The air microbiome of a zero carbon building: personal thoughts


Zero Carbon Building Hong Kong. Image taken from

In the world of built environment (BE) microbiome research, we are by now well aware that building designs have influences on the indoor microbial assemblage. Therefore, BEs that employ a multitude of innovative designs, such as green and zero carbon buildings (GBs and ZCBs), may provide us greater insight on the mechanistic basis for the relationships between building design and the BE microbiome. This article is therefore a quick side note related to our recent bacterial community case study of a single ZCB in Hong Kong (HK), which can be accessed here. Other than saying that the microbiome of the ZCB we looked at appeared to resemble that of “conventional” buildings (as demonstrated and discussed in our publication), I shall not repeat what has been said on the report. However, I would like to take this opportunity to lay out some of my personal thoughts while conducting this work.

I was surprised that there was no microbiome study on green buildings when we started our work (but an account of the mycobiome of GBs in Ohio was published only a few days ago). Despite the different methods employed between the HK and US studies, neither studies were able to detect changes that to be pinpointed to GB/ZCB designs. I personally believe that understanding the indoor microbiomes of GBs/ZCBs will be increasingly important, as the number of these buildings are expected to grow globally). However, this importance is greatly dependent on whether or not analysing the roles of specific GB/ZCB-related building designs on the microbiome will tell us anything that we do not already know. However, with the little information regarding the GB/ZCB microbiome, we are not ready to answer this. I feel this is where controlled experiments could perhaps provide elegant and direct assessments of how designs that are most “appropriate” for GB/ZCBs would affect GB/ZCB microbial assemblages.

The quotation around “appropriate” brings me to the second point: what is appropriate for a building differs between buildings. Designing a GB/ZCB probably requires a deep understanding on local environmental and other conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity, wind direction, access to sunlight, population density, access to roads/transportation, just to name a few).So the question is how can we standardise our findings and understanding of GB/ZCB microbiomes, because all GB/ZCB designs are likely to be different. While these considerations are important in general BE microbiome, I believe they are especially important when talking about GBs/ZCBs, because the element of design in response to the local environment is so integral to the efficiencies of GBs/ZCBs. Take a look at this South China Morning Post about the HK ZCB, and you will notice how our local climate and general urban fabric of HK is brought up repeatedly.

In summary, I feel that we need to understand both how specific GB/ZCB building designs can affect the indoor GB/ZCB microbiomes in controlled settings. Also, assessments of GBs/ZCBs around the world with drastically different designs in response to different environmental conditions should be performed.

Here’s a video describing the design of the HK ZCB from the ZCB Homepage:

Marcus Leung

Marcus Leung is a postdoctoral researcher from the City University of Hong Kong, studying urban and human microbiomes.

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