Breathing City: Future Urban Ventilation Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Civil Engineering


Poor air quality is widely recognised to affect human health and wellbeing. Cumulative exposure to pollutants throughout the life course is a determinant for numerous long term health conditions including dementia, heart disease and diabetes, Short term high exposures are shown to exacerbate conditions such as asthma and COPD, increase risks of heart attacks and stroke and influence respiratory infections. The very young, very old and those with pre-existing conditions are most at risk and inequality further increases this; the poorest in society often live in the lowest quality housing in the most polluted areas. Human exposure to air pollutants occurs in both indoor and outdoor environments. Urban air pollution results from a combination of local outdoor sources (e.g. transport, combustion, industry) and regional and large scale atmospheric transport of pollutants. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors and indoor air quality is therefore a significant part of human exposure. Indoor air quality is influenced by the climate, weather and air quality in the external environment in addition to local indoor sources (e.g. microorganisms, chemicals cleaning and personal care, cooking, industry processes, emissions from building materials, heating and mechanical systems) and the building design and operation.

In all cases it is the airflows within and between indoor and outdoor locations that enables the transport of pollutants and ultimately determines human exposures. Understanding airflows is therefore at the heart developing effective mitigating actions, particularly in cases where there is limited ability to remove a pollutant source. Being able to predict the influence of airflows enables understanding of how pollutants are likely to move within and between buildings in a city, both under normal day-to-day conditions and in response to emergencies such as heatwaves or wildfires. With the right computational and measurement tools it is then possible to change the design or management of city neighbourhoods enabling better urban flows to reduce exposure to pollutants and also to innovate new ventilation solutions to control the indoor environment in buildings. While there are a number of approaches that already enable assessment of urban flows and indoor flows, these aspects are not currently considered together in an integrated way or focused on optimising environments for health.

The Future Urban Ventilation Network (FUVN) aims to address this by defining a new holistic methodology - the Breathing City. This will define a new integrated assessment approach that considers coupled indoor-outdoor flows together to minimise exposure for people within a neighbourhood who are most at risk from the effects of poor air quality. The network will bring together people from a range of disciplines and areas of application with a common interest in improving urban and indoor airflows to improve health. Through small scale research and workshop activities we will advance the understanding of the fluid dynamics that determines the physics of this indoor-outdoor exchange. The network will develop a research programme to address technical gaps in modelling and measuring pollutant transport and how we can use this to determine long and short term exposures to a range of pollutants. We will work collaboratively with industry, policy makers and the public to understand how this approach could change city planning, building design guidance and community actions to enable health based future urban ventilation design and to "design out" health risks for people who are most vulnerable.

Planned Impact

The FUVN network is expected to benefit multiple people and organisations both during the funding and through subsequent research and networking activities. Network members and their organisations will be the initial beneficiaries with impacts on industry, public sector and academic research and policy makers through the network events and small scale research activities. These impacts are likely to range from knowledge exchange and improved understanding through to direct influences on strategy and innovation in organisations through the outcomes from workshops and small scale research activities. Beyond the duration of funding we expect that the network will act as an enabler for larger scale research and innovation projects linking members in academia with industry and public sector partners. The range of organisations who may benefit ranges from SMEs to large multinational companies and includes public health and NHS bodies, architecture, urban design and city planning, building design and construction, organisations developing sensors and smart technologies, the ventilation industry, organisations who maintain and manage buildings, and professional and policy facing bodies who are responsible for guidance, standards and regulation. Beneficiaries also include the researchers within the network, particularly early career researchers and PhD students.

The network is expected to influence aspects of air quality explored by other networks funded through the same grant call as well as projects across the UKRI Clean Air Programme. The FUVN network focuses on enabling approaches which could have substantial benefit to assessment of sensor data, chemistry, fate of specific pollutants, exposure and health risks, as well as to facilitate assessment of specific environments. Likewise the knowledge generated through these other networks and projects will benefit the FUVN Breathing City approach. By working closely with the other networks and Clean Air Champions we will identify opportunities for collaboration and co-benefits. The FUVN approach aligns to the Clean Air Framework development and could directly support the models that sit within this structure; our partnership with the Met Office will support this impact.

FUVN is expected to benefit the wider public and community groups. Community science activities will raise understanding of ventilation and air quality among those involved in the small-scale research programme, while dissemination of network outcomes in a format that is accessible to the public could have a national impact on awareness of effective ventilation for health.


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