Global center promises design solutions for warming world

A Cornell-led project team – with Global Hubs partners in India, the U.K, Ghana and Singapore – has received a two-year $250,000 design grant from the National Science Foundation to bring more comfortable days and nights to homes everywhere.

The Global Center for Household Energy and Thermal Resilience (HEaTR) aims to promote climate vulnerability solutions by analyzing and sharing the practical housing adaptation strategies of communities most affected by climate extremes.

“Amid a plethora of complex, expensive, and mostly theoretical engineering solutions being devised for the future of housing,” said project director Alex Nading, a medical and environmental anthropologist in the College of Arts and Sciences, “this project takes a bottom-up approach that very literally aims to meet those affected by climate change where they live.”

Launched with Nading’s 2022 Global Hubs joint seed grant with the Edinburgh Hub and anthropologist Jamie Cross, the project is based in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, partnering with the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, School of Industrial and Labor Relations and ILR’s Buffalo Co-Lab.

Global Hubs universities joining the research are Ashoka University, University of Edinburgh, University of Ghana and National University of Singapore.

“The Global Hubs network was instrumental in the success of this grant,” said project codirector Sarah Besky. “The relationships initiated under the Hubs made our partnership arrangements both smooth and productive.” Besky, an ILR associate professor, is Global Hubs India faculty lead and director of the Einaudi Center’s South Asia Program.

People experience climate change – from extremes of heat and cold to natural disasters – in their homes, the researchers argue, yet the design expertise of those living in climate-vulnerable communities has been overlooked. HEaTR’s animating principle is that scientific approaches to sustainable household energy use must be inspired by the values, needs and practices of the householders themselves.

“Once this global center gets off the ground, we have two main goals,” Nading said. “The first is to illustrate how people in areas most affected by climate extremes are actively and creatively working to address energy and weatherization needs. To meet that goal, we aim to build a robust ethnographic, architectural and spatial picture not only of what homes look like, but what they mean.”

The center’s second goal is to create a data platform to share designs for the thermal future that are place-sensitive, practical and accessible to the people and communities that need them.

Sheri Englund is senior associate director of communication for Global Cornell.

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