It’s the little things that count…

All too often, when thinking about infrastructure, people think about large systems – railways, bridges, communications networks, health systems and so on. However, it is useful to pause for a moment to think about the purpose of infrastructure. The word means “that which lies underneath and supports a structure” (Oxford English Dictionary) and in the context of interactions between infrastructure and people, this includes the support for the structure of society as well as support for structures such as buildings, transport or communications systems.

In order for infrastructure to support an improvement in societal wellbeing, it is necessary to consider our interactions with it from the perspective of the sensing individual. In order to be used, infrastructure should be considered as a provider of pleasurable experience, rather than something that is imposed. At UCL2, we believe that positive change starts from positive experiences, and that the ​dynamic, multisensorial design of our people-environment interactions is the key. We emphasise the importance of detailed design decisions in the long term sustainability of any infrastructure system and are rethinking how the design of one element in a big network can in fact help change the perception of a whole infrastructure system and assist in large-scale behavioural change. By applying the principles of universal composition to these seemingly small but numerous infrastructure elements, UCLaims to improve the perception of our next generation infrastructure systems and promote sustainable and positive change.​

One of the outcomes from the universal composition approach is that it needs to concentrate on the actual interaction between a person and their immediate environment – how they hear it, see it, feel it and so on – in space and time. This means that it is crucial to consider the small details of the environment, not only in the sense of the small elements of the system (e.g. a lamp pole or bus stop) but also the sensorial details of those elements (e.g. their colour, sound and feel). However, our holistic concept also embraces other types of sense, such as the sense of equity or fairness (e.g. is the bus stop equally available to all?). By paying greater attention to these small but numerous elements of the environmental infrastructure, great change can be achieved through their sheer number and far-reaching distribution. At UCLwe focus on such people-environment interactions in the achievement of wellbeing.

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