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Collaboration by design

Collaboration and cross-faculty contributions have been the driver behind some of Northumbria's most groundbreaking and interdisciplinary initiatives over the years, with the University home to one of the biggest multidisciplinary hubs for human-computer interaction (HCI) and interaction design in the UK.

 One example of this joined-up approach in action is a project which aims to improve the way buildings are designed in future, using smart sensors:

Smart Connected Buildings

Mould, mildew and damp cause misery for thousands of people in homes across the UK, and cost housing associations, landlords and homeowners millions of pounds a year in repairs. But now researchers at Northumbria University, in Newcastle upon Tyne, have come up with a solution which could lead to a change in how homes are designed in the future – making mould a thing of the past.

Over the last year, Northumbria academics, along with partners from BIM Academy and the National Energy Foundation, have been working with local housing association Your Homes Newcastle to find out more about how its tenants use their homes.

With permission from tenants, sensors were placed in seven apartments, monitoring factors such as electricity usage, room temperature, humidity, light and how householders move around the rooms within the building. This can be used to understand how tenants use buildings, provide alerts and advice which will help them live more comfortably, and influence the design of buildings to better reflect tenants’ requirements.

The Smart Connected Buildings project has been led by Dr Kay Rogage, Research Fellow in Digital Living at Northumbria and an active member of the University’s BIM Academy Research Team.

She explains: “One of the benefits of this system is that it can be customised, so for example an alert could be set up so that when the humidity in an individual flat or room goes above a certain level the building owner or tenant would be notified. The data would also be displayed on an online dashboard, showing humidity levels over a few days or weeks, so patterns and potential issues could be identified.

"For the landlord this would mean the conditions which lead to mould and mildew could be identified early on, before they develop, minimising the costs incurred by treating the problem, significantly reducing the number of complaints and providing more comfortable living conditions for tenants.”

The project has been funded by Innovate UK, with the aim of integrating building design information, sensor data and feedback from building users to produce meaningful alerts and advice to builders and owners.

The team involved now hope to source additional funding to develop the prototype into a commercial grade software which could be used by housing associations, property owners, developers and others working within the housing and building sector. The prototype would include additional features, such as the ability to extract data from Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) reports - used by the Government to assess and compare the energy and environmental performance of homes. The reports contain useful information such as the estimated energy consumption of a building and these values could be included into the current alert system to automatically trigger an alert if the estimates are exceeded.


A version of this article originally appeared in the Northumbria University supplement produced with Times Higher Education.

Digital Living

Find out more about the research taking place as part of our Digital Living multidisciplinary research theme


Academics within our Ideate multidisciplinary research theme use design research to help us develop deep understandings of problems and develop creative ideas and innovative solutions in response.

Dr Kay Rogage

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Digital Living, within Northumbria's Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

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