OU Architecture Professor Issued Patent for Facade Design to Reduce Air Pollution

Dr. Lee Fithian, an Associate Professor of Architecture, was recently issued a patent for her building façade system that she has spent years developing. The double skin façade system evacuates polluted air from the streetscape, providing better air quality for people in urban environments and improving human health. The system can be included in new buildings but can also be retrofitted to existing ones. 

Dr. Fithian developed this system because she realized that buildings are capable of not only consuming resources but also could be used as tools for improving the living conditions and welfare of those living around the buildings.  

In urban environments, pollution can become trapped at the street level between buildings. This polluted air can continue to recirculate at the ground level in “street canyons.” Dr. Fithian’s patented design builds on the concept of building façades that have traditionally ventilated the building itself and uses the façade to instead ventilate the street. A ventilator between the two layers of the double skin façade would drive the air up through the façade and out of the street level, forcing out the trapped, polluted air.  

Outside of the OU Air Quality Testing Lab

Dr. Fithian proved the success of the façade design by developing and using a city street model at the Outdoor Urban Air Quality Testing Lab that allows researchers to conduct air quality assessments. After proving the utility of the design, Dr. Fithian applied for and successfully received a patent for the façade ventilation system with support from the OU Board of Regents.  

Dr. Fithian hopes that by filing this patent and through publishing future papers she is able to take her idea from its original conception all the way through practical application in cities and towns that need help with the growing problem of air pollution. She imagines in places like London where school children often must take different routes to school due to concentrations of air pollutants, buildings equipped with her façade technology can evacuate the street’s polluted air. She also hopes that the design could be used near the many group settings such as outdoor restaurants that were established during the COVID-19 pandemic. The retrofitted facades could help circulate air and reduce viral load in the air at the street level.  

Since receiving her patent, Dr. Fithian now plans to reach out to companies like Corning and Kawneer to develop the façade for widespread use. She also recently visited the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, to learn about their four-story indoor plant wall that acts as part of the buildings ventilation system, cleaning indoor air pollutants. Dr. Fithian hopes to combine this technology with her building façade to create a system where plants grow between the two layers of the outdoor façade and air that is forced through the façade is not only evacuated but is also cleaned by the plant life.  

Dr. Fithian’s façade technology has broad applications for cities and towns across the world. The street canyons that trap pollutants can be created by just a few floors of height on both sides of a street open to cars. This means that the recirculation of polluted air is not only a problem in major metropolitan areas with skyscrapers but also can be a problem in suburban areas and smaller cities and towns. The façade design, especially when retrofitted to existing buildings, will add a design and function element to buildings that improves the health, safety, and welfare of users of the built environment.