06 Mar 23

Woods Bagot deploys WeatherShift, takes the lead on climate change design

Russell Fortmeyer Portrait

Climate change modelling will be incorporated in the design of every new project by global architecture studio Woods Bagot, which has developed a proprietary analytical tool incorporating custom weather data from Arup.

Russell Fortmeyer, Global Sustainability Leader at Woods Bagot, said the accelerating rate of climate change has rendered standard meteorological data less useful, requiring a new approach to ensure building design accurately factors in the risks.

He says Woods Bagot has successfully trialed the new climate change design tool, which also leverages Ladybug and Grasshopper software, on four projects and will now deploy it on all new designs across its 17 studios.

“Urban heat tops the charts for risks associated with the climate crisis, and yet most buildings around the world are still being designed using Typical Meteorological Year (TMY) weather data,” says Fortmeyer.

“Typically, when designing a new building architects will model future energy demands using data that reflects climate conditions from the previous 30 years and assume the most typical conditions from that period will exist over the life of their project.

“But the key issue is that our energy models, thermal comfort models, urban microclimate studies – whatever it is you may be modelling and analyzing in the digital space – reflects a climate that no longer exists.

“The extreme heat waves and expanded summer seasons we now see are just the start of a century of increasing temperatures, none of which are reflected in a TMY weather file an architect might download.

“There is so much talk of risk in our industry right now, so we see this as a way to bring evidence to the table that can better inform our clients rather than simply frame issues as unsubstantiated concerns.”

WeatherShift, developed by Arup, relies on a morphing technique to take traditional 8,760-hour digital weather files and transform them based on climate change scenarios established by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC).

Instead of reflecting historical weather conditions, a WeatherShift file includes temperature, relative humidity, and wind data that has a high likelihood of representing future conditions given the relentless pace of climate change this century.

The modeled view on the left illustrates the Universal Thermal Climate Index, or UTCI, for a proposed highrise in Melbourne, Australia. Designers incorporated outdoor terraces into the project, which necessitated an investigation into the environmental conditions that would support occupancy of those spaces throughout the year. This image shows UTCI data for June 15, which would be early winter months and shows a daytime UTCI of between 17-18˚C, which would be considered comfortable. In comparison to the historical UTCI model, the outdoor spaces in the same proposed highrise in Melbourne reveal a much colder condition when modeled using WeatherShift data as shown on the right. A UTCI of nearly 13˚C would suggest these terraces may not be comfortable during winter months or may necessitate a design change to provide some wind protection to improve the outcome. Although we often focus on extreme heat in the future given the climate crisis, understanding the potential for seasonal extremes can inform many different design outcomes.

With WeatherShift data, designers can assess building and outdoor space performance according to expected conditions, allowing them to simulate energy performance or microclimate conditions to then inform current design decisions around orientation, massing, surface materials, and envelope performance.

“This provides our design teams with a way to frame early support for passive design opportunities like natural ventilation, solar control, thermal comfort, or daylighting in a way that can anticipate likely scenarios of increasing temperatures.” says Fortmeyer.

“Comparing it to the historical TMY output may alter our appreciation for how the solar reflectance index of a pavement finish impacts heat islands, or whether the number of hours you can comfortably naturally ventilate an office building makes sense.”  

Woods Bagot will use WeatherShift data across its studios in Australia, China, Southeast Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America and New Zealand.

“In every city we work, extreme heat is a key climate risk and, by using WeatherShift, we have embedded future weather data as an option in our own Environmental Performance Toolkit (EPT),” says Fortmeyer.

“The EPT is a set of modules we have developed for our workflow to help teams quickly assess environmental design opportunities early enough in the concept phase to inform major design decisions.

“This approach is not going to answer every question we as designers have, nor will it unlock some secret knowledge about our practice and climate change, but it provides credible evidence as a basis for conversations with our colleagues and clients about risks.”

It’s part of a concerted approach to sustainability by Woods Bagot, and a key component of its Global Impact strategy, which addresses sustainability across the design, operations, and advocacy of the company.

A climate risk assessment has been undertaken for each Woods Bagot studio and is incorporated into the company’s Climate Playbook, an annual report encapsulating a sustainable action plan and environmental, social, and governance activities.   

Media enquiries
Martin Kelly
Content and Communications Leader (Australia & New Zealand)