Finding synergy between human values and built environments

zhang-3275Lu Zhang brings the human touch to construction. As the newest hire in the School of Construction, and its only female faculty member, Zhang’s research focuses on human-building interactions, specifically on what humans value in buildings (e.g., health and comfort, safety, energy conservation), how such human values affect the value of buildings, and how the value of buildings affects decision making during building planning and design.

Through the use of mathematical modeling, the assistant professor quantifies values to determine the impact of alternative planning and design decisions on the environmental, social and economic value of building systems. She developed a building information modeling (BIM)-integrated, value-sensitive decision support prototype system that aims to predict and analyze the value of a building system to its stakeholders. The system gathers data from BIM on items such as daylight and views, acoustics, indoor quality, energy, safety, and then produces a value analysis report to the stakeholders. The system is useful to stakeholders interested in the building value to them, from developers, owners, contractors and construction companies to the building’s end-users.

Zhang’s research facilitates value-sensitive decision making towards better synergy between human values and the built environment. Her research experience is diverse and multidisciplinary; part of her graduate work investigated the safety and health issues of construction workers and information retrieval in sustainable construction.

Originally from China, Zhang attended Tongji University. She joined the construction management program there, housed under the university’s business school, but admits she didn’t know much about construction at the time. “I initially wanted to be a successful business woman, and go to Wall Street,” she explained. “Construction management was the best major – it was a joint program with civil engineering and architecture, and had the best professors.”

After her first internship at a real estate development company, she started learning to love construction. The company was involved in a luxury hotel project, which later became a landmark project in her hometown of Dalian, China.

“I was involved in the pre-planning process,” she said. “After the hotel was constructed, I took my friends to my hometown and showed them around the project. I felt proud of that accomplishment.”

When the time came to pursue graduate studies, she felt she stood a better chance in the U.S. to make it. “The U.S. has the best civil engineering and construction programs. Here, you have a chance to reach your full potential, and to be as good as everyone.”

Zhang joined the College of Engineering and Computing after recently earning her Ph.D. in civil engineering with a specialization in construction management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was attracted to Miami because FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing had a good School of Construction, and research and teaching are both valued here. In addition to human-building interaction and building and civil information modeling, her areas of specialization include semantic information modeling, data analytics, value analysis, smart building and infrastructure and sustainable construction.

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