Designing for Climate Change?

Architects and clients are now very aware of the need to reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency in the design of buildings, and this is reinforced by the government’s legal undertakings / statutory legislation with improved Building Regulations – but what about designing to allow for the effects of climate change itself?

54-55_RIBA Journal

This article in the RIBA Journal gives a good summary of where designers should anticipate some potential problems in an attempt to ‘future-proof’ buildings. The above table (from the Technology Strategy Board‘s ‘Design for Future Climate’) succinctly shows the range of considerations and impacts.

The article mentions three particular considerations:

  • Airtightness equals summer overheating  – airtightness is good and solar insolation is good but, together with projected climate change, the risk of summer overheating will only increase. SAP methodology and Building Regulations currently take account of summer overheating, but the old instinct that opening a window will solve everything may no longer be good enough. Architectural passive design is much better than mechanical ventilation.
  • Historical weather data is superseded by the effects of climate change – when you think about it this is perhaps self-explanatory, but realistic modelling will be more and more important.
  • Increased rainfall – particularly increased rainfall intensity and the increased frequency of heavy rainfall will lead to bigger gutters at the very least, or at least a more sophisticated calculation and a decision on risks. This also underlines the importance of sustainable design with, for example, the principles of the BRE’s Code for Sustainable Homes (surface run-off, SUDS etc).

The manifestation of predicted climate change would, of course, pose significant challenges to all of society in many ways, but architects, and clients too, will need to be aware of the potential impacts and costs. Therefore we will need to update our methodologies accordingly – similar to the way that rising energy costs have forcefully brought home the need to increase energy-efficiency.

If, as we’ve quoted before, 80% of what will be our housing stock in 2050 has already been built, the need for retrofit is huge, and also the need to future-proof for the impact of climate change is all the more pressing.


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