Biology and the Built Environment Center

We have learned that architects play a role in shaping indoor microbiomes. Our study of a university classroom and office building showed that as spaces differed in their architectural design, including their organization and ventilation source, their bacterial communities also differed. Specifically, a space’s type, centrality, building floor, size, and ventilation source were the strongest predictors for microbiome variation across the building, even after holding function constant. Within the two floors primarily composed of faculty offices, the variation in the bacterial community structure among the offices was largely explained by the ventilation source, with window-ventilated offices containing a set of bacterial taxa that was distinct from that of the mechanically ventilated offices. Also an important factor in how similar the microbial communities were between the offices was the number of doors one must pass through between the spaces.

In our study of hospital patient rooms , we found that window-ventilated rooms contained more diverse microbial communities than did mechanically ventilated rooms, and that certain building attributes — the source of ventilation air, airflow rates, relative humidity and temperature — were correlated with the diversity and composition of indoor bacterial communities. Furthermore, the relative abundance of bacteria closely related to human pathogens was higher indoors than outdoors, and higher in rooms with lower airflow rates and lower relative humidity.

About BioBE and ESBL

Although humans in the developed world spend 90% of their lives inside buildings, we know very little about the biology of the built environment. Buildings are complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment. The vision of this national research center, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is to develop a hypothesis-driven, evidence-based approach to understand the built environment microbiome and to explore the architectural implications of this science. Our goal is to optimize the design and operation of buildings to promote both human health and environmental sustainability. ESBL is a partner in this collaboration among biologists, microbiologists, evolutionary ecologists, architects, and building scientists.

Learn more about the Biology and the Built Environment Center

Key Publications