About

Urban physics aims to understand how to design healthy and energy efficient cities.

Background

The majority of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. The way in which we design our cities can impact the amount of energy that we consume and greenhouse gases we emit. Urban design can also impact how comfortable we are, for example due to wind levels and temperatures, as well as our exposure to environmental hazards such as air, noise, and light pollution, and extreme temperatures that can make us sick.

Goal

Urban physics uses physics and engineering approaches to help design healthy, comfortable, and energy efficient urban environments. This can be done in existing urban areas, as well as to look at future scenarios such as changes to the climate, to urban design, and following different climate adaptation and mitigation measures.

Our Research

We research various different physical processes in urban areas, using both physics models and data from primary and secondary sources, focusing in particular on housing and the indoor environment.

With primary data, we are interested in monitoring conditions in the indoor environment to understand the environmental performance of buildings of different types and with different occupants. With secondary data, we work with large datasets of monitored environment and housing data. We work with data, for example, to derive population-level exposure data for use in epidemiological studies or studies into environmental justice.

For models, we focus in particular on issues of indoor heat and cold exposure, air pollution, and energy consumption in housing using building physics modelling, now and in different future scenarios. We work with health models to translate modelled indoor exposures into estimates of population health impacts. Because both housing, outdoor environmental conditions, and populations vary spatially in urban areas, much of our research involves using Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Impact

The results of our research can be used to quantify energy use and harmful environmental exposures in urban areas, now and in the future. This enables us to test how different adaptations to urban areas can reduce risks, for example from climate change, and to identify the areas and populations that are particularly vulnerable to hazards due to their living environments.