What Germs Surround You? It Depends on the Architecture.

Architecture can affect mood, productivity, healing, and countless other aspects of human life. Now a researcher at the University of Oregon has discovered that architecture also affects the kind of germs found in various parts of buildings.

Jessica Green, a professor in the University of Oregon’s Institute for Ecology and Evolution, specializes in researching the biology of buildings.

“Although humans in industrialized countries spend nearly 90% of their time in enclosed buildings, we know very little about the biology of the indoor environment,” Green writes in her website. “Airborne microbial communities are intimately connected to human health in many ways, for example through the spread of acute respiratory disease and the increase of asthma symptoms. Despite the obvious significance of the indoor environment to sustainable well-being, little is known about the causes and consequences of microbial biodiversity indoors.”

Green notes that ample evidence shows that building design is closely linked to indoor air quality. For example, how air flows in a building, what surface treatments are used, and how human traffic moves through a space all influence the type and quantity of germs in a building.

For example, in one study Green and her colleagues vacuumed up dust samples throughout a university building and analyzed the bacteria found in each sample. The researchers discovered that rooms that had frequent visitors, such as classrooms and restrooms, were populated with bacteria commonly found on human skin. In contrast, offices had more bacteria that live in soils, especially offices with windows. And spaces that were mechanically ventilated had higher quantities of a bacteria called Deinoccoccus, which evidently grows well in hot, dry air.

None of these findings is particularly surprising, but the study makes clear how building design affects the microbes living within them, and in turn may affect the human inhabitants.

For more information on this topic, read Green’s website here.

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