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Human-Built Environment Interactions

Understanding the Effectiveness of Virtual Reality-based Training for Building Emergencies 

Most people receive training on building emergencies from traditional methods such as pamphlets, drills, lectures, and educational videos. A new training method based on virtual reality (VR) has been increasingly used in various high-risk engineering industries such as construction, mining, and chemical laboratory to deliver health and safety training. Compared to traditional training methods, VR-based training can immerse trainees in realistic scenarios and allow the hands-on practice.Even though VR-based training employs cutting-edge techniques, its effectiveness in emergency training is yet to be justified. In this study, we will present a VR-based emergence training platform for building occupants, combined with a standardized metric to evaluate the training effectiveness in an objective way.

Status: On-going 

Disaster Prepared Buildings: Human-Building Interactions during Emergencies 

experiments using immersive virtual environments to advance our knowledge of fine-grained human behavior during extreme events, examining the impacts of building attributes, individual differences and different situational factors. These experiments will provide substantial data on the different behavioral responses that could be expected during emergencies. Based on the experimental results, data-driven agent models that represent different populations will be generated to be used in simulations. Using these simulations, we plan to extend the research outcomes to various possible configurations of the environment, circumstances of the emergency, and composition of the crowd. With the fine-grained human behavior data we obtained from VR experiments, we develop mathematical behavior models to establish a new generation of simulation tools to predict human behavior in emergencies. 

Status: On-going 

The project investigates how built environments impact human behavior during extreme events and the influence of human-building interactions on the outcomes of these events – an area where research to date has been extremely limited. We first create immersive virtual environments (IVEs) that represent realistic building emergency scenarios, incorporating building attributes (e.g., number of exits, barriers, staggered doors), emergency characteristics (e.g., loud noise, smoke), and virtual actors (e.g., adversary/crowd behavior).We then conduct human subject

Social Justice in Built Environments

The built environment plays a significant role in causing or addressing the injustices experienced by various groups. Different approaches and concepts have been developed to tackle these injustices. Approaches include design strategies such as universal design, inclusive design, and human-centered design. In addition, understanding concepts such as social vulnerability, environmental justice, and just city contribute to justice goals within societies. These approaches and concepts, though invaluable, have some limitations in their scope and applications. This project focuses on an understanding of how the type of built environments, as well as the needs, groups, and constraints in the built environment contribute to social justice. Moreover, a relational analysis between different dimensions is being carried out to identify research gaps. The results demonstrate the gaps in well-being, access, mobility, shelter, resilience, and safety needs among some groups, including women, children, people with cognitive or sensory disabilities, homeless people, refugees, and more.  The findings of this project highlight the research priorities within different built environments to meet the needs of various groups. This project also emphasizes that taking appropriate measures to address injustices through cross-disciplinary collaborations between all stakeholders of "just" built environments.

Status: On-going

Understanding Human-Building Interactions through Perceptual Decision Making


In this project, ‘perceptual decision making processes’ are studied as the determinants of occupant behaviors for quantifying commercial building energy consumption as a result of human-building systems interactions. Understanding how and why occupants interact with building systems is crucial for developing behavior models to be used in simulations for increased comfort and energy savings, as well as for quantifying the energy

implications of these interactions. Objectives of this project are to develop a framework for investigating decision-making processes to create an insight about how occupants behave and respond to coupled HVAC-lighting/daylighting systems-driven indoor environmental stimuli changes, and to optimize building energy consumption and occupant comfort by using mathematical models. A quantitative empirical study is performed for gathering information about decision-making processes for determining human-system interactions and their energy consumption implications in commercial buildings. Both human subject experiments (including physiological and neurophysiological measurements), and surveys are used for investigating the decision-making processes of occupants. A co-simulation environment is developed for a holistic energy analysis of commercial buildings for predicting the energy consumption implications of occupant decision-making models. Decision making processes (i.e., stimuli-response driven behavior models) are mathematically modeled by the derived heuristic rules to coordinate the integration of subsystems to co-simulation.

Status: Completed

Integrating Human-Building Interaction Data to Building Design & Operation

The goal of this project is to better understand occupants’ behavior and interactions with building systems with the objective of introducing new design and operation approaches where end-user information can be used to reduce the energy consumption in buildings. For buildings to be more energy efficient, it is important to further understand the relationships between occupant behavior and building systems and features.

In our work, we use immersive virtual environments (IVEs) to collect accurate and realistic end-user behavioral information. We introduce a novel user-centered framework that integrates end-user behavioral information to improve the design and operation of office buildings. Through a set of experimental studies, we further (1) analyze the influence of manual vs. semi-automated lighting control options; (2) collect participants’ lighting preferences and incorporate such preferences in the design of a building façade; and (3) investigate the influence of “default settings” on participants’ propensity to keep or adjust the lighting settings. Through the proposed framework, we further highlight the importance of user centered design and provide a platform to design teams and facility managers to accurately integrate end-user information into the design and operation of buildings.

Status: Completed

Influencing Human-Building Interactions: Impact of Building Performance Data Visualization on Occupant Choices

The goal of this project is to better understand the impact of non-energy consumption data visualization on occupant choices. We define non-


energy consumption data as systems data (room temperature, room lux levels and etc.), which are not directly related to energy consumption. In other words, we are providing the users with more information about the building systems to affect their choices and understanding of their impacts in the built environment. We use lighting systems related data, since lighting systems are the second largest energy consumers in commercial buildings. We use Immersive Virtual Environments to present the data visualization techniques within the building boundaries and based on occupants’ choices. We presente the information together and separately and measure the impact of different information visualization techniques on occupant choices.

Status: Completed

New Modes of Human-Building Interactions: Enabling Human-Building Communication to Promote Pro-environmental Behavior 


Occupants and their behaviors are one of the most significant contributors to the environmental impacts. How occupants interact with building energy and service systems and respond to environmental discomfort directly affect the operation of buildings and thus the buildings' impacts on the environment. Modifying occupant behaviors toward adaption of pro-environmental behaviors such as adaption of day-lighting instead of artificial lighting, can significantly affect environmental impacts of buildings and communication intervention strategies to promote sustainable behaviors can result in significant reductions of these impacts. We aim to transform buildings into interactive living spaces that communicate with

their occupants and influence the way that they behave in the buildings. Key decisions in developing successful communication efforts should include selecting trustworthy sources, choosing message strategies, and determining optimal modalities for the delivery of pro-environmental messages. We investigate if making human-building communication more social would increase the effectiveness of communication intervention strategies. We use both immersive virtual environments and field experiments to examine the effects of incorporating social features in design of human-building communication strategies. Social features represent the ways humans interact with each other; for or example, we investigate the effects of adapting compliance gaining techniques (e.g., foot in the door) for the messaging strategy and inclusion of social cues (e.g., voice and face) to the delivery of messages on increasing adherence to the pro-environmental messages.

Status: Completed

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