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Micro-climate factors in cold climate urban design

In this article, Dr David Chapman discusses important factors when planning in cold climate.
People playing on the ice

Designing urban spaces that provide outdoor comfort is an important but challenging goal. An approach to urban design that is sensitive to climatic conditions is essential, but this requires effective incorporation of urban climate knowledge into urban design, which presently is impeded by several barriers.

The aim of this research from Luleå University of Technology was to contribute to the knowledge of climate-sensitive urban design with a focus on outdoor comfort in cold climates. The key findings included the identification of barriers that were design based, attitudinal, organisational, conceptual and technical.

The design based issues relate to contextual difficulties for comfort design in cold climates, namely snow and low sun elevation. Attitudinal and organisational barriers include the neglect of opportunities for and challenges associated with urban liveability in cold climates, failure to exploit local knowledge and lack of engagement among local planners and politicians. Conceptual barriers relate to a lack of climate knowledge among practitioners and technical barriers relate to methods.

The research findings also showed that urban design practitioners predominantly rely on simple climate design principles and rarely use analytical tools in design. In terms of knowledge sources for urban designers, existing urban environments, work by other architects, the architects’ own experience and everyday life experiences were influential sources of understanding and inspiration.

Overall, this research highlighted issues that are crucial for improving environmental comfort in subarctic climates: 1) provision of sheltering from the wind, 2) maximising solar access and, 3) managing snow in the outdoor environment.

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