Picture the population of Paris (approximately 2.1 million inhabitants). Now imagine all these people moving to a city somewhere in the world every week for the next 30 years, and you’ll get an idea of how fast our cities are growing. This means that by 2050, if UN estimates are correct, two out of every three people on the planet will be living in urban areas. On top of that, the havoc wreaked by climate change is affecting the way people live, work, and play in cities. This puts cities under immense pressure to accommodate all these new faces, reduce environmental impact, and future proof faster than the planet warms. Not only will cities feel the heat, so will architects, developers, and planners who need to find ways to build higher, denser, and faster than before, while making sure people can thrive in cities today and in the future. Achieving this is a mammoth task, recognized by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Addressing specific targets such as adequate safe housing, lowering environmental impact, adapting to climate change and access to green and public spaces is especially where Spacemaker can help.
Our work on sustainability is inspired by two ideas: the definition of sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” (United Nations Brundtland Commission), and thus, that sustainability is about people. In thinking about sustainable urban development, the wellbeing of people and how comfortably they can live in the city goes hand in hand with reducing environmental impact and increasing climate resilience. In our eyes they’re inseparable: healthier cities mean healthier people, and vice versa.
It’s already a tall order for architects, planners, and developers to tackle these issues given the complexity of building in cities. Where will these people live? In what conditions will they live? How will they move around? Will everyone have enough green space? How dense can we build? These questions have inspired us in our ambition to help architects, planners, developers and municipalities create better cities. How? Through empowering them with better tools to design cities in a smarter data-driven way, from the urban scale to the neighbourhood and home. If we understand livability to be a crucial part of sustainable urban development, Spacemaker’s use as a sustainability tool is clear. Combined with an outcome-based approach to design, this is where the fun begins. In this case, it’s about architects, planners and developers expanding their toolbox to help them prioritize sustainability from day one of a project, so they can make the impact they envisioned.
Accessible analyses for optimal outcomes
Let’s imagine a new mixed-use urban development. What are some successful outcomes we’d like to achieve? Perhaps to have as many high quality, energy-efficient apartments as possible, where residents can enjoy good daylight, sun and views in their homes. Lively public spaces at the heart of the neighbourhood where people of all ages can meet each other and hang out. Maybe a mini urban farm on the rooftop.
To design with end results like these in mind, designers need help to make informed, strategic decisions, which is where our core analyses – daylight, sun, noise, wind, outdoor area, and views – come in. Almost every analysis has a goal of improving how people live in denser cities, an important part of sustainable urban development. In parallel, we’re developing new ‘green’ analyses such as embodied and operational carbon, solar panels, and stormwater, which will be crucial in the quest to lower the environmental impact of cities and make them more climate resilient. When architects can use these ‘green’ analyses as part of a wider sustainability strategy that also considers people’s wellbeing, that’s when the magic happens.
A case in point is our new microclimate analysis. It combines our wind, sun, and daylight analyses with local weather data into a powerful tool to help mitigate the urban heat island effect, which makes cities significantly hotter than nearby rural areas, and doubly so during extreme weather. One of the many concerns about urban heat islands is that the problem feeds itself, so hotter cities worsen heatwaves and vice versa. With this analysis architects can help break the heat cycle and ensure that they can confidently build the vibrant urban spaces they envision, which are safe and comfortable for people to use the whole year round.
New tool, new possibilities
Running multiple environmental analyses is normally a time-consuming process that requires a lot of technical knowledge. At the early stages, designers might only test their concepts when really necessary. That means in a traditional workflow they wouldn’t be able to understand their site and the risks as well as they had intended. In contrast, Spacemaker makes it easy for users to test and analyze their concepts from the start. They can get feedback at the speed of design and easily understand the impact of any changes on the site and its surroundings. Team this up with our iterative way of working (design, test, evaluate, refine and repeat in a continuous digital workflow) and generative design tool Explore, and it becomes super easy for designers to play with multiple concepts for a site in parallel – without any dreaded all-nighters. Going one step further, users can optimize their designs in Explore for both density and living qualities. In architecture, we see bright prospects for optimization, which has enabled product designers to manufacture their designs more sustainably by, for example, reducing material and weight. All this number crunching, a normally tedious task which Spacemaker gladly takes over, is visualised in a clear and understandable way which improves the decision-making process for everyone. Remember that rooftop garden? Our outdoor area analysis can show if the roof will get enough sun to keep those veggies happy and make it inviting for people to hang out. Green rooftops are also excellent for cooling the city to reduce urban heat islands, but that’s another story.
One particular outcome we hope Spacemaker can make a valuable contribution to is towards sustainability certification. It’s an accessible benchmark for assessing the sustainability of a project but involves a huge amount of time, effort and commitment on everyone’s part. As almost all of our core analyses are important parts of certifications such as LEED, BREEAM, and DGNB, concepts could be easily tested in Spacemaker for compliance at the early stage. If our data- and outcome-based approach could make it easier for architects, planners and developers to certify their projects, that would make us proud.
Designing for the long term from day one
The early phase of development is where Spacemaker packs a punch; here it’s about making the changes with the most impact for the least cost. We definitely love our graphs, and here’s one you might like; it’s called the MacLeamy or Effort Curve and it shows how the cost of changes escalates the later it gets in the process. That’s where Spacemaker comes in, to help our users easily discover their options at the early stage and make changes before major design decisions need to be locked in and it’s too late to turn back. An example might be exploring all possibilities to get the building orientation and volume spot on from the start as a basis for building sustainably.
When sustainability is factored into site design too late in the design process, the risk is that designers will be forced to address problematic large-scale issues with short term changes that will be more costly, wasteful and therefore less effective. With any changes come serious delays which, in any construction project, are nobody’s friend. It may be impossible to improve sun conditions in a courtyard or on an apartment facade later down the line without significantly altering the design of the site. While it’s beneficial to add extra insulation or better windows later on, these changes are most effective in combination with optimizing the massing of the building as a basis to improve energy efficiency or embodied carbon. In short, taking a big picture view from day one makes it easier for designers to find the right solutions and incorporate them at the early stage which results in a more effective long term sustainability strategy.
Teamwork makes the BREEAM work
Every construction project is a team sport but the traditionally fragmented way of working and everyone’s different agenda make it challenging for stakeholders to work towards shared sustainability goals. As a company full of architects, we’re well aware of this difficulty, which is why we’ve designed the platform as a user-friendly, collaborative tool that removes barriers between stakeholders, both within the planning and design teams and externally with the authorities. Everyone, no matter how digitally savvy, can easily collaborate in a single 3D model and access the same information; a team can even design together, make changes and test concepts on the spot, which improves decision making and creates more productive dialogues. The easier it is to get and keep everyone on board, and therefore help advance the sustainability agenda of a project, the better. We hope that Spacemaker can boost the superpowers of the architects, planners and developers shaping our cities so they can address our housing needs and environmental challenges while helping build neighbourhoods that are a joy for people to live in now and in the future.
We love cities for being vibrant intersections of creativity, culture, and business - in short, for the people who live in them. With so many complexities involved in the creation of our cities, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. That's why we believe it's important to remember who we're doing all this for; cities, like sustainability, are for people.
Banner image: imagine the population of Paris moving to a city every week for the next 30 years and that gives a picture of the rate at which our cities are expanding. Paris is also leading the way in terms of sustainable urban development having implemented strategic measures aimed at, among other things, improving climate resilience, reducing carbon emissions and improving livability with the concept of the15-minute city.