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Elizabeth (Libby) Burton MA Cantab DipArch DipUD PhD

Professor of Sustainable Building Design and Wellbeing

Professor Elizabeth Burton


I have a joint appointment in the School of Engineering and Warwick Medical School. At the moment, my main base is in Engineering, room F320.

I am founder director of the WISE (Wellbeing in Sustainable Environments) research unit, established in 2004.Having qualified as an architect and urban designer, I took up a research career, with the aim of developing an evidence base for architectural practice. My research investigates the social aspects of sustainability and how the built environment (architecture and urban design) influences people’s wellbeing, quality of life and mental health. I have particular expertise in ageing research, including dementia-friendly design. I have also devised innovative tools and methods (e.g. the Built Environment Site Survey Checklist, BESSC) for obtaining objective measures of the built environment. I am now seeking to promote design for wellbeing in the built environment through the development of new cross-disciplinary courses.


International Symposium on Design for Wellbeing in the Built Environment

Organised by Libby, this symposium brought together selected academics to debate key questions around wellbeing in the build environment.

View Professor Burton's Legacy Lecture on 'The Pursuit of Happiness' (opens an new YouTube window).

You can also view a summary of the symposium on YouTube: Space for Thought Highlights.

Read my recent article in the Guardian newspaper

Read about my interest in sustainable cities

Here, I talk about how the Victorians were impressive in how they were able to design for health and wellbeing


Contact information

It is best to contact me by email: E dot Burton at warwick dot ac dot uk. My address is:

School of Engineering (F320)
University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL

Tel. +44 (0) 24 76 1 51101

In the Medical School, I am based in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Division (, room B019.



Dream Fellowship: Design for wellbeing in the built environment

This Fellowship, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will run until 2015. The award is a new scheme designed to support creative, transformative work that often fails to secure funding through conventional routes because of its risky nature. I describe the work proposed for the Dream Fellowship in the video below.

Professor Burton talks about her Dream Fellowship

watch the video

There is rapidly growing interest in designing the built environment to promote wellbeing, and a slowly developing research community to support it. I was awarded a Dream Fellowship in recognition of the need to develop ideas, networks and methodologies in this emerging field. The aim of the Fellowship is to promote a new approach to design of the built environment: one that puts people’s wellbeing at its heart and uses evidence of what works in doing so. Buildings and places are being created and adapted all the time, usually with little thought for health and wellbeing and virtually no use of evidence. Architects are taught to be creative, inventive and original, rather than to rely on research findings, in making their design decisions.

Mechanisms for promoting design for wellbeing need to be developed alongside evidence-based guidance. At the moment, very little design guidance is backed up by robust evidence. Though there is growing research in the area, this tends to be led by the health and social disciplines and is often difficult to apply in practice. There is a lack of sophistication in the definition and measurement of the built environment: measures are often subjective ratings or evaluations of quality rather than objective descriptions. If we know, for example, that ‘high quality’ housing design makes a difference to people’s wellbeing, how does the designer interpret this in terms of drawing a scheme on paper?

The Dream Fellowship supports me in building capacity in this emerging research area. I am drawing together a large network of interested academics and non-academics from a range of different fields, and have begun meetings and discussions to debate the best way forward in terms of research priorities and appropriate methodologies. If you are interested in being part of the design-for-wellbeing network, then please contact me (e dot burton at warwick dot ac dot uk).


I am keen to develop an evidence-based kitemark or rating system that recognises design-for-wellbeing in the built environment, in the way that energy ratings for buildings recognise their energy efficiency. Read more here: Again, please contact me if you are interested in this.


I’DGO (Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors)

Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors is the brainchild of three academic research centres, working as a multi-disciplinary consortium, supported by a wide range of partners in industry, government and advocacy. The researchers are based in Edinburgh, Warwick and Salford, but engaged in fieldwork throughout the UK and beyond. For full details of I’DGO, see the website -


Watch this video to find out about I’DGO research

In the first phase of I’DGO research, the WISE team (then based at Oxford Brookes University) investigated differences in the wellbeing of older people living in different types of neighbourhood. The aim was to find out which physical neighbourhood characteristics appear to support wellbeing. From the study, we developed a tool for measuring objectively these neighbourhood characteristics. For information on this research, see our paper in BMC Public Health (

In the second phase of I’DGO research, we investigated the role of residential outdoor space (gardens, balconies etc.) in older people’s wellbeing. We conducted a survey of around 2,500 people living in a wide range of housing types and locations, including housing built specifically for older people. We asked about: their current experience of their residential outdoor space; what an ideal residential outdoor space would look like; their views from inside their home; wellbeing in the home and locale; and personal and household information. We also measured participants’ residential outdoor space objectively using satellite imagery. Papers from this work will be published soon.


