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May 2018

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Sebastian Desand

How an easy analysis can save an urban building project from failure

When real estate developers build a property, their goal is to maximise profit and increase the value of the surrounding area. That’s obvious, right? What’s not so evident is the impact of underestimating wind analysis during the design process.

The return from the investment is based on the price the owner can charge for the rent. If shop or restaurant owners begin to lose customers and revenue due to low levels of pedestrian comfort, the demand for commercial real estate will drop- so will the rent price, and the overall value of the property. That is why it's so important for real estate developers and architects to analyse the urban wind comfort in the earliest stages of the design process. Otherwise, they could lose money.

When sabotage comes through the air

The infamous Bridgewater Place tower in Leeds (UK), is a good example. The 110-metre-tall aluminium-clad structure was built in 2007, and is still the highest building in Yorkshire. Soon after the construction was finished, the disastrous effects of an inadequate (or non-existent) wind analysis showed. The pedestrians were tumbling at streets, being blown down by hurricane-like gulfs.

The result of this architectural mistake turned out to be tragic. People were severely injured, and in March 2011 a 35-year-old man was killed after a lorry was blown over in the busy city centre by Bridgewater Place. Two years later, Leeds City Council shut down the road past Bridgewater Place tower when the forecast predicted winds exceeding 72 km/h. 

The reputation of the building, the area, the city and the companies responsible for the construction of Bridgewater Place tower were shattered. However, losses go far beyond. In December 2016, the owners of the building CPPI Bridgewater Place agreed to pay £903,000 towards the costs of building wind deflection structures.

This disaster could have been avoided had the architects performed a wind simulation during the design process. But Bridgewater Place is an extreme example you may say… and that’s because extreme cases are always didactical!

 

bridgewater towers.jpg

 

The business hazard of wind flows

There are examples of urban wind comfort failures in almost every big city. They often go unnoticed. When a business property is not performing well, hardly anyone checks if the pedestrian wind comfort may be the reason.

Near our office in north Stockholm, two newly-built towers have significantly deteriorated the wind comfort in the area. I visited it recently. “Why is it so windy?”, a little girl holding her hat asked her father, who was struggling to open the door to a café located in one of the towers.

It’s summer. The restaurants and cafes should be thriving with customers enjoying the sun outside. Unfortunately, because of the Downwash effect, the tables around the towers are empty. A local architect told me that the investors didn’t verify the project with any wind simulations and analysis to predict pedestrian comfort at street-level.

 

Conclusion: always better to be safe than sorry

The shape of a building influences the microclimate, especially if it’s a high-rise construction. Check our infographic about the main wind effects and its solution. Most modern cities recognise the problem, and many are addressing it by creating guidelines and best practises for assessing wind effects and tall buildings.

With all the smart, accurate and affordable wind simulation solutions available today, wind studies in urban projects are no longer "optional." No one wants to lose money. Even worse, no one wants to be responsible for a client losing money. Right?