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January 2020

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Aremi MacDonald

Wind analysis: 3 urban design failures to learn from

When put to the real-life test, these three examples of urban design and architecture failed against mother nature’s windy conditions:

Architects and urban planners have worked hard to leave their influential mark on our urban landscapes. However, not all designs have been successful, often creating destructive and costly mistakes.

The way we design our cities has a huge impact on our surrounding environment – pedestrian safety and wind comfort to name a couple. The height and shape of a building for example affect factors such as the integrity of a structure and its ability to withstand windy conditions. Buildings can also amplify wind velocities and create potentially hazardous conditions, impacting wind comfort and safety conditions at street level.

Constructed between 2009 and 2014, the 37-storey skyscraper earned its nickname “Walkie Talkie Centre” based on its distinctive concave stature. The building’s downwash effect is famously known for creating a powerful wind tunnel at street level, constantly knocking over pedestrians, signs and trolleys.

When put to the real-life test, these three examples of urban design and architecture failed against mother nature’s windy conditions:

1. The Walkie Talkie, London, U.K.

Constructed between 2009 and 2014, the 37-storey skyscraper earned its nickname “Walkie Talkie Centre” based on its distinctive concave stature. The building’s downwash effect is famously known for creating a powerful wind tunnel at street level, constantly knocking over pedestrians, signs and trolleys.

 

“Visitors reported hearing a loud whistling sound in the lift as they hurtled upwards to the Sky Garden bar, which may have been caused by the difference between the air pressure outside the building, and the air pressure in the lift shaft.”

-The Telegraph, July 2015

 

2. The Financial District, Toronto, Canada

The structure creates a powerful wind tunnel at street level

Toronto’s Financial District is one of the city’s most densely developed areas. Its urban skyline is defined by its tall buildings and windy conditions. So much so that in the 80’s the city placed climbing ropes across multiple city blocks to help pedestrians walk the streets without getting blown away by the wind.

“Toronto has been building skyscrapers for much of the last century, but only within the last 20 years have city officials and other experts started looking at how a building’s design affects the environment at ground level.”

-CBC Canada, April 2019

 

 

3. Citygroup Center, New York, U.S.A.

The Citigroup Centre is distinguishable by its angled roof and unique columns found at the base of its structure. During the initial design process, design engineer William LeMessurier calculated the building’s wind load based on four wind directions – north, east, south and west.

However, in 1978 a civil engineering student brought one major design flaw to LeMessurier’s attention, which urged him to reassess wind loads using quartering wind directions- northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. His recalculations revealed that his initial wind load mesurements had not only been inconclusive, but that in higher wind load conditions the load could exceed its reinforcements, and the building could potentially collapse. This discovery prompted a retrofit of the building.

Six weeks into the retrofit a strong hurricane headed towards New York. Moments before the city would have been forced to evacuate, the storm changed course and the retrofit was able to be completed shortly after

Wind Load from Citygroup Centres area’s simulation from Northeast direction

 

Wind Load simulation from Citygroup Centre area, northeast direction. Click for full report.

Designing future cities requires reflection & innovation

Looking at our architectural past helps us design for a better future. Designing our future cities and urban skylines require both reflection and innovation. Running a wind simulation is oneway architects and designers can avoid poor urban planning mistakes by testing wind conditions with accuracy throughout the design process.

Using real-life wind data, Ingrid Cloud can run simulations in 36 wind directions and generate simulations for both wind load and wind comfort. Learn more about our wind simulations here.