Climate-proofing the future
This summer, France saw its highest recorded temperatures at 45.9°C on 28 June, and Austria and the Netherlands saw their warmest recorded June. The UK has not only seen its highest recorded temperature on the 25 July at 38.7°C in Cambridge, it has subsequently seen six flood warnings across the country.
With extreme weathers like these set to continue with the growth of the built environment and increasing human population, how is the property industry future proofing and what changes are being made?
Creating more green spaces, such as lawns and other plant-based infrastructure, can help minimise floods and flood damage. Copenhagen created a 10,000 sq ft ‘oasis’ called Tåsinge Plads, on what was previously asphalt. The oasis diverts and percolates water from surrounding roofs and squares with a mix of trenches and slopes and keeps it away from the sewers. Tåsinge Plads can delay and hold rainwater from a surrounding area of 46,000 sq ft.
In some cases, raising a building in flood-prone areas is the simplest solution. Architects Perkins+Will implemented a raise to its building designs for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital outside of Boston, Massachusetts to keep it one foot above the anticipated flood plain of the nearby river.
Going one step further, Larkfleet Group in the UK proposed an ‘elevated house’, which would raise itself up on 1.5m stilts in the event of a flood. The house would remain raised and become self-sustaining with solar panels on the roof and a battery to provide electricity. Water and sewage would remain connected to the ground via flexible hoses. However, this is currently patent pending.
Natural air conditioning
By using natural methods of ventilation, buildings can remain cool without using energy inefficient air conditioning systems.
The termite-inspired system, which relies on air pockets as opposed to vents, keeps the building cool by opening certain windows at different times of the day, thus creating a natural ventilation via convection. This has currently been implemented in places such as the Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe designed and developed by Mike Pearce and Arup, and Portcullis House in London, which was designed and developed by Hopkins Architects and Laing O’Rourke.
By planting more trees, not only are the effects of climate change mitigated by filtering out CO2 emissions, but they provide more natural shade and reduce the risk of flooding by absorbing more water.
Tree cover can lower summer temperatures by as much as 7°C in the shade and reduce the amount of heat absorbed by buildings during the day.
In the 2016-2020 Manchester Tree Action Plan, Manchester City Council states that tree infrastructure provides:
- Better air and water quality
- Climate change adaptation and mitigation
- Health and wellbeing
- Habitat provision
Because of these benefits, MCC promised to plant 1,500 trees annually, delivered tree-replacement policy including one-for-one replacement of highway trees, and sustain tree and woodland canopy cover of 20% average to 2025.
The UK was hit by severe disruptions in July when the heatwave caused tracks to buckle and train networks implemented speed restrictions and cancellations. This caused severe delays to passengers across the country.
One thing that can reduce the heat of the steel tracks is painting them white. Tracks can be 20°C hotter than the surrounding air, which can cause the metal to expand and potentially buckle. The paint can reduce the temperature by up to 10°C. This is useful considering Network Rail only steel tests its tracks up to 27°C, 10°C below than the peak temperatures recently recorded in parts of the UK.
Some countries have also adopted concrete sleepers, which keep the tracks in place, instead of traditional wooden ones. Concrete has a longer service life, is not as prone to adverse weather conditions, is less likely to warp, and is non-combustible. Network Rail currently replace 200,000 wooden sleepers with concrete every year.
Impact-resistant glass for windows helps to prevent blowouts during storms and is less likely to shatter if hit with flying debris. When these windows break, they crack into a fine spider-web like pattern rather than sending shards inwards.
The glass itself is glazed with a film of PVB (Polyvinyl Butyral) or EVA (Ethylene- Vinyl Acetate), which is sandwiched between two layers of glass. This can then be combined with a further layer of PET (Polyethene Terephtalate) to make the glass even stronger and absorb greater impact.
In some cases, rather than adding PVB, EVA or PET, windows can be enhanced by adding liquid glass resins. These windows use UV light to cure and harden the resin, so are typically used in sunnier climates.
The window frames are typically made from aluminium or steel as they’re less likely to warp and are stronger than traditional wood or vinyl.
As the built environment grows taller engineers must find ways to stabilise the structures against adverse weather conditions including wind.
By making buildings more rigid and constructing strong cores, skyscrapers are less likely to fall. However, for buildings like Citigroup Center in New York City, this wouldn’t be enough to manage the building’s movement. The 59-storey building is fitted with a tuned mass damper, which sways a 400-tonne concrete weight to shift the building in reaction to the wind and keep it on balance.
Magnetic tremor-reactive cores
Magnetoheological fluid is a substance that can be used in the cores or dampers or buildings and bridges to stabilise them during earthquakes and high winds. The modern version of the MR fluid was created in cross collaboration with Lord Corporation’s Labs in North Carolina and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
The fluid can change from a solid to a liquid and back when the tremors activate a magnetic force inside the core or damper. This means that implementing the fluid will make the buildings and bridges ‘smart’ as they automatically respond to seismic activity. The fluid would mitigate seismic and wind resonant waves, meaning that the structures won’t be shaken to the ground.
Universally Designed care homes
Mobility aids in care homes such as mechanical lifts and adjustable beds typically rely on electricity to function. As extreme weather can cause energy shortages by damaging overhead wires and masts, care teams must plan for non-mechanical aids in the home.
This includes attaching a thick plastic slide sheet to a mattress, which can then be used to lift clients from their beds safely. Evacuation chairs can also be used to help clients downstairs.
Older people, classified as those 65 and over, are more susceptible to the heat than any other member of society. This means that older people are likely to come to harm from overheating.
When designing plans for Extra Care 4 Exeter care home, Gale + Snowden Architects focussed on creating a low cost, low energy building that factored in extra ventilation. The building was designed using thermal modelling weather projections up to 2080.
Ultimately, the designs included strategies to include natural summer cross ventilation, the use of superinsulation and ait-tight building fabric; water drinking points; external shading; and green roofs.
+The future of future: Floating infrastructure
When sea levels rise, land-based infrastructure won’t always be available.
As part of a modern project called ‘Architecture for Disaster Relief’, Russian-based Remistudio designed The Ark: a self-sustaining biosphere hotel that can exist on both land and at sea. The building is integrated with photovoltaics and water filtration systems, and contains plants chosen for oxygen production.
It’s shaped like a snail shell with no edges, so that should a further natural disaster occur, the building would be protected against tremors and vibrations.
While this is a much more radical idea to compete with climate change, the idea remains practical and possible in a world that is set to see repercussions for our global warming.