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Enhancing Human Habitat Experience

The built and natural environment frames enhancing the human experience; it facilitates human social interactions, enables movement of people from one point to another, and provides us with the air, water and food we need to flourish.

The built and natural environment frames the daily human experience, facilitating social interactions, enabling movement of people, and providing the resources needed to flourish. To enhance this experience, we will promote convergent ideas that are grounded in a profound understanding of social and historical contexts and in close partnership with those who experience our designs. Empathic listening will be essential for understanding how people experience the built environment, recognizing how participatory infrastructure design can bolster trust and usability. We are deeply committed to equitable and just access to the built and natural systems, embracing diverse viewpoints that reflect the principles of People-First Engineering. We will expand the fundamental body of knowledge underpinning impacts of infrastructure on human well-being, finance, and policy. Our research will lay the groundwork for policy solutions that encompass human needs. Importantly, we will spearhead equity-focused education to equip the next generation of civil and environmental engineers with participatory tools and perspectives that are essential to build holistic perspectives into their future practice.

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What is enhancing the human habitat experience?

Associate Professor Herek Clack explains why enhancing the human habitat experience should be a critical area of focus for civil and environmental engineers.

  • 3 million

    Air Pollution is the world’s biggest environmental health risk with 3 milllion deaths worldwide in 2012 attributable to ambient or air pollution.

  • 667

    From 2000 to 2015, the global number of people without at least basic sanitation provision increased from 567 million to 667 million.

  • 3

    By 2050, the number of people living in extreme poverty in urban communities worldwide, already close to 1 billion, could rise to 3 billion.

Our Approach

Our strategic directions have a broad impact on the way we operate, influencing our approach to research, education and outreach. Explore some examples of how we are implementing the concept of enhancing the Human Habitat Experience across our department.


  1. Two people crouch next to a laptop on a cart. One of them points to the screen.

    A Smarter HVAC System

    University of Michigan researchers are designing novel, nonintrusive methods to monitor and control the quality of the built environment for improved health and well-being of building occupants. Here, U-M researchers inspect a robotic platform that monitors and maps air temperatures and air quality to facilitate automatic control of building heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

  2. An aerial photo of a large crowd of people using a busy crosswalk.

    Urban Sensors

    Smart cities will have dense sensor networks deployed throughout our built environment. To truly enhance the habitat experience, citizens must derive benefit from the data these networks will produce. Our researchers are exploring how cities of the future can use their data to empower all city stakeholders by working with Detroit youth in deploying urban sensors.

  3. A person crouches with a bucket in front of a large wall of pipes, instrumentation, and buckets.

    Understanding Microbiomes

    Our urban water system contains multiple complex microbial biomes that play important roles in human health and water infrastructure integrity. Researchers in CEE are studying the linkages between water and human microbiomes so that water infrastructure can be managed to maximize function and protect human and environmental health.

  4. A photo of a river strewn with debris in a highly populated area.

    The Water Experience

    Water quality and availability shape how people experience and value water. Through close collaborations with researchers in the disciplines of ethnography and epidemiology, U-M researchers are exploring how people experience the engineered water system and how water ultimately impacts nearly all aspects of their life.

  5. A person in a protective gown and safety goggles operates a testing apparatus outdoors in snow.

    Take a Deep Breath

    Diseases transmitted by air can spread rapidly from person to person; some, like swine flu or avian flu, can even spread from animals to humans. Sterilization of ventilated air, for example using the non-thermal plasma device developed by U-M researchers seen here, can help prevent the spread of airborne pathogens.

  6. Two people sit and smile at a laptop, while a third person looks on from behind.

    Sensing Stress

    University of Michigan researchers are exploring methods to improve human mobility within the built environment, with particular focus on vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and people with physical disabilities. Here, a U-M graduate student discusses the use of wearable sensors that can help determine where elderly populations experience stress when interacting with infrastructure to determine what interventions could alleviate that stress.


Center for Socially Engaged Design

The University of Michigan’s Center for Socially Engaged Design empowers students with perspectives and skills needed to design effective technology interventions that are good for the world. The center coaches designers to take into account the fullest social, cultural, economic and environmental contexts that their design process and intervention will interact with.

How Cities Work

This interdisciplinary seminar course and public lecture series was developed with the goal of empowering students and the public with knowledge on how cities work – spanning many factors that affect people’s daily lives in our built environment. These lectures brought in leading researchers, elected officials, policy experts and industry representatives to discuss pressing issues at the intersection of urban challenges.


Urban Collaboratory

The Urban Collaboratory seeks to explore how technology can benefit communities in the center’s seven research areas (energy, finance, health, infrastructure, mobility, social, and water). Current projects engage with city stakeholders primarily across Michigan and the Midwest, and prioritize access to fundamental human needs.


CEE Recaps January 31 Building the Future Webinar

U-M CEE is providing an extended panel discussion article, consisting of audience questions that were unable to be answered during our January 31, 2023, webinar due to time limitations. This discussion features Dr. Kimberly Prather and panelists Jim Rosenthal and Dustin Poppendieck
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    CEE Receives NSF Grant to Support Independent Mobility in People with Different Physical Abilities

    CEE Professors Carol Menassa and Vineet Kamat are the lead PIs on a project that is looking at long-term ways to provide new solutions for people who use wheelchairs for mobility in indoor and outdoor built environments, with a goal of improving their independence and reducing health care costs.

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    Video: Creating Equity in Midwestern Flood Response and Recovery

    Flooding is the leading cause of property damage and deaths in the U.S. It’s bigger than earthquakes and forest fires put together. Branko Kerkez, an Arthur F. Thurnau Associate Professor of civil and environmental engineering, and his students at the Digital Water Lab partnered with researchers at the University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions to measure, better understand and prevent flooding and its aftermath in some of the most vulnerable communities.

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    NSF Grant Will Support Research to Reduce Wildfire Threats

    Wildfires pose a significant danger to people living at the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and have caused billions of dollars in damage to property. U-M CEE Associate Prof. Ann Jeffers is the lead P.I. on a project that just received a grant for almost $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a computational model that will allow researchers to predict structural ignitions under wildfire exposure. The project’s title is “BRITE Relaunch: A Physics-Based Simulation Model for Exploring Community Resilience to Wildfires.”

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Featured Faculty


1. Vidal, J. (2014, March 25). WHO: Air pollution ‘is single biggest environmental health risk’. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from

2 & 3. 10 things to know about the impacts of urbanisation. (2018, October 01). Retrieved April 22, 2019, from

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