Summer 2018 Heatwave

Can our buildings really cope?


Had you asked the UK at the beginning of the year what their expectations were for the summer weather I doubt many would have used the word “hot”! However, over the past few months, the UK has seen record sunshine hours, sky-high temperatures, very little rain and a lot of ice cream being consumed! Most of us have enjoyed an ‘actual summer’ for once – in the UK of all places – but now the temperature data is being released and they raise a new, somewhat darker, point; can we really cope if this becomes the new normal?

Heatwave
Unlike the infamous 1976 heatwave, the UK was not alone in experiencing an exceptionally hot summer. Record temperatures were reached across the entire Northern Hemisphere, Japan recorded its highest temperature of 41.4°C, Scandinavia has been experiencing wildfires, and a city in Oman experienced 24 hours where the temperature did not drop below 42.6°C. Collectively a sure-fire sign that the global climate is changing?

Burying Our Heads in the Sand
In the construction industry we not only have to continue the low-energy and low-carbon design approach but essentially, we need to design our buildings and cities differently so that they are flexible enough to adapt to climatic changes – such as higher summer temperatures and continue to be fit for purpose.

Despite this lack of climate change conversation, scientists are in agreement that the recent hot weather is heavily attributed to man-made climate change and an indication of what we might expect in the not so distant future. Although the 2015 Paris Agreement saw countries pledge to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”, recent studies have shown that at the current emissions rate this is set to be exceeded by 2040.

At a Crossroads
As a result of this, we are now at a crossroads in our approach to climate change. Fundamentally we still need to focus on energy efficiency and reducing the emissions that are driving climate change (mitigation), however perhaps more crucially we now need to seriously focus on coping with the physical effects of the changes that are already well under way (adaptation). With our current building stock and design approaches we may struggle to cope without a serious shift towards climate change resilience.

Climate Changing City
In the construction industry we not only have to continue the low-energy and low-carbon design approach but essentially, we need to design our buildings and cities differently so that they are flexible enough to adapt to climatic changes – such as higher summer temperatures and continue to be fit for purpose.

Building design and climate change adaptation is an extensive topic and over the next few months we are going to cover a few of the key design measures and solution that could help us to adapt. We will look at the important role passive design will take; the benefits of urban greening; and be asking if mechanical-cooling is going to become the norm in new builds, what are the implications?

There is Hope Yet
To go back to the earlier question of can we can cope if this becomes the new normal; if adaptation is at the centre of our design approach, then yes, we stand a chance. The UK currently has a moderate climate, and there are many countries that already cope with much higher temperatures than we do. If we can learn from them and rethink our approach to building design, then we are much more likely to handle higher temperatures and the knock-on consequences.

Adaptation to a changing climate is a challenge that has not been faced by modern civilisations before, and although it is indeed a challenge it also brings huge opportunities for us as designers. So, keep an eye on our news page, as over the next few months we will further explore these opportunities, starting with passive design.

Article written by Imogen Christodoulou – Senior Sustainability Consultant
T: 020 3544 5400
E: imogen.christodoulou@scotchpartners.com