Future Proofing – buildings, cities and climates

Future Proofing- do we need to bother? was the third instalment in the CIBSE Young Energy Performance Group summer series – rethinking energy performance. Our building, cities and technologies need to be flexible and adaptable to future needs, not only to climate change but to aspects like energy security, ageing populations and resource availability.
Bill Gething was our first speaker highlighting this is our problem (as young professionals) and we need to consider it in our professional lives. We are struggling to meet the 2oC target and 4oC could result in catastrophic changes. One report from PwC suggests we are already too late to limit climate change to just 2oC. As our super hot summer is illustrating extreme climate events from the past will become the norm in the future.

The current focus of existing work on design for future climates is where the focus lies and construction and water are a little neglected. Researchers might want to take note here.

There is a disconnect between our mitigations and adaptation strategies at a national level. These strategies need to evolve to exploit where overlaps occur and avoid the conflicts that are bound to occur. Bill also recognised that behavioural adaption could be the most powerful tactic but timing and scale are vital considerations.

As a basic minimum we should design based on 2050s scenario but these are becoming variable over time. Where does the consensus lie?

Robert Murphy of Aecom talked about overheating issues of future buildings specifically about a housing project in London funded by the TSB.His talk was inspiring as to how to use existing, free software tools where possible to have a great effect at a reasonably low cost. The models developed were so complex using Envimet it took weeks to run a CFD model of a few blocks of houses, six stories high.

The results of the modelling indicated that green roofs had a small local impact but not the larger cooling effect expected. Planting on the whole was good but works best when it is done across multiple sites. Although little difference in the temperatures within buildings were expected the main result was a much more pleasant pedestrian environment.

Ine Steenmans from Buro Happold spoke about where future proofing of energy system in cities fits into the design and planning process both in the short and longer term. Interactions and integration are key but there are few current cities setting a precedent.

Questions remain as to wether this is a technical/financial/data/governance problem? The design process is a complex system with multiple agents and it is the relationship between these agents which are critical to planning future cities. These multiple agents result in distributed knowledge across the system, feedback and non-linear relationship.

Ine advocated an approach with both breadth and depth. She also suggested we need to be more comfortable with failure and learn and evolve from this over the course of our projects.

There are a lot of uncertainty in this design process, we need to deal with this ongoing complexity. It’s all about collaboration, the implications of complex systems are often talked about but not adopted in practice.

Future proofing is a challenging concept at the best of times but it was really exciting to hear about the field at a global, city and neighbourhood. While the field is currently very uncertain this also makes it an exciting challenge for designers and engineers.

The presentations from the event can be accessed through the CIBSE Young Energy Performance website.


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