Pedestrian comfort: Why wind analyses are more relevant than ever

Spacemaker Team
Spacemaker Team October 17, 2020 4 min read

Buildings can create troublesome and dangerous winds in the surrounding area. In a recent, insightful interview with NRK, researcher Trond-Ola Hågbo discussed the need for change in how we build our urban environments: “In Norway, we often build high-rise buildings without taking enough account of wind. In a time of more extreme weather, this can create an unpleasant city centre and in the worst case be life-threatening.”

While Hågbo points to a recent example in the town of Bryne, there are countless similar cases, across the world, of buildings that look fantastic on paper, but which create uncomfortable spaces for pedestrians and cyclists when placed into the real world. This disconnect between planning and reality is why we at Spacemaker prioritise wind analysis alongside other assessable living qualities such as daylight, noise, and view-from-apartment. As with these analyses, wind should be assessed in early-stage planning. Spacemaker provides all of these analyses in a fully automated manner, with high precision methods – tailored for the needs of site developers and architects.

As cities grow taller and denser, it becomes ever more likely that unwanted wind effects will impact your site or its neighbours.

Example wind flow analysis of the area around a high-rise building in Bryne, Norway, using Spacemaker. All data is fetched automatically, and you are quickly able to asses the wind flow characteristics and pedestrian comfort

The impact of wind on pedestrian comfort

Experiencing a gentle breeze through the city streets on a warm summer day can be very comfortable, but with denser cities and taller skyscrapers, a breeze can quickly become an uncomfortable gust.

Wind flow changes how people interact with a site. Regular strong winds are problematic for recreational areas and commuting routes, and people will not linger in uncomfortable places. This discomfort can have a commercial impact as well – potential shoppers may find a high street or shopping area less appealing, adversely impacting a range of businesses. 

Awareness of this phenomenon is growing, with more and more examples we can point to. Along with the example above, in Bryne, the city of London recently took action to prevent future problems.

London initiatives were introduced after complaints about strong winds at the base of the “Walkie Talkie” building. These complaints resulted in guidelines for how to assess pedestrian and cyclists comfort and safety. The London wind microclimate guidelines are aimed at property development, and appropriate studies for evaluating wind conditions are required for submitting a planning application.

There is a strong reason to believe that more cities will follow London when it comes to guidelines for assessing the local climate, and how it impacts the residents of the city. Spacemaker has already been involved in several projects, where municipalities have the interests of the citizens in mind and ask for documented effects on the wind microclimate. An example is this district (article in Norwegian) in Bodø, Norway, where the layout of the site was fine-tuned for sun and wind conditions using analysis-driven design in Spacemaker.

[Video: Investigate pedestrian comfort using the local wind rose, and detailed wind flow studies. Here from an example site in Paris, France]

Wind analysis in Spacemaker

So, how is Spacemaker helping architects, developers, engineers, and municipalities to solve this problem? Our engineers, designers, and physicists have developed an easy-to-use, state-of-the-art analysis to assess pedestrian wind comfort in urban areas. It automatically adapts to your location, and you’ll have access to these insights with just the click of a button. 

Spacemaker provides insight into air flow patterns around buildings and terrain. We perform wind analysis using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), using sophisticated, validated tools. This tool has been under development for several years and was recently released as a core analysis within the Spacemaker product.

Spacemaker’s wind comfort metric combines the results from simulating wind from several directions with the probability of those winds occurring at your site; these probabilities are displayed in a wind rose. Depending on the location of your site, the wind conditions during a year may vary a lot. We have collected a large database of weather data, so you won’t have trouble finding a wind rose applicable to your site.

Investigate wind roses from both Global Wind Atlas and local weather stations, including seasonal variations

Importantly, we take into account the surrounding environment, not just the circumstances within the site itself. The calculations are automated, taking advantage of practically unlimited computational power in the cloud – giving reliable results in a remarkably short time – before providing tools to help you investigate what is causing discomfort and how to mitigate it.

A storm is coming – we must learn to adapt

Many architects and site developers have been guilty of ignoring wind conditions, instead focusing on other living qualities. Perhaps this approach was more acceptable at a time when buildings were consistently lower in profile, but it is not a sustainable approach for our future. As cities grow bigger, denser, and taller, they can create unpleasant environments with real hazards to wellbeing and safety. Spacemaker gives users the tools to accommodate this growth without compromising on living qualities.

At Spacemaker, we are providing developers, architects, and engineers with fast and accurate wind analyses for assessing the quality of outdoor areas. We provide a platform where all these stakeholders can work in a single space and collaborate to solve these challenges.

Jan-Tore Horn is a data scientist and numerical analysis specialist at Spacemaker. JT holds a PhD in probabilistic design of offshore wind turbines from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

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