White Massing

Architects Need To Address The “Whole-Life Building Performance” Challenge

Nairobi City

The rise in extreme weather events in many parts of the world, Increase in draught and flooding risks, Less stable ground conditions and dramatic shifts in the ecosystem among others, are just but a few of the Environmental changes experienced over the last few years.  Such events come on top of unpredictable changes in the world economy, the rapid and constant pace of technology, the non-linear mass social change and inconstant political change, with developing countries being on the frontline of such global shifts. Such changing times have raised huge questions for architects…

While factoring all these expected changes that may happen in a developing society over an extended period of time, What is the future for our long-lived assets? What is the future for our urban environments, our cities, our buildings amid all these changes? Buildings have a service life which could easily reach 50 to 100 years plus, what happens when the conditions a building is exposed to during its service life, deviates from the conditions during design and construction of the building?

White Massing

Developing countries are experiencing rapid economic growth with most undergoing a construction boom. Alongside designing to respond to other global challenges fuelled by an increasing human population and the ever dwindling resources, architects and design teams in these emerging economies are tasked to respond to:

-the pressure to a low carbon society and design to mitigate climate change as well as ensure energy conservative building design;

-the need to design buildings that can adjust not only to the ever changing climatic conditions, but that can also adjust to the escalating flooding risks, overheating risks, strain on water recourses, less stable ground conditions among other environmental hazards compounded by the effects of climate change;

-designing to achieve the required habitable conditions of spaces and meet the aspirations of a fast developing and ever changing society, without compromising on energy consumption and attempts to cut emissions during the urbanization process.

Yet, after achieving all the above in a design, “It is difficult to say” seems to be a realistic answer to the question: How do we ensure continuity and longevity of effectiveness of building performance throughout a building’s service life? The question on how we can guarantee whole-life building performance that ensures solutions whose success in achieving building performance robustness, remain unaffected both in the short term and long term future is absolute.

Making rational design decisions for such an extended timescale for an uncertain future in a developing society’s context is daunting. It is a future where factors that drive this change such as the economy, politics, society, technology, the environment are characterised by randomness.

The varying ranges of uncertain trajectories that may happen in a buildings life-time represent a changing source of risk that needs to be managed. A method that aids in understanding, assessing and managing unforeseen and potential surprises therefore needs to be adopted to aid in design decision making under future uncertainty. Risk quantification and risk management approach is one of the methods that can be used to aid in the decision making process related to the management of changing conditions in a building’s life. It is an approach that would involve mapping out and quantifying the consequences of dealing with a whole range of these uncertainties and how they might affect building performance, both now and in the future.

My current research at the University of Cambridge investigates how computer-aided building simulation can be used to model these complex and dynamic interactions over different timescales to produce accurate and reliable results. This could give us a chance to test different design interventions whose success in achieving building performance robustness that would remain unaffected both in the short and long term. Moreover, it would be possible to assess and ultimately rank these design strategies’ effectiveness and urgency along a time axis. Ultimately, this would help architects to identify and appraise potential routes towards whole life building performance that are location specific.

The results of such risk management work will undoubtedly help policymakers to target resources and help them identify areas of possible technological advancements. They would also help with the setting of building regulations, policy strategies and updating building codes in order to improve buildings’ effectiveness and ensure that they are future proofed against runaway climate change.

Linda Nkatha Gichuyia
A current Gates Cambridge Scholar, Linda is an Architect, Environmental design expert and a tutorial fellow at the University of Nairobi, currently pursuing a PhD in Architecture at the University of Cambridge. Her PhD work seeks to develop new insights on adaptation design measures to the effects of climate change, in a carbon constrained environment of a developing country.