Wardell Armstrong Mesh

Wardell Armstrong develops wind microclimate software

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Nicola Byrne

Wardell Armstrong, international environmental and engineering consultancy, has revealed the software it has developed to assess wind microclimate around buildings.

Why wind microclimate assessments?

Tall buildings have the potential to alter their local environment and affect the microclimate. They can influence how wind travels across a site and potentially can make it unpleasant at ground level.

The requirement for wind microclimate assessments has seen an increased interest following a death and 25 injuries in 2011 at the poorly-designed Bridgewater Place in Leeds, when a lorry was blown over.

Wardell Armstrong Wind Levels

How?

Historically, wind tunnel testing was the only option of testing the potential impact on the conditions that a large building may cause. This involves building a physical 3D model over and over again, with 10 – 20 large sensors in place to gather data, in a tunnel. This is both expensive to run and time consuming.

Wind Tunnel

A traditional wind tunnel and model.

Wardell Armstrong has developed a CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software that mathematically models air flow and requires clients to send a copy of the architect’s 3D model of the development to apply the technology.

The consultancy then purchases and layers a 3D model of the existing cityscape around that development, normally a 1km square. They then add in any buildings that are consented but not yet built.

Wardell Armstrong Wind Software

To get the initial results, it takes around one week to set the models up and one week to two weeks running depending on the complexity of the development.

Paul Evans, technical director of energy and climate change at Wardell Armstrong, explains how they’ve developed this way of assessing: “The core code of the technology is an open source piece of code that’s accessible to anybody. It’s not easy to use and it comes in a raw code format that you have to be able to manipulate. We’ve taken that core code and we’ve effectively modified it to make it useful for modelling in an urban environment.”

Advantages

In terms of human intervention, running the software is far cheaper as it doesn’t require physical rebuilding of a model multiple times. Mitigation options can be incorporated into software models and easily checked for efficacy.

The software model has millions of points where data can be collected compared to the few sensors that can be applied on a traditional physical 3D model.

It can also be used for design purposes rather than just receiving a yes or no answer from wind tunnel modelling at the end of a process, which can result in significant delays and redesign costs.

It’s estimated that by using the software model instead of a wind tunnel, it could halve the cost of the assessment.

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