Spaces for life: designing the boundaries of how we use our city. By Caterina Mangia, sustainability consultant at Hilson Moran

by Johnny Clayton on Friday, 28 June 2019

Architecture and engineering are commonly regarded as separate disciplines but a long time ago the boundary between them was blurred. Over the years, the gap has widened, but with a change in the way we design and build, we need a more integrated approach to drive sensitive design solutions, which carefully consider users and create better spaces for people to live and work.

When I took my MSc in Environmental Design and Engineering, I already had 10 years of professional experience as an architect, breaking my professional boundaries for a more holistic approach. My experience has taught me that good design is the result of synergies between different professions and competencies and that playing it solo is not always the best approach.

‘Boundaries’ is the theme of the 2019 London Festival of Architecture that each year celebrates London as one of the most creative design hubs in the world. In response to this year’s theme, Hilson Moran has been showcasing a month-long exhibition supported by walking tours to explore different outdoor microclimates along the South Bank of the River Thames between Hay’s Galleria and Tower Bridge.

The distinctive climate within a small-scale area in an urban context is referred to as an urban microclimate. The microclimate can affect temperature, wind, rainfall, humidity and can be significantly different to the prevailing conditions. Orientation, urban morphology, vegetation, presence of water body and urban fabric create specific climatic conditions that influence environmental boundaries which derive from and can be driven by design. Diverse microclimatic conditions often generate invisible psychological boundaries that mark the line between comfortable places to sit, walk through or spots to avoid. Would you sit outside a coffee shop if it was too windy or damp?

Environmental modelling through advances in building simulation tools are used to support design to estimate local climatic conditions and determine whether a place will be suitable for the activity it has been designed for. However, the assessment of outdoor comfort is difficult in nature because it involves various contextual settings, but there are a few indicators that give a measure of how comfortable people would feel. Luckily, no indicators can estimate climate preferences based of ethnicity or personal mood. One person’s sweltering hot sauna is another person’s perfect sun trap. It’s all down to what you love.

So as we celebrate boundaries, take a walk and experience your local area and experience first-hand how design and engineering come together in a seamless way. If that doesn’t show how integrated they must be, nothing will!

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