Designing Buildings for Difficult Climates

Designing Buildings for Difficult Climates

An increasing frequency of climate-related disasters has brought greater attention to the subject of climate resilience. Adapting architecture to endure the effects of global warming is nothing short of necessary, given the severe weather events which have swept the U.S. in recent years.

Over the course of four weeks, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria destroyed thousands of houses and businesses across the country. These natural disasters were a stark reminder that climate change was no longer a distant prospect, but something which demanded an immediate solution.

With this in mind, what solutions have emerged to address the issue of difficult climates? Architects, engineers and design professionals have approached the problem with ingenuity, creating a vision of the future safe from the perils of hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

We'll touch on some of the design features which have improved the safety and stability of buildings around the world.

Extreme Temperatures

Extreme temperatures in hot and cold climates can cause problems for structures which don't account for the conditions. Strategies exist to manage excessive heat and frigid environments, techniques which will likely see greater adoption in the years to come. Many of these techniques may appear familiar.

A building's orientation influences its interior temperature. In hot climates, structures should have windows which face south, rather than east or west. More sunlight enters a building through east- and west-facing windows than through south- or north-facing windows throughout the summer.

In cold climates which see considerable snowfall, solutions for energy efficiency often clash with safety. Solar shading devices and double facades have contributed to an increase in incidents with falling ice and snow, endangering passersby. Icicles and ice sheets also represent a serious risk.

Architects and design professionals have addressed these problems and similar issues with strategic orientation. The direction of prevailing winds determine the distribution of snow on a structure, and it's possible to manage this buildup to avoid potential hazards.

Natural Disasters

Localized requirements for weather resistance are often more stringent in areas at higher risk for hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. Architects and design professionals account for these higher standards through many different strategies, employing methods which may seem unfamiliar to some homeowners.

FEMA has issued publications concerning the construction of safe rooms, assisting designers with the implementation of these spaces inside or outside a home or small business. These shelters protect the occupants of a building in more extreme environments from the dangers of natural disasters.

Safe rooms are more reactive than proactive, and architects have preventive measures which serve to preempt problems. During the development process, they employ programs such as BIM software to ensure the resilience of their structures. Building information modeling has incredible potential in this context.

As an example, construction teams can examine the impact of an earthquake on the structure they've planned. In simulating the internal and external effect of earthquakes on a digital model, they can determine the best way to maximize the stability of their building in the event of a natural disaster.

Rising Sea Levels

Most cities see water as a threat, but some architects see it as an asset. With rising sea levels, it may prove more beneficial to acclimate to the changing conditions rather than fight them. Koen Olthuis certainly thinks so, and his efforts with Waterstudio reflect his progressive mindset.

"It's not about technology — it's about rethinking cities. We should start building for change," Olthuis said in a Business Insider article. As CEO of Waterstudio, he oversees the construction of floating homes that have the same look and feel of traditional houses. He isn't the only one who's embraced these unconventional ideas.

In 2011, Marlies Rohmer Architecture constructed an entire neighborhood on the water in Amsterdam, consisting of 75 individual houses. Other architects have also taken up the challenge, building greenhouses, schools and even movie theaters which float on the water. The concept is gaining momentum.

Projecting into 2020 and beyond, these floating structures will prove invaluable for those who live near large bodies of water. If the rate of ocean rise continues to accelerate, the increase will endanger coastal cities and cause substantial problems for those in high-risk areas.

Looking Toward the Future

Adapting architecture to endure the pressures of natural disasters, rising sea levels and extreme temperatures is necessary to protect the general population. As these problems continue to worsen, the subject of climate resilience will only grow more relevant.

With this in mind, architects, engineers and design professionals should seek new ways to address the challenges of climate change. They need to innovate on outdated models and practices and move forward with a progressive mindset. It might involve neighborhoods which float or a greater reliance on BIM software, but change is necessary, evident with each passing year.

Though the future is impossible to predict, one thing is clear — those involved with the design and development of modern buildings will play an important role in the decades to come.


This post was written by Holly Welles. She is a real estate writer and the editor behind The Estate Update. She’s passionate about the ways in which the industry is changing and loves to stay on top of millennial market trends. You can find more of Holly's thoughts on Twitter @HollyAWelles.

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