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Published: 05 July 2017

Unique London field study tests indoor and outdoor air quality

Academics at Surrey are investigating how buildings and traffic are affecting air quality and temperatures, both indoors and out, at St George’s Circus, London.

This is the first field study in the £4m MAGIC (Managing Air for Green Inner Cities) project funded by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council). Now in its second year, the five year project aims to work towards the impossible dream of cities with no air pollution and no ‘heat-island’ effect. The ‘heat island’ is a phenomenon whereby heat retained in buildings, combined with high energy use, causes air temperatures to be significantly greater in built-up areas that in the surrounding countryside. The health effects of this can be particularly severe during heat waves.

The MAGIC project is a collaboration between Surrey’s EnFlo (Environmental Flow Research Centre)  within the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the University of Cambridge (leading the project) and Imperial College.

Launched in June 2017, the field study is focused on St George’s Circus in Southwark, southeast London, a busy road junction surrounded by a complex infrastructure of buildings. Three rooms in a London South Bank University building have been fitted with instrumentation to measure environmental conditions and how the building is being used, while related data is being obtained in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The objective is to investigate air pollutants, temperature and humidity, and how these are affected by occupants’ activities and actions, such as opening windows or using air conditioning. The study will also explore the impact of the external environment, for example traffic, building development, trees and open spaces. Throughout, the aim is to promote solutions that lead to healthy, cool indoor conditions – something that can only be achieved when the neighbourhood, or indeed the city, is treated as an integrated system.

In addition to the on-site testing at St George’s Circus, Surrey’s researchers have built a 1:200 scale model that replicates the buildings within about 300m of the Circus. This has been installed in the EnFlo meteorological wind tunnel – a unique national facility – and is being used to understand the development of the wind over the site and how this drives pollutant dispersion. Of particular interest at this site is the role of a number of tall buildings to the southwest.

Professor Alan Robins, leading the MAGIC project at Surrey, said: “This is a natural successor to the DAPPLE project that ran from 2002 to 2010, with the Marylebone Road area as its field site. The unique thing about MAGIC is that we now look at what happens both outside and inside the buildings, whereas previous studies have focused mainly on one or the other. And in reality we spend most of our time indoors so this knowledge is very important.

“By understanding the overall heat balance we can make better decisions on where and when natural ventilation is preferable to air conditioning, and indeed promote natural ventilation to avoid the energy use associated with mechanical ventilation.

“The modelling system that we are developing treats the issues addressed in MAGIC as a whole, and can therefore be used for strategic planning decisions, as well as real-time, day-to-day management. It aims to answer questions such as: What are the overall effects of building a high-rise there, opening a park there, or diverting traffic away from here? What is the impact of a vehicle fire or a hazardous spill on the surrounding area, and how can the consequences be managed?”

The MAGIC project is one of only five ‘Future Cities Grand Challenges’ to be funded by EPSRC. It is being conducted in partnership with a range of industrial partners including Arup, Breathing Buildings, CERC (Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants), Duvas Technologies, Foster and Partners, EC Harris LLP, EnEx G (Engineering Excellence Group), Dyson, NPL, Norwegian Defence Research Institute, Institute of Atmospheric Physics (Beijing), and University of Reading.

Read more about the MAGIC project and DAPPLE project.

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