Built environment

Quantitative engineering research into the design and operation of buildings and the construction processes involved, including topics around building performance (e.g. heating, lighting, ventilation, indoor air quality, building acoustics, thermal comfort, resource efficiency and energy use, design for productivity, and health and wellbeing). This research area also includes processes such as procurement, project management, innovation management and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

Research within this area remains of significant national importance and continues to be excellent. By the end of the Delivery Plan, it will be characterised by investments that focus on long-term transformative challenges within a whole-systems context and consider the use of ICT in construction, building performance and public health in the Built Environment.

We will explore the needs of early-career researchers (ECRs) and take action where necessary, and will continue to work with other Research Councils and innovation partners, such as Innovate UK and government, to support multidisciplinary research. We will maintain investment in the Built Environment as a proportion of EPSRC portfolio.

By the end of the Delivery Plan, we aim to have a portfolio of research addressing:

  • Use of ICT in construction - making full use of Internet of Things technology and strengthening computer science of building design and management, ensuring alignment to government initiatives around digital construction; this will also require novel sensors, instrumentation and autonomous systems, and will be achieved through collaboration with IT-based research areas
  • Building performance - ensuring buildings are fit for purpose and resilient to change in use; this will include current areas such as ventilation, heating and lighting systems
  • Public health - continuing the focus on design for wellbeing and inclusivity, particularly aligned to improving health delivery with an ageing population; also addressing the role of Built Environment design as a preventive measure to minimise spread of disease

We will work with the community over the current Delivery Plan to understand and address, where possible, any leadership or related skills challenges, particularly in relation to ECRs, and address these alongside similar needs in the Infrastructure and Urban Systems, Structural Engineering and Ground Engineering research areas.

The community should address these research challenges in the context of the whole system. In conjunction with the Infrastructure and Urban Systems, Structural Engineering and Ground Engineering research areas, this will contribute to establishing whole-system connectivity in the smart cities agenda and increase acceleration of transformative impacts.

The community should position itself to maximise the impact of planned investment in the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) and capitalise on the UK leadership created through such an investment, ensuring the harnessing of multidisciplinary opportunities.

It is recognised that this research area is of potential relevance to Official Development Assistance funding streams.

Highlights:

The Construction 2025 strategy emphasised the need for smart technologies to give the UK a competitive edge in the construction sector (Evidence source 1). The UK is leading the way in implementation of digital platforms for building management, as demonstrated by government commitment to Building Information Management (BIM). There is evidence for an increased international focus of the research, particularly in collaboration with the rapidly urbanising countries in Asia (Evidence source 2,3,4).

Research in the Built Environment is highly multidisciplinary and collaborative, cutting across the civil engineering-related areas of Infrastructure and Urban Systems, Ground Engineering and Structural Engineering. Capacity is distributed across the country in Built Environment, civil engineering and architecture departments.

Two Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) directly align to the priorities of the Built Environment; a further three overlap with other civil engineering areas. There has been a gradual increase in overall student numbers associated with this research area that are supported through Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (CASE). Strong overlap exists with student training in associated civil engineering research areas: Infrastructure and Urban Systems, Ground Engineering and Structural Engineering.

This research area has a low number of EPSRC-funded ECRs, in terms of first grants and early-career fellows, with overall funded ECRs falling during the last Delivery Plan. This trend is reflected in other civil engineering-related areas.

More broadly, there is a predicted skill shortage in the construction sector, particularly at apprentice and undergraduate level. The challenge will be to retain skilled individuals in academia who can train the next generation. There is a risk of loss of capacity due to an ageing demographic (Evidence source 1).

During the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 process, Panel C assessed this research area and recognised that there has been a notable increase in the volume of interdisciplinary research addressed at global challenges such as sustainability, carbon reduction and resilience to climate change (Evidence source 5). Their report highlighted the difficulty of translating the research outputs into changes of policy and also highlighted the increase in interdisciplinary work, particularly at the social and economic interface.

The proposed UKCRIC will have major city observatories across the country, with core areas directly aligned to the challenges in the Built Environment (Evidence source 6).

Contributes to the Resilient, Connected and Healthy Outcomes and particularly relevant to these Ambitions:

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

Reducing energy demand from buildings, especially within the existing stock, will contribute to this.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Research in this area is critical as part of a whole-systems approach to ensuring that UK infrastructure capabilities are resilient and underpin the modern economy. 

C2: Achieve transformational development and use of the Internet of Things

Harnessing the Internet of Things through research in smart building technologies can transform infrastructure capabilities.  

H2: Improve prevention and public health

Contribute through, for example, design of smart and nurturing infrastructures which encourage healthy behaviours and support good mental health.

  1. HM Government, Construction 2025 (PDF), (2013).
  2. Government Office for Science, Future of Cities: The Science of Cities and Future Research Priorities, (2016) (and related reports on the theme).
  3. Royal Academy of Engineering, Built for Living, (2015).
  4. KPMG, UK Government Construction Pipeline (PDF), (2016).
  5. REF 2014, Main Panel C Report, (2015).
  6. UKCRIC website, (2016).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Maintain

We aim to maintain this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Built environment (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Mr Jakob Sprickerhof
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444115