Microclimate analysis comes to Spacemaker

Spacemaker Team
Spacemaker Team October 5, 2021 6 min read

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This week we’re taking a significant step forward in our sustainability journey at Spacemaker: we are pleased to announce that the new microclimate analysis tool is now available. By providing a way to quickly, easily, and accurately evaluate the thermal comfort of outdoor spaces, detect problematic areas, and simulate optimal solutions, Spacemaker empowers architects, planners and developers to make high impact, low-cost changes before they need to lock in major design decisions and it’s too late to turn back. This leads to implementing solutions that are more efficient and sustainable, from day one. Furthermore, by ensuring optimal living conditions now, it reduces the need for large-scale, high-cost and high-waste renovations and improvements in the future. This new feature joins Spacemaker’s core environmental analyses such as daylight, noise, sun, and wind.

‍‍The importance of outdoor thermal comfort

Every year, the planet and our cities are getting hotter. The 2019 heat wave brought record high temperatures to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Germany, among others. In 2021, another unprecedented heat wave swept across Western North America, Russia, Scandinavia and southern Europe, creating dangerous living conditions for millions in the northern hemisphere. Cities, in particular, are often the victim of what are known as urban heat islands, or UHIs. This is when urban areas have higher temperatures than nearby rural areas. These temperature differences are significant.

Recently we shared this CityLab article with the team, detailing how European cities were literally not built for the heat they were now likely to face. The article highlighted that in London, the “home builders’ priority is often to fit in as many exterior windows as possible… air conditioning is for commercial premises, while fly screens are something you’ll only find at an old-fashioned butcher. [Many] homes have always focused on keeping heat in. There’s been little thought expended on how to keep it out.” In summer, London can be up to 10 ℃ warmer than its surroundings. It’s no surprise that cities around the world are taking major steps to mitigate this problem – and the subsequent changes to regulations will have a significant impact on how architects, real estate developers and planners shape our cities.

In fact, the city of London has released a set of guidelines on thermal comfort, from which we want to highlight this quote:

“While the materials used in a building scheme play a role in urban thermal comfort, building form plays a larger role by determining access to wind and sun. It is also an aspect of a building which is not easily manipulated later in the design process. Thus, early detection of problematic forms is critical for urban planning as well as a timely design and construction process.”

This focus on the early detection of problematic forms is precisely why we believe Spacemaker can be an essential tool for thermal comfort. It’s also why we’ve spent two years researching thermal stress and perceived temperature in order to make microclimate analysis a reality. By using it in the early stages of planning, you’re able to make the large, meaningful changes to your site proposal that will mitigate the issue while reducing the risk of high-costs later on to fix the problem. Equally important is the fact that you don’t need to resort to less effective short-term solutions such as wind screens, temporary shading, or gas/electric heaters, all of which can be energy and resource intensive.

Using our microclimate analysis

While methods of calculating the urban heat island effect already exist, they’re often accessible only to expert users, take hours to run, or do not visualise the data. Instead, we focused on creating a fast, intuitive and highly visual analysis so that, for the first time, the entire site planning team can quickly see the impact of design decisions on thermal comfort, and resolve any issues efficiently and effectively.  

The analysis shows the perceived temperature, the same measure as when the weather forecast announces, for example, a temperature of 15 ℃, but because of sun, wind, and/or humidity, it feels like 20 ℃. We’ve chosen the Universal Thermal Climate Index, or UTCI, to represent this “feels-like” temperature as it is the most commonly used of several accepted perceived temperature metrics. More importantly, it’s widely considered to be both an accurate and respected indicator. If you’re interested in reading more about UTCI, then we recommend this research paper, which details how UTCI’s approximations are created and calculated, and which was a key source of information for our analysis.

There are two aspects to our microclimate analysis:

The first creates a thermal comfort map for a specific date and time. The user can easily adjust the percentile to see how the site will handle extremes. For example, we can quickly understand how the site will be impacted by a particularly hot summer’s day, for example on 1 August and the 90th percentile.

This map shows the perceived temperature on the selected day.

Secondly, you can view a comfort frequency map. Users can determine the relevant timeframe as well as the temperatures they consider to be comfortable. The resulting heat map shows the percentage of those hours for which the perceived temperature of each point on the map falls within the comfortable range. This gives the user an excellent representation of when the outdoor spaces are most/least usable.

This map indicates the fraction of time when the perceived temperature is expected to be within the comfortable range.

Spacemaker does all of this in a matter of seconds, presenting a map that visualizes the perceived temperature across your site. You’ll quickly be able to understand how neighborhood orientation and massing can affect shading and wind patterns, the two biggest drivers of thermal comfort.

Thermal comfort is in the spotlight

The launch of our microclimate analysis comes just at the right time. Cities around the world are growing more concerned about urban heat islands, and architects, planners and real estate developers will be under increasing pressure to show that they are not adding to the problem.

For instance, Barcelona aims to cover 30% of its land with trees in the next 20 years to help reduce heat absorption, and cities from southern France to Greece have installed sprinklers and fans in public spaces to cool them down.

This analysis represents a larger journey regarding comprehensive outdoor thermal comfort, and sustainability more generally where we believe that livability is a crucial part of sustainable urban development. We’re providing an analysis that is extremely valuable and of considerable accuracy to help architects, developers and planners make cities more livable all year round. Furthermore, we’re committed to continuing to develop this feature, particularly as we gather the feedback from our users – and there are already plenty more features that we are eager to implement. We can’t wait to tell you more about them in the near future.

Visit our Help center for more technical information about the microclimate analysis.

To test microclimate analysis and all of Spacemaker’s easy-to-use environmental analyses, sign up here for a free 30-day trial.

Main image credit: Meiying Ng for Unsplash

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