of the world’s leading healthcare design research organizations, CHSD brings together experts from multiple disciplines to focus on sustainable, evidence-based design in the field of healthcare environments. Their research examines how the built and natural environments affect patients, influence healing, pain relief, quality health care, physical activity, social interaction, work flow and other behaviors. Ongoing research and international collaborations include: hospital, ICU and sensory environments studies, healthy communities initiatives, LEAN construction and integrated project delivery in healthcare, and investigating the relationship of landscapes to long-term care settings.

  • School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Kansas.  The school will tackle a variety of research subjects by engaging faculty from other departments and schools, including engineering, design, urban planning, sociology, public health, and medicine. The focus is on combining traditional approaches with cutting-edge technologies and applications to solve complex health and wellness challenges. Topics include design for infection control, air quality and thermal comfort; the influence of micro- and macro-scale environments on healthy behaviors; improving the efficiency of outdated facilities in rural healthcare systems, and using efficient approaches transportation and infrastructure to create a sustainable environment.  

  • Texas Tech University College of Architecture. The TTU System is collaborating on projects to service 108 counties in West Texas. Its research focus will be new uses for tele-health technologies, cost and benefit modeling for agriculture and health, community planning and design influence on obesity and chronic diseases, cost benefit metrics regarding high rates of occupational and personal injury in rural and urban populations, loud noise disparity in rural populations; and technology and social connectedness.

  • University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing.  The Institute focuses on the use of physiological measures of the stress response, using wearable sensors such as heart monitors. In development with the Air Force Research Labs and a Consortium of private sector industry organizations are methods to measure stress and immune biomarkers in human sweat. These cutting edge technologies are being applied to measure human health and wellbeing responses in several building types and urban settings, including hospital design and office buildings, to determine the impact of sustainable design on physical health and wellbeing.  

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