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Current and Recent Projects

Project Groundwater 2022-2026

Researchers from the Build Environment cluster are part of Buckinghamshire Council’s consortium of partners to improve community resilience to groundwater flooding across the chalk streams of the Chilterns. Although less common than other forms of flooding, the consequences can be more extensive due to the long duration of the events when groundwater emerges in the urban environment, affecting cellars and basements and the ground floor structures of buildings. Project Groundwater is collaborating with communities, to pilot new approaches and technologies to increase resilience, including to improve monitoring, mapping, flood warnings and the enhancement of property flood resilience (PFR) measures. Karen Potter is working with the partners to increase understanding of the fluid concept of 'community' resilience, how the technical innovations can be co-produced and their social impacts evaluated with communities. The OU Team is led by Alice Moncaster, to include a Buckinghamshire Council funded PhD studentship from October 2022. This partnership is one of 25 projects, part of the Government’s Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme to inform future approaches and investment in flood risk management.


Urban Trees for Heat-Resilient Green Neighbourhoods, 2022-2024

Researchers from the Built Environment cluster are currently running a British Academy-funded project to explore how urban trees and green spaces can reduce risk from extreme heat, while delivering multiple health and wellbeing benefits to communities. The two-year project takes communities in Glasgow (Scotland, UK) and Taipei (Taiwan) as case studies, and involves Leslie Mabon and Alice Moncaster from the School of Engineering and Innovation as well as colleagues from the WELS Faculty, Jitka Vseteckova and Verina Waights. The OU team will work alongside Ming-Chuan University in Taiwan and Climate Ready Clyde in Glasgow to understand how green spaces shape the thermal environment in neighbourhoods, and engage with community researchers to create narratives of green space and weather in their neighbourhoods. The project is funded under the British Academy’s Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research programme.


Routledge Handbook of Embodied Carbon in the Built Environment, 2021-2023

This international handbook is aimed at practitioners and academics around the world. Rahman Azari at Pennsylvania State University in the US, and Alice Moncaster at the OU, are co-editing a collection of commissioned chapters from expert authors across the globe, covering the main issues for understanding embodied carbon, not just for materials or individual buildings but also at the level of the built environment. Sections will cover the basics of embodied carbon, current key debates, the state of policies and regulations, case studies in assessment and reduction, and future directions. There will be a free online symposium based on the book in November 2022 and the handbook is due to be published in the first quarter of 2023.


Embodied Impacts of Concrete, 2020-2023

This minimally funded project nevertheless scrutinises a critical issue.  Cement, and therefore concrete, is responsible for around 8% of all global emissions – by far the biggest impact of any single material. With increasing development, increasing populations, and increasing urbanisation, its use is increasing. Yet we don’t need concrete to build buildings. This project considers the data on the greenhouse gas impacts (‘carbon’) of concrete, as well as how it is used, and how it is being heavily marketed. Two of three planned journal papers have been published open access in the journal Buildings and Cities: Embodied carbon of concrete in buildings, Part 1, and Embodied carbon of concrete in buildings, Part 2, as well as a commentary aimed at a general audience Embodied carbon in concrete: problems of mis-messaging.

The project is led by Alice Moncaster and includes Jane Anderson at the OU, with input from Tove Malmqvist at KTH, Francesco Pomponi at Edinburgh Napier, Tim Forman at the University of Cambridge and others.


Saving Energy and Carbon from Buildings, 2022

Domestic buildings in the UK are responsible for 20% of all national carbon emissions. Most of this is currently from heating, but as the effects of climate change increase, we will also need buildings which can stay cool. Retrofit of existing buildings is key to both reducing our national emissions, and improving and maintaining long term comfort and health.

Anne-Marie McHugh is the EPSRC-funded intern on this project, which will continue on from Freya Wise’s PhD thesis which has considered retrofitting heritage buildings based on a combination of owner’s behaviour and preferences and the performance of the building itself.  The intern will identify the critical factors, and develop a simplified process for decisions about retrofit for a specific building which can be followed by home-owners or building professionals.  Key retrofit options will be modelled in order to understand the potential whole life carbon costs and savings. Finally, an assessment will be conducted on a home to produce an acceptable and appropriate bespoke retrofit package which is fully carbon-priced. Ann-Marie is supported by Alice Moncaster, Freya Wise and Kyriacos Polycarpou. More details available here EPSRC DTP Internship.


Empowering Design Practices: Historic Places of Worship as Catalysts for Connecting Communities, 2014-2021

Empowering Design Practices is a large £1.5m project funded by AHRC under the Connected Communities and Design Highlight Notice. The project investigates how community-led design (CLD) practices apply in the case of historic places of worship and focusses on the development of new mechanisms and processes to empower communities and to facilitate and evaluate good practice. The project has supported over 50 communities involved in adaptation and maintenance of historic places of worship of different faiths and denominations. In parallel it delivered a training program for design students, professionals and communities in order to build national capacity for research by design.

The project is led by Theodore Zamenopoulos and Katerina Alexiou with colleagues for Art History (Elizabeth McKellar and Susie West) and IET (Tim Coughlan). It is run as a collaborative partnership between the Open University and The Glass-House Community Led Design with organisations outside the Higher Education sector including Historic England, the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance and National Lottery Heritage Fund.

More details on the official website:


The Disaster Trade: The Hidden Footprint of UK Imports and Investment Overseas, 2020-2021

Led by Laurie Parsons at RHUL, and involving partners from the OU and Universities of Dhakar and Exeter as well as NGOs, this interdisciplinary project investigates the environmental and social impacts of increasing international trade. Particular case studies of trade in tea, cotton and bricks from the global South to the UK reveal the complexities both of supply chains and of their negative impacts on the global and the local environments. These impacts include the hidden GHG and pollution impacts of manufacturing goods thousands of miles away then transporting them to the UK or Europe. They also reveal that international supply chains support not just modern slavery, but also deforestation and other degradation and change of land use, which in turn can change local weather patterns and have disastrous impacts on local environments including flooding and major crop failures.