How early design insights swayed a masterplan

Early analysis of solar, wind, and thermal comfort on a proposed masterplan confirms that a multi-use community space will be climate-friendly and livable.

“We cannot see wind—and it can be hard to explain to our clients—but Orbital Stack allows us to do just that.”

Allison Piehn, Commercial Director, Studio Egret West Limited

Studio Egret West’s Cotton Quay masterplan design in Salford, UK exemplifies the scale and significance of sustainable communities cultivated by the Studio. Landscape urbanism forms the core of the Studio’s large-scale framework thinking and such thinking places great importance on achieving enjoyable pedestrian environments. Understanding wind’s impact becomes a critical factor in the Studio’s place-making decisions.

The ask

Strategic urban design that amplifies nature and puts people first. This is what UK-based architectural firm, Studio Egret West (SEW) is all about. With a multi-disciplinary team of urban designers, architects, landscape architects, graphic designers, model makers, and more, SEW applies a sustainable and holistic lens to every project it pursues.

This sensibility was evident in SEW’s proposed masterplan designs for a large-scale, mixed-use regeneration project in North London. The outdoor spaces, including a large central common space, narrower park spaces between buildings and raised outdoor amenity spaces, immediately became focal points. With their landscape urbanist perspective, SEW wanted all gardens and spaces—the “free” places that people want to visit and hang out in—to be comfortable and welcoming.

Importantly, SEW is not alone in wanting improved, community focused outdoor spaces. Through the pandemic, the public’s appreciation for nature and the outdoors grew exponentially. And elected officials are also taking notice. Positive outdoor places are proven to become profitable communities that only continue to grow. Hong Kong, Singapore, and the UK are all regions that are prioritizing the value and ROI of positive, outdoor amenities.

The challenges

Like all projects, SEW started this one with a central question: “How will this design benefit the entire community and not just a few?” With new social infrastructure, including food and beverage, retail, workspaces, and residential components, this multi-use community offers many things for many people. But recognizing the recent trend of people moving out of cities, SEW knew this masterplan must offer an equally compelling and livable experience within a more dense, inner suburb. That meant ensuring that the massing does not interfere with the access and comfort of the outdoor spaces. Understanding how wind, solar and shadowing interact with the structures in this up-and-coming neighbourhood is paramount to it benefiting all users.

Studio Egret West’s Mayfield Park masterplan design in Manchester, UK demonstrates the diversity of outdoor programming envisaged at the heart of emerging communities. The success of these pedestrian environments necessitates a clear understanding of the environmental conditions, such as wind, that will influence how the spaces feel.

Traditionally, a wind tunnel study confirms how climate responsive a proposed design is. Yet, because they are completed toward the end of the design cycle, it is often too late to make significant changes. The studies already are lengthy and can be expensive. This often discourages developers from making additional changes. Plus, decision makers are often unable to physically attend wind tunnel demonstrations, compromising their full understanding of climate impacts. With less understanding about how wind may interact with a design—or how some refinements may optimize a plan—the less likely a change will be made.

The solution

Orbital Stack enabled SEW to conduct several climate studies early in the design process, solving the challenge of late-stage wind tunnel studies. An early advisory session with an RWDI microclimate expert confirmed their direction and, as Commercial Director, Allison Piehn confirms, the platform allowed the team to “see climate.” Streamlines highlighted wind flow patterns across and through the prioritized outdoor amenities. Annotated wind direction and the heat map illustrated how wind was likely to move.

Plus, Orbital Stack’s ability to bring solar and wind together—total thermal comfort—was groundbreaking for the team. With the added ability to view the project in different seasons, everyone on the team better understood the impacts of climate on the proposed designs and could mitigate issues earlier.

By looking at shadow plots and wind plots for the dominant wind directions, the SEW team was able to confirm that the large central square had the desired appeal, even in challenging winter months.
Statistical plots for thermal comfort and wind allowed SEW to narrow in on some challenging
locations of an early design iteration.

With this better visibility into the entire project, all enhanced by Orbital Stack’s 3D viewer, SEW was also able to make recommendations earlier to the client. The decision makers, in turn, were also able to “see climate” through the visual report, to make more informed choices, and help sell the project themselves.

Orbital Stack’s 3D viewer provides a collection of powerful features to help understand and describe local microclimate conditions. Streamlines showcase flow patterns through pedestrian spaces, while different colour themes help focus attention on the details that matter most.

The result

By introducing Orbital Stack early into this masterplan, SEW was able to work out high-level design challenges earlier. The platform allowed SEW to see the complete picture of solar, wind, and thermal comfort impacts on the proposed plans. They were able to identify where massing designs needed to be altered to achieve the goal of another memorable, ecology driven landscape design for the firm. Now, when a proposed design undergoes a wind-tunnel study, the focus will be on validating plans and resolving less fundamental challenges.

Moving forward, Orbital Stack will support SEW as it continues its important work to improve people’s environments and build better, more people-focused communities. SEW’s design process will now even include some “Orbital Stacking” time. Highlighting the cost effectiveness of the tool, Piehn concludes, “Orbital Stack provides intrinsic value to make good decisions and good designs.”

Learn more about our vision and why RWDI turned Orbital Stack from a set of internal tools into a dedicated company.