Urban Designers Must Consider Extreme Weather Events

Urban Designers Must Consider Extreme Weather Events

January 13, 2020

Public space designers and urban planning managers are increasingly catering for public space designs to withstand potentially extreme weather events, as well as improve how people use and live in spaces that are subject to extremities in temperature changes.

By Lilly Miller

One such design trend to tackle weather extremity is the re-emergence of sidewalk culture.

Sidewalks and multiple transportation options should become the fabric of every 21st-century city. While modern life is one of constant motion, cities need to find a way to connect people with the places they live, work, and play.

The major challenge is to diversify transit options and integrate their interface into the streetscape. As millennials increasingly flock to the suburbs, they’re becoming more and more urbanized. Businesses now choose suburban locations for the convenience of mixed-use walkable places, resulting in more suburbs becoming satellite downtowns that combine work with other uses for a much more amiable urban character.

Streets are expected to become increasingly pedestrian-friendly, where decreased reliance on cars will allow for narrower roadways with side spaces widened for multi-purpose usage for café seating, break-out spaces for socialising and bike lanes.

Better stormwater management is also expected to be on the agenda for city planners.

One such example is Rotterdam, which has pioneered many climate change adaptation strategies. The constant need for additional stormwater storage has shaped the city’s climate resilience strategy. One of the first climate-proof districts features the Waterplein Banthemplein – a floodable water square that became an inspiration for the climate-oriented urban design of the entire Zomerhofkwartier neighborhood (popularly known as ZoHo).

Combining diverse lateral initiatives that decrease paved surfaces, promote green building facades, and retain rainwater on green rooftops and gardens, Rotterdam is transforming into a rainfall sponge. This unique flood square features amphitheater-style seating and open spaces that allow the square to fill with water through a system of gutters, and then empty into the city’s system of canals.

On the energy front, in a bold head-on thrust, architect and educator Ralph Knowles proposes a systematic method of designing architecture and urban development that maximizes solar energy gains. This concept, esoterically-called “heliomorphism”, describes the use of the solar-responsive design in shaping mixed-use development. Aimed for high-density housing markets such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where increased developer-driven developments threaten access to sunlight, this methodology could also find application in China, another tight housing market that is taking on sustainable initiatives.

Setting up a broad front to reduce pollution in China, the government has encouraged companies to invest billions in new know-how in the field of renewable energy. In 2018, the Chinese added more solar capacity than the US, Germany, and Japan combined, and within the five years, they’re expected to install more than double the solar power of the US, as its nearest rival.

Parks can also improve community resilience in the face of extreme weather events too. They provide a place for developing neighborhood connections, improve community health by reducing stress and providing a place to exercise, but in recent years, another important role of parks has received a lot of publicity – as a buffer zone for flooding and mudslides.

In Bangkok, a city that is sinking by two centimeters each year, a park with a capacity to hold up to a million gallons of water is more of a lifeline than mere public space. Chulalongkorn Centenary Park not only supports local biodiversity and provides a green refuge for the capital’s residents, but it’s also purposefully designed to mitigate risks related to seasonal rains, flooding, and the heat island effect.

As part of Chulalongkorn University campus, this urban forest includes sloped green roofs and wetlands that divert excess stormwater into retention ponds, while being crisscrossed with new pedestrian paths and bike lanes that connect the surrounding neighborhoods and the campus.

In terms of sustainable living designed to cope with floods, Baca Architects have showcased the UK’s first amphibious house, which uses its dock-like foundations to rise with the flood level. As a technology demonstrator, the house was built on an island in the middle of the Thames.

The architects started from the premise that the site is prone to flooding, and designed a fixed but separate foundation inspired by shipping docks. This mechanism allows the house to cope with 2.5 meters of floodwater, with four posts in the flanks of the building supporting and controlling the vertical movement. An integral part of the house is a small garden that slopes up from the edge of the river and provides an early warning of an incoming flood.

Resilience to extreme weather events will become increasingly important in urban and community planning, as well as public awareness. As air quality, renewable energy, and safe public spaces become the focus of the new generation of urban dwellers, the onus is on architects and designers to find new ways to integrate them into the urban landscape.

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