Staff morale and the design of inpatient psychiatric wards

The project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Services and Delivery Research Programme, and the analysis was completed in 2012. The research was part of a large project on staff morale. Details can be found in the paper below.

Sheehan B, Burton E, Wood S, Stride C, Henderson E, Wearn E: Evaluating the built environment in inpatient psychiatric wards. Psychiatric Services; May 2013.

Research on inpatient psychiatric care has paid little attention to the built environment of psychiatric wards. This study described the built environment in a sample of inpatient psychiatric wards in England and investigated relationships between staff satisfaction with the built environment of the ward and objective design features of the environment. Trained researchers completed a checklist of built environment characteristics of 98 inpatient wards in England in 2007–2009. Interrater reliability was assessed and confirmed. Staff on these wards completed a three-item measure assessing the ward for overall design, fitness for purpose, and role in ensuring safety. Multilevel modelling was used to test relationships between built-environment features and staff satisfaction. Results: A total of 1,540 staff responded. The wards encompassed a wide variety of service types and built-environment features. Staff satisfaction with the built environment was associated with noncorridor design and with the provision of personal bathrooms for patients. No association with observability of patients, exterior views, or other facilities was found. There was no difference between nurses and other groups in satisfaction with overall design, but nurses rated ward environment lower on ensuring safety (p=.036) and on fitness for purpose (p=.012). To conclude, objective measurement of the built environment in inpatient psychiatric settings is feasible and can be used to identify features that increase user satisfaction.


Dementia-friendly neighbourhoods

This research was funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) between 2000 and 2003. I include it here because the design guidance generated from the project is still in demand. For details of the research, plus key recommendations for designing or adapting neighbourhoods to be dementia-friendly, see our book below.

Burton, E. and Mitchell, M. (2006) Inclusive Urban Design: Streets for Life, Architectural Press, Oxford.

See also our chapter in a newly published book:

Mitchell, L. and Burton, E. (2012) Dementia-friendly neighbourhoods: a step in the right direction, in Designing Outdoor Spaces for People with Dementia (Eds A. Pollock and M. Marshall), Hammond Press and Dementia Services Development Centre, University of Stirling.


Care home design

This research was funded by the Department of Health (2004-2005). It investigated how the built environment in care homes for older people influences mood among residents. The outcomes were: a new tool for recording the design characteristics of care homes (achieving rater agreement for over 90% of items when tested for reliability); knowledge of what design characteristics seem to be positive for mood; and preliminary recommendations on the design of care homes likely to enhance mood. The work is summarised in the paper below:

Burton, E. and Sheehan, B. (2010) Care home environments and wellbeing: identifying the design features that most affect older residents. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research,27(3): 237-256.

A findings leaflet, including recommendations, is available. Please email (e dot burton at warwick dot ac dot uk) to request copies.



I welcome applications from students of any academic background interested in undertaking a research degree in my field. Students are likely to have a background in architecture, civil engineering, urban design or planning but this is not necessary. The research must be related to the built environment and its impact on people. However, it can focus on any element of the built environment, from individual buildings/office space to housing, streets or neighbourhoods. I am interested in the impact of the built environment on many different aspects of wellbeing, including mental health, social interaction, community spirit, healthy ageing, childhood development, productivity at work and preferences in general. I would also be interested in supervising research on measurement of the built environment or development of evidence-based approaches. Students can apply to study under my supervision within either School – Engineering ( or the Medical School ( there is a ‘Built environment and health and wellbeing’ stream in both. It is best to contact me first to decide which would be most appropriate. I am also happy to provide ideas and suggested research questions/methods, or to comment on the suitability of students’ own proposals. There are helpful research courses within both schools and I can ensure, if appropriate, students have access to the University’s social science research training delivered through its ESRC doctoral training programme (

My research students are automatically members of WISE and I like them to get involved in the work we are doing, particularly in terms of collaborating with designers, developers and local authorities and bidding for research funding. Students are also encouraged to attend my MEng module on ‘Health and wellbeing and the built environment’ (, which runs from November each year.




