Buildings as Complex Ecosystems

If I asked you to go find an ecosystem to study, where would you look? Maybe in a forest, right? Or a swamp? Or lake? Wherever you picked, it was probably outside somewhere. When we hear the word “ecosystem”, many of us (including me) think of birds, plants and bugs.

But what ecosystem do you live in? And who’s studying it? If you’re like much of America, you spend a majority of your life indoors. We share this indoor jungle with a large number of microbes among others, but until recently few were studying the interactions in this complicated web of ventilation ducts, single-celled organisms and us. Luckily, now we have ecologist, Jessica Green. She summarizes the issue and its importance for human health succinctly in this TED Talk:


Last summer, around the same time this video was being uploaded, I had the good fortune to meet an architect at the World Health Organization named James Atkinson. Jim is a champion in the design of healthy, naturally ventilated healthcare facilities. (One of his recent achievements was the publication of the WHO guideline, “Natural Ventilation for Infection Control in Healthcare Settings,” in 2009.) Jim’s serving up the “architectural yogurt” that Dr. Green’s talking about.

This is a fascinating line of research that is just getting warmed up. I’m excited to watch how it grows in the future.


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