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UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering


Blogs from UCL IEDE Staff and Students


Health and Wellbeing in Buildings: A Real Appetite for Change

By Clive Shrubsole, on 18 November 2016

The Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Non-Domestic Buildings half day conference at UCL Gustave Tuck Lecture, has to go down as one of the most successful and timely conferences yet.

The conference was jointly hosted by UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (IEDE), CIBSE Home Counties SE and the CIBSE Natural Ventilation Group, and organised by IEDE’s Marcella Ucci, Vivian Dorizas and Rachel Kempsell, Richard Davies of (ARUP)-CIBSE HCSE and Colin Ashford of -CIBSE HCSE and CIBSE NVG – who was crucial in suggesting the conference and establishing the initial contact between  CIBSE and UCL many years ago.

Tickets sold out very quickly and the venue was packed on the day. There was a vibrant and energetic atmosphere with both speakers and attendees enthusiastically taking part.

Along with two international speakers there were presentations  from UK based speakers representing  a variety of perspectives. It was clear from the scope and depth of subjects covered by the speakers, that the emerging emphasis on health, wellbeing and productivity in buildings has wide-ranging implications and has gained real traction with industry. The conference featured cutting-edge research, scientific evidence and case studies on health, wellbeing and productivity in relation to buildings in order to encourage stakeholders such as designers, consultants and environmental engineers to contribute to the design and management of healthier indoor environments, including supporting of clients. In addition, presentations included practical ideas on how to create healthy, comfortable and productive indoor environments with regards to indoor environmental quality (IAQ).

Videos of the individual speaker’s presentations are currently being uploaded to the UCL IEDE YouTube channel and will be available imminently

In her presentation, Marcella Ucci, Senior Lecturer at the UCL IEDE and course director of the new MSc on Health Wellbeing and Sustainability in Buildings of the Bartlett UCL, underpinned the need of new approaches to cover the performance gap and introduced the new UCL MSc on Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings of UCL* which fully covers the subject area. Marcella also raised the need for new models to investigate health & wellbeing outcomes and to build a business case study.

The real appetite for the subject was seen not only from the enthusiastic interchanges and questions to the speakers from the floor, but more by the fact that even after the networking event at the end of the conference, no-one had any desire to leave the building and had to be encouraged to leave, suggesting further such events are urgently needed.

*For more information about the New MSc, please email the Course Director,  Dr Marcella Ucci.
For administrative information, please contact Leila Tufekci.

How London’s next mayor could fix air pollution – and save lives

By Clive Shrubsole, on 19 April 2016

London City HallEach year, nearly 9,500 people die due to London’s air pollution. It’s one of the biggest challenges for the capital’s next mayor – literally a matter of life and death.

The problem has been around for decades. In fact, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956, passed by parliament in response to London’s Great Smog of December 1952. London was well known for its “pea-souper” fogs, but when the “Great Smog” fell over the city the effects were unprecedented: 4,000 immediate deaths with a further 8,000 dying in the following weeks and months.


The act aimed to control domestic sources of smoke pollution by introducing smokeless zones. In these areas, coal had to be ditched in favour of smokeless alternatives such as coke or charcoal, power stations were moved to rural areas and tall chimneys were built for industry to disperse pollutant at height.

Coal-burning Battersea Power Plant only closed in the 1980s. Eric2x/shutterstock

Air pollution in London is very different today, and yet the same health issues exist. Gone are the polluting factories and the coal burning and in its place are a newer breed of contaminants. One of the primary causes is the old favourite, the combustion engine. Diesel exhausts include carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and microscopic specs of “particulate matter”, the smaller fractions of which penetrate the deep lung and pass across into the blood stream.

All of the above are seriously bad for your health. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even dementia. The damage begins during a baby’s first weeks in the womb and continues across an entire lifetime through to old age. Consequently, any air quality improvements made now will have long-lasting benefits.

Air pollution picks on the weak and needy

The effects aren’t distributed evenly, or randomly. Older people and adults with long-term conditions are particularly vulnerable, for instance, and improving air quality will help them to stay independent and well, easing the pressure on NHS and social services.

Children are also particularly at risk, as their lungs are still developing. We know traffic-related air pollution causes asthma so, given London has more than a thousand schools close to busy roads it’s perhaps no surprise a recent poll found parents in the capital now see air pollution as the biggest health threat.

It’s a social issue too, as pollution exacerbates inequality. Research shows exposure varies a great deal from place to place even within the city, and London’s low income households tend to be in more polluted areas while wealthier people live on leafy side streets.

What the next mayor can do about it

The capital’s next mayor will have the power to make dramatic improvements to London residents’ health. Looking over the manifestos of front runners Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), as well as Sian Berry (Green) and Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat), it’s clear there’s a lot of agreement.

Where they differ is in their methods of dealing with these important issues and the timing of their interventions.

Driving in central London costs £11.50 a day. mariordo59, CC BY-SA

The Greens would bring in a smart road-charging system, while the Lib Dems would ban diesel vehicles within the city centre by 2024. Goldsmith wants to retrofit all existing buses by 2020, while Berry wants to move the entire bus fleet to hybrid/electric by that year.

Air pollution isn’t solely caused by transport, of course. Gas burning, often from domestic boilers, also adds to the problem and all candidates have ideas for reducing boiler emissions or boosting energy efficiency – Khan wants further investment in older homes, for instance. Goldsmith’s pledge that all new homes will meet the zero carbon standard would actually revive a policy the current national government has scrapped.

Of course, you have to ask, are all these policies realistic? Will they be followed through? While air quality is only one of many issues in this election, it is an extremely important one. Five decades on from the Great Smog, we need another clean air revolution.