Cooper, R., Burton, E. (Eds)(forthcoming 2013) Wellbeing and the Environment, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Bird, W., Burton, E., Maryon-Davis, A., Murphy, M., Stewart-Brown, S., Weare, K. and Wilson, P. (2011) Thinking Ahead: Why We Need to Improve Children’s Health and Wellbeing(Edited by R. Jolley), Faculty of Public Health, London.

Burton, E. and Mitchell, M. (2006) Inclusive Urban Design: Streets for Life, Architectural Press, Oxford.

Sheehan, B., Burton, E., Gilbert, E. and Stockdale Juhlberg, K. (2006) Designing to Optimise Mental Health in Care Homes for Older People, OISD and University of Warwick, Coventry.



Sheehan, B., Burton, E., Stride, C., Wood, S. (2013) The physical environment of inpatient psychiatric care. Psychiatric Services, May 2013.

Burton, E., Mitchell, L. and Stride, C. (2011) Good places for ageing in place: development of objective built environment measures for investigating links with older people’s wellbeing. BMC Public Health, 11(839).

Burton, E. (2012) Streets ahead: the role of the built environment in health ageing. Perspectives in Public Heallth: Health Ageing Special Edition.

Burton, E. (2011) The importance of the built environment to children’s wellbeing: what do we know? UrbanAge, LSE, London.

Burton, E. and Sheehan, B. (2010) Care home environments and wellbeing: identifying the design features that most affect older residents. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research,27(3): 237-256.

Burton, E. and Torrington, J. (2007) Designing environments suitable for older people. CME Geriatric Medicine, 9(2): 39-45.

Sheehan, B., Burton, E. and Mitchell, L. (2006) Outdoor wayfinding in dementia. Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 5(2): 271-281.

Mitchell, L. and Burton, E. (2006) Neighbourhoods for life: designing dementia-friendly outdoor environments. Quality in Ageing – Policy, Practice and Research, Special Edition: the EQUAL Initiative, 7(1): 26-33.

Burton, E., Weich, S., Blanchard, M. and Prince, M. (2005) Measuring physical characteristics of housing: the Built Environment Site Survey Checklist (BESSC). Environment and Planning B, 32(2): 265-280.

Mitchell, L., Burton, E. and Raman, S. (2004) Dementia-friendly cities: designing intelligible neighbourhoods for life. Journal of Urban Design, 9(1): 89-101.

Blackman, T., Mitchell, L., Burton, E., Jenks, M., Parsons, M., Raman, S. and Williams, K. (2003) The accessibility of public spaces for people with dementia: a new priority for the ‘open city’. Disability and Society, 18(3): 357-371.

Burton, E. (2003) Housing for an urban renaissance: implications for social equity. Housing Studies, 18(4): 537-562.

Mitchell, L., Burton, E. and Raman, S., Blackman, T., Jenks, M. and Williams, K. (2003) Making the outside world dementia-friendly: design issues and considerations. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 30: 605-632.

Weich, S., Blanchard, M., Prince, M., Burton, E., Sproston, K. and Erens, R. (2002) Mental health and the built environment: a cross-sectional survey of individual and contextual risk factors for depression. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180: 428-433.

Burton, E. (2002) Measuring urban compactness in UK towns and cities. Environment and Planning B, 29(2): 219-250.

Weich, S., Burton, E., Blanchard, M., Prince, M., Sproston, K. and Erens, R. (2001) Measuring the built environment: validity of a site survey instrument for use in urban settings. Health and Place, 7: 283-292.

Burton, E. (2000) The compact city: just or just compact? A preliminary analysis. Urban Studies, October, 37(11): 1969-2006.


Burton, E. (2011) What exactly is high quality green space? Public Health Today, December 2011, p. 14.

Burton, E. (2010). The built environment and wellbeing. Urban Scrawl, 3, 24-25.

Mitchell, L. and Burton, E. (2010) Designing dementia-friendly neighbourhoods: helping people with dementia to get out and about. Journal of Integrated Care, 18(6), 12-19.

Burton, E. And Mitchell, L. (2010) Residential outdoor space for older people: a burden or a pleasure? Access by Design, Older People’s Housing Special Feature, Winter.

Newton, R., Burton, E. and Ward-Thompson, C. (2007) Outdoor environments – access for older people. Access by Design,, Burton, E. and Newton, R. (2006) ‘I’d go outdoors if I could . . .’. Green Places, 30: 18-19.