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Human Habitat Experience

Framing the Habitat Experience

The built and natural environment frames 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.

Habitats are a cornerstone of our well-being as a society. With growing urbanization, the built urban environment will continue to be pivotal in human lives. The increasing importance of infrastructure in the human experience means that civil and environmental engineers will work closely with social sciences, public health and anthropology to enhance the experiences of humans in their various habitats.

We will work to enhance the human experience by promoting interdisciplinary designs that are based on close collaboration with the public. Developing new ways to empathically listen to residents will be critical in order to understand how people experience their built environment and how the infrastructure can subsequently adapt to improve and complement this experience.

We will also improve the fundamental understanding of how habitats impact the human experience, including human decision-making and trust in infrastructure. Our focus must be on forming habitats with low water and carbon footprints so that these experiences are sustainable for future generations.

This human-centric focus requires an informed public, empowered to improve their built infrastructure and land, air and water resources. We will lead the way in educating and engaging the public in how infrastructure is used to the benefit of people, and we will educate the next generation of civil and environmental engineers to apply interdisciplinary principles in their infrastructure design.

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What is the human habitat experience?

Associate Professor Herek Clack explains why 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 the Human Habitat Experience across our department.


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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.


More responsive COVID-19 wastewater test developed

Measuring RNA from SARS-COV-2 allows for more accurate testing than similar methods.

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    Podcast: Remaking water infrastructure

    In S1E2, harnessing waterborne microbes for data and health.

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    University of Michigan student team wins National Transportation Technology Tournament for second year in a row

    The team designed solutions to the problem of curb space management in downtown Ann Arbor.

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    All masks are not created equal

    Michigan Engineers test to evaluate safety.

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Featured Faculty

Peter Adriaens

Peter Adriaens

Online Education: Foundations of Mobility, Building Blocks, Master of Engineering in Smart Infrastructure Finance, Blockchain at Michigan, Business Connections


(734) 763-8032

Seymour M.J. Spence

Seymour M.J. Spence

Dynamic Adaptation, Undergraduate and Graduate Courses


(734) 764-8419

Sherif El-Tawil

Sherif El-Tawil

Human-in-the-loop Design, Next-gen Resilience Modeling, Virtual Reality Disaster Simulation


(734) 764-5617

Krista Rule Wigginton

Krista Rule Wigginton

The Water Experience, Peecycling, Resource Cycles


(734) 763-9661

Aline Cotel

Aline Cotel

Engineered Naturally


(734) 763-1463

Yafeng Yin

Yin Yafeng

Engineered Cementitious Composites, Connectivity & Automation, Pricing Infrastructure


(734) 764-8249

Jeremy Bricker

Jeremy Bricker


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Human Habitat Experience on Twitter

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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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