Author: Ashley Bateson, Partner
Using climate adaptation to influence our design choices.
Climate change is a defining issue of our time.
The earth’s climate is in a state of flux due to increased carbon dioxide emissions. From fluctuations in weather patterns to rising sea levels, the impacts can have catastrophic effects on a global scale.
Planet-conscious design requires evolving mindsets whilst measuring, evaluating and maintaining adaptive solutions.
Many of us perceive that buildings are resilient and unbreakable, but they too are vulnerable. From houses to high-rises, all are at risk.
Wetter winters, drier summers.
It is well known that climate change will increase rainfall. With this comes a higher risk of flooding due to rising river levels, extreme storms and water surges. Without reducing emissions, global mean sea levels could rise by 0.5m by 2050.
Flooding can significantly damage buildings, specifically its materials, services and structure. This in turn can impact its performance and longevity. There is also a high level of concern with contamination if waste water is present in the floodwater due to the potential transmission of diseases.
The counter to more precipitation in winter is the rising temperatures across the globe and the consequences of this. There are astonishing projections for the future when it comes to global warming, with some scenarios suggesting a more than 2°C average increase by 2050 (compared to pre-industrial levels) meaning buildings are at threat of overheating. This too is exaggerated in cities, with the increased number and density of buildings and lack of vegetation leading to an urban heat island effect.
Overheating will have detrimental effects on the structural integrity of buildings, but a more immediate impact, already observed in some homes and places of work, is on the health and wellbeing of occupants.
As the planet heats up the number of heat-related deaths is likely to increase to 7,000 per year by 2050 in the UK, equivalent to four times as many road fatalities per year.
What can we do?
The construction industry is working hard to deliver resource-efficient buildings. With climate-conscious techniques and dedicated engineers, we can change the way we design to ensure the future of the built environment is designed. We should aim to design for both climate mitigation and adaptation, and create resilient buildings.
A technique that provides a simple yet valuable solution for areas facing negative climate implications is the inclusion of Blue-Green infrastructure. This aims to create natural environments within a neighbourhood or city through
• Blue space: bodies of water such as rivers, canals and pools
• Green space: areas of vegetation such green landscaping, biodiverse roofs and local trees
By creating an integrated approach to planning and building design that connects urban, man-made functions with blue-green infrastructure, we can deliver:
• A cooler micro-climate
• Reduced storm and flooding risk
• Reduced urban ‘heat island’ effect
• Increased biodiversity
• Spaces for recreation and social activity for better wellbeing
Get one step ahead.
With a wealth of knowledge of climate adaptation it is crucial that we start early on projects and asses the functionality and efficiency of every design choice. We can use the principals of thermal modelling to assess challenges such as overheating risk at pre-planning stage. This can identify any issues before detailed design and construction has even started. However, this isn’t where the concern should stop.
We have an industry that is focused on celebrating buildings at handover. More needs to be done post-occupancy and studies should be continually carried out in the name of improving resilience and building performance.
We know climate change can cause more frequent extreme weather events. The contrast between designing for greater rain intensity and overheating risk presents a challenging dichotomy. We suggest that to tackle an adaptive comfort strategy, ventilation and cooling strategies need to be considered together to keep up with the changing climate. Mechanical ventilation in new buildings can be complemented with openable windows and shading. This means there is an opportunity to develop optimised ventilation that can react to the day-to-day changes. This can be as simple as having windows that fully open, which will improve resilience, and configuring them to give the best daylight but fitting them shading devices such with interstitial blinds.
Ultimately, it’s vital we design buildings that safeguard both structures and people. The cost of designing for mitigation now can be much lower than making adaptions later.