When designing cities, neighborhoods, and buildings, it is essential to understand the local climatic context. Since the microclimate is shaped by the interaction between the climate and the built environment, the first step of any urban design scheme should be to understand the macroscale climate conditions and seasonal weather patterns.
Determine what is important. For instance, at cold places, we might want to increase the perceived temperatures and in warmer environments, we might want to minimize sun exposure. In general, there are 6 climatic parameters influencing the human heat balance and thereby our perceived thermal comfort; air temperature, diffuse radiation, direct radiation, infrared radiation, relative humidity and wind speed. By collecting local statistics on these parameters, we can see which parameters we should work with to best optimize outdoor comfort.
Transform the visions for the microclimate into design guidelines. This is particularly relevant in the sculpting of the building geometries: height, length, street width, orientation etc. The composition and shape of the building volumes have a huge impact on the wind flow and sunlight exposure in the public realm and these factors are essential for our outdoor comfort. Remember that this is a task of compromise. At a waterfront, the architectural vision for us will always be to open it up, although this strategy might not be the best solution in regards to the wind chill effect. Instead, we will make the area comfortable with other factors like reducing the building height (to minimize down-wash) and strategically placing vegetation to support the microclimate strategy.
Test out different scenarios during the design process. Shadow diagrams, sunlight hour studies, CFD-wind simulations and even simulations on the perceived temperature (by applying the Universal Thermal Climate Index) can quantify the impact of the strategies.
Once you have created the conditions for a great outdoor realm, it is important to program the urban spaces to accommodate it. Place the café in the sun, orient the facade of the bakery towards east to expose it to the morning sun, place the dumpsters in the shadow and the playground in the sheltered, wind-free spot. This will foster a better public life – all year round.
Every time we build a building, the volume will interact with the climate and influence the microclimatic parameters of the surrounding area, and thus, potentially the outdoor comfort. The goal should always be to influence it in a positive way. By doing so, we might be able to enjoy the first spring dinner outside in April rather than in May.