Impact of Buildings on Health-Term Activity

This instructor leverages field trips to the Boston area to reinforce weekly lectures on the impact of buildings to environmental health.

Goal: The goal of the format of this class is to: 1) have students read peer-reviewed literature and actively lead discussions on the topic with their classmates, 2) reinforce readings with formal lectures on fundamental skills, and 3) demonstrate these principles as they operate in practice by visiting and exploring operating buildings.


The course meets twice per week and is designed to have a lecture on (for instance) Tuesday followed by a related field trip on Thursday. The students work on their own semester long projects focusing on one aspect of building design/operation and how it impacts health. The field trip is a hands-on reinforcement of the principles learned during the lecture, and demonstrates the complexity of real-world buildings that cannot be captured in a classroom-only setting.


Before class.

  • Prior to each Tuesday class, students are assigned a reading relevant to that topic, and each week a new student leads the discussion of that paper for the first 20 minutes of class.

In class.

  • The remainder of class is taught by the faculty or an outside expert and covers fundamentals of that topic. For example, when we discuss the role of ventilation in a building on human health, the students read a paper that found an association with doubling ventilation rates and cognitive function. The remainder of class focused on fundamentals of ventilation, and the field trip on Thursday was of our own buildings on campus, focusing on the ventilation systems, led by the HSPH facilities and operations team.

During the field trips.

  • The students engage with a local expert/guide, asking questions about the building's design and/or operation, and how it relates to what they learned and occupant health. Very often this leads to questions about problems that arose historically related to health, and how it was managed.

Examples of lectures and accompanying field trips:

- Healthcare Without Harm; tour of Boston Children's Hospital

- Green Schools and student health; tour of Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school

- High-Performing Homes; tour of BYGG Meister Low-energy homes

- Noise and buildings; tour of Museum of Fine Arts with acoustics consultant Acentech

- Water quality in buildings; tour of Deer Island Water Treatment Facility

via the course website

Follow up:

  • The class convenes on the return trip and discusses observations.


  • The instructor suggests that for this activity to be successful, finding great partners/experts who can lead the local tours is important.


  • Field notebooks


  • The students are assessed based on their participation in class discussion, role as a leader in the weekly discussions, and engagement during the field trips. They also complete two modeling exercises (indoor air quality and daylighting simulation), and they complete a semester-long project with two presentations.

Submitted by Joseph Allen, Environmental Health