Summer Heatwave: Can our buildings really cope?

For this post we thought we would revisit one of our blog posts from last year as despite being a year old it is still extremely topical. In the UK it is no secret that we love to discuss the weather, and the summer heatwave of 2018 provided us with plenty to talk about!


Summer 2019 has been no different. June had one of the warmest June days for 40 years and in July a new record temperature was set in Cambridge (as well as record temperatures world-wide) when the thermometer hit a blistering 38.7C. Now on the cusp of the August bank holiday we are again being warned of yet another heatwave. However, it is not just the temperatures that are a sign of the crisis we are faced with, the UK rainfall is also becoming more extreme with periods of low rainfall followed by intense rainfall events. Thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and David Attenborough, the Climate Emergency is starting to get the media coverage it requires, and recent polls show 85% of adults are now concerned about the climate crisis.

So, after another record-breaking summer we yet again we consider can we really cope if this becomes the new normal?

In 2019, the climate crisis conversation is growing and is more in line with the scientific community that the recent hot weather is heavily attributed to man-made climate change and an indication of what we might expect in the not so distant future. Although the 2015 Paris Agreement saw countries pledge to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”, recent studies have shown that at the current emissions rate this is set to be exceeded by 2040.

As a result of this, we are now at a crossroads in our approach to the climate emergency. Fundamentally we still need to focus on energy efficiency and reducing the emissions that are driving the climate crisis (mitigation), however perhaps more crucially we now need to seriously focus on coping with the physical effects of the changes that are already well under way (adaptation). With our current building stock and design approaches we may struggle to cope without a serious shift towards climate resilience.

In the construction industry we not only have to continue the low-energy and low-carbon design approach but essentially, we need to design our buildings and cities differently so that they are flexible enough to adapt to climatic changes – such as higher summer temperatures and continue to be fit for purpose.

Building design and climate adaptation is an extensive topic and some of our other blog posts cover a few of the key design measures and solution that could help us to adapt. We looked at the important role passive design can take as well as the benefits of urban greening.

To go back to the earlier question of can we can cope if this becomes the new normal; if adaptation is at the centre of our design approach, then yes, we stand a chance. The UK currently has a moderate climate, and there are many countries that already cope with much higher temperatures than we do. If we can learn from them and rethink our approach to building design, then we are much more likely to handle higher temperatures and the knock-on consequences.

Adaptation to a changing climate is a challenge that has not been faced by modern civilisations before, and although it is indeed a challenge it also brings huge opportunities for us as designers.


Other blogs you may be interested in:


Passive Design: A method to adapt to climate change

Urban Greening: the future of nature in our cities

What is a Life Cycle Assessment?

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