Wirth Research (WR) Founder and Technical Director Nick Wirth has welcomed the City of London’s proposal to introduce stricter new building guidelines for skyscrapers, but warns that more can still be done to improve the urban environment for pedestrians and cyclists in high-rise areas.
Last week, following consultation with Wirth Research and other leading industry practitioners, the City of London Corporation (CoLC) unveiled a revised set of guidelines for skyscrapers due to concerns about the potential for strong winds to knock people off their feet and push cyclists into passing vehicles.
The ‘wind tunnel effect’ caused by a concentration of high-rise buildings can generate fierce downdrafts, which can in-turn result in serious incidents if left unresolved. CoLC’s proposed new framework raises the level of analysis required of developers to demonstrate an acceptable wind microclimate.
While historically, wind tunnel testing has been standard practice for assessing the wind impact of potential skyscrapers, henceforth, new developments will require computer simulations of wind effect – one of Wirth Research’s specialist areas, with a market-leading offering in terms of model resolution down to 50mm – at the very beginning of the design process.
WR’s founder Nick Wirth is a former Formula 1 team owner and designer, and was previously the youngest-ever Fellow of the Royal Institution of Mechanical Engineers. A pioneer of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) in motorsport, he has since transferred that knowledge and expertise to Wirth Research’s expanding portfolio in the built environment sector – with high-profile projects including Apple Park in California, 22 Bishopsgate and the award-winning Bloomberg European HQ.
Wirth Research has been collaborating in recent months with digital twin planning platform VU.CITY, providing CFD-generated wind analysis to help produce the world’s largest and most accurate 3D city models – with further exciting news to follow.
Nick Wirth, Founder and Technical Director of Wirth Research, said:
“With 13 new skyscrapers in the pipeline in London between now and 2026, it has never been more relevant to revisit the rules regarding new tall building guidelines. The tougher guidelines put forward by CoLC are clearly a step in the right direction, but they predominantly reflect the current industry ‘best practice’ rather than driving the situation significantly forward. In our opinion, they still do not go far enough – as a company, Wirth Research already operates to a higher standard than what is outlined here, and adopting more stringent demands should be a prerequisite across the board.
“The ‘concrete canyon’ effect produced by a proliferation of skyscrapers in a comparatively small area is well-documented, whereby these buildings can create an unpleasant and sometimes dangerous microclimate for those down on the ground. Our aim is to help keep wind conditions in surrounding streets stable – and show that high-rise does not automatically have to mean high-risk. Working closely with VU.CITY, we are looking to break new ground in the built environment sector and – unlike other providers – deliver solutions in days rather than weeks.
“Whereas traditional wind tunnels require model creation at 300:1 – which means any details smaller than one metre are very difficult to accurately capture – our CFD service provides resolutions down to 50mm, modelled in full scale. Couple this with the unrivalled precision of VU.CITY’s 3D models, and we are confident of delivering the most accurate and consistent 3D model of London to-date – and that exercise, of course, can be repeated in other cities around the country and throughout the world.”
Jason Hawthorne, Co-Founder of VU.CITY, said:
“There’s actually no excuse for new buildings in London that don’t address the microclimate at ground level. Gone are the days when physical models had to be created and days booked in the wind tunnel. Using highly accurate digital modelling combined with computational fluid dynamics can quickly identify issues with wind, meaning proposals can be adapted in real time to find solutions and prevent costly mistakes.
“VU.CITY is collaborating with Wirth Research to test widescale simulations at a level previously unachievable. Nick Wirth developed the business on the back of many years owning and working with Formula 1 teams to do exactly this. That expertise now means we can look at the City to consider the cumulative effects of consented schemes.
“Other areas of London – and other cities – will also need to address this. VU.CITYs modelling allows local authorities and developers to work together from a very early stage to see how the development of a whole area, rather than an individual site will impact cyclists and pedestrians.
“High-rise definitely has a role to play in the future of our cities, and using technology will enable this development to take place and still create spaces that are pleasant for everyone to use.”