UCL environment lab gets greenlight

A new UCL research lab that will explore how humans interact with environments such as train stations has been given the go-ahead.

(Credit: UCL Centre for Transport Studies)

Known as PEARL (Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory), it’s claimed the new centre will be the only space in the world where researchers can precisely simulate large-scale environments and test people’s reactions to them in detail. PEARL will aim to improve quality of life through better infrastructure design while also enabling research across a variety of areas including medical and brain sciences, smart data, public health and the performing arts.

According to UCL, the centre will be located near Dagenham East tube station and will be the university’s first net zero carbon building. At 14 metres tall and with 600 square metres of reconfigurable floor space, PEARL will be able to simulate scenarios, recreating smells such as gas leaks and sounds ranging from bird song to massive explosions. Several decommissioned London Underground trains will form part of the site.

“PEARL’s vision is to create a better world through designing infrastructure that works for everyone, but also by facilitating research and education across a wide range of areas, including the arts, humanities and medical sciences, as well as planning, design and engineering,” said Professor Nick Tyler, Director of UCL’s Centre for Transport Studies (CTS).

The new lab will build on the work of PAMELA (UCL Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory) which shaped the design of proposed new London Underground trains, as well as identified ways of improving infrastructure for people with dementia. As well as facilitating academic study into human/infrastructure interactions, PEARL also opens up a range of possibilities as a performance space, according to Professor Stella Bruzzi, Dean of UCL Arts & Humanities.

“PEARL, like PAMELA, could be used as a basic black box backdrop: a film or performance set which we could configure as required, to create a multisensorial amphitheatre for Greek plays, a 16th-century theatre, or an open square for public performance,” she said.

PEARL is set to be completed in 2021.