Engineering the Microclimate

Urban Intensification Balanced with High Quality Public Spaces

Urban intensification does not need to come at the cost of amenity or public open space.  Cities should be designed to be more livable, not to house big spectacular development projects. Furthermore, public spaces can be designed to be comfortable for people for longer periods of time, because contrary to common belief, you can do something about the weather. You can set guidelines for human comfort studies in order to understand the impacts of proposed developments early in the planning process. The guidelines would set performance requirements and provide an opportunity to engineer the microclimate to create high quality, comfortable public spaces. This ensures that the public spaces will perform as intended – for human comfort and enjoyment.   

Young woman walking among City of London buildings

Benefits of engineering the microclimate

  • Realize your vision for your city. Your vision for your city is unique, so too is your city’s microclimate. Increase the amount of high quality space in your city and ensure the spaces are comfortable and pleasant places to live, work and visit. 
  • Encourage active transportation. Create microclimate conditions that are safe and comfortable for people cycling and walking. This results in better health and well being of residents. 
  • Make spaces comfortable for longer periods of time. With early design interventions, such as optimizing street layouts at the master planning stage or modifying building massing, the environment can be engineered to be more comfortable. This allows people to spend more time outdoors together.
  • Reap economic benefits of having comfortable public space – patrons visit local businesses such as shops and restaurants more frequently and they stay longer. Ensure developers and their consultants have a clear understanding of what studies they need to conduct to assess human comfort in public spaces as part of the planning process and how to conduct the studies. The resultant consistency in the application process will help to expedite review times and decrease the level of burden on all stakeholders

Achieving Total Comfort

Total Comfort White Paper? 

Project Experience

City of London Corporation Thermal Comfort Guidelines

Big Ben clock tower seen from city of London street scene

The City of London Corporation will be creating more sustainable, comfortable and enjoyable public spaces while achieving their growth objectives going forward. The City has adopted new guidelines to better understand the impacts of proposed developments on thermal comfort. Developers will be required to analyze the local microclimate and the thermal comfort impacts of their buildings at early stages in the design process.  

“The analysis will allow for improvements to the quality of outdoor spaces with the Square Mile to better the health and wellbeing of residents, workers and visitors, as well as improving the experience of walking and cycling in the City” (

RWDI was the lead author of these world leading guidelines.  

Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk labs early development hub

RWDI worked alongside Partisans Architecture, BBB Architects and Public Work (landscape architects) to help Sidewalk Labs identify ways to significantly increase the annual number of “thermally comfortable” daytime hours in Toronto’s Quayside neighborhood. Mitigating the most uncomfortable conditions can make a meaningful difference in the time that outdoor areas can be utilized by residents for business and recreation.

RWDI developed passive strategies moderate people’s experience of weather and climate, managing wind, rain and sun exposure, while consuming little or no energy. Our team carried out computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and solar modeling work to validate the efficacy of various approaches – first modeling the baseline weather and climate conditions in the Quayside neighborhood, and then assessing how our interventions, such as canopies, heat lamps, and the orientation of streets and buildings, would affect the human experience.


City of Toronto Pedestrian Comfort Terms of Reference

City of Toronto

The National Research Council of Canada, with funding support from Infrastructure Canada, is responding to this reality by preparing design guidance, which considers climate change, for potential inclusion in upcoming editions of the National Building Code of Canada (NBC). RWDI has been awarded an important contract for work to inform this effort, especially in the areas of wind and snow loading.

For instance, we’re charged with exploring options and proposing changes to the NBC’s design for wind loