What makes a living lab viable?


Beyond a well-defined concept and mission; beyond the lab’s central hypothesis; beyond  the brainpower and devotion of the team; and beyond strategic, research and operational plans, the Well Living lab reveals three critical components for success: The facility. The technical infrastructure.  The research methodology.

  • The facility —

When a living lab studies human health in the built environment, flexible, reconfigurable space is key.  If a study examines the effect of lighting on performance and productivity of office workers, it needs to be configured one way. But of it is a study focuses instead about potential stress reduction from introducing elements of nature in an office setting, it needs to be set up another way.

 

Raised flooring and a specialized ceiling design allows for change-outs in electrical, HVAC, plumbing and lighting. Building system features such as audio controls to disperse sound throughout the space are customizable and allow for study of acoustic and sound masking. Window features including electrochromic tinting, motorized shading and blocking of outdoor views allowed the lab to study natural and electric light exposure and impact on the experience of occupants. Modular desk furniture enables office layouts that meet specific study requirements such as the effect of daylight and glare from windows. Modules set up as apartments allow for studying residential settings.

— Technical infrastructure  —

A similar requirement drives technology infrastructure and integration – it must be flexible and scalable. The system needs to both control experimental interventions and manage the data collection.

 

The lab uses  sensor and actuator technology to assure that the environmental measurements and interventions in experiments meet the study’s requirements. While use of technology enables the research, it must be balanced with the need to have a realistic environment for study subjects. In other words, devices in a space must not be visibly obtrusive.

 

Both the sensors and actuators measure and transmit data. The actuators also take action based on commands. Because the level of sophistication in these devices is continuously improving, the lab built its own IoT and cloud-based platform to accommodate for device changes and technology evolution.  The platform receives and stores data from environmental building devices and wearables used by study subjects. This infrastructure allows the lab to model and program its studies and to operate the technology from any location with an Internet connection, which is an important consideration for conducting field studies around the world.  In a nutshell, the system manages all the building controls, study variables and conforms to security needs. Without it, living lab studies of the sophistication required would not be possible.

— The research process —

Research expectations are prioritized by considering what is desirable, viable and possible, anchored in scientific exploration and human needs. The Well Living Lab defines its research questions by identifying gaps and unanswered questions in the literature. The studies it pursues align with its goal of transforming indoor environments to improve human health and well-being. With researchers from a variety of specialties (building, health and behavioral science), the lab balances and incorporates multiple perspectives to arrive at study methodology, design and data collection methods.

 

The Well Living Lab considers a range of human outcome measurement methods, depending upon the environment, population and aspects of health and well-being being studied.  It measures effectiveness of an indoor environment to support human health and well-being, performance, stress and resiliency, comfort and sleep. Each of those parameters can be further broken down. For instance, comfort may be evaluated from a physical, physiological or psychological perspective. For measuring performance, the lab uses a proprietary app to administer specific executive or cognitive function tasks to study participants. Many of its office environmental studies have examined occupant behavior and captured satisfaction, preferences, perceptions and feelings through validated surveys.

All this and more is detailed in a study published in the Journal of Technology | Architecture + Design (TAD).  The article provides an inside look at what it takes to discover how indoor environments can be transformed to support people’s health and well-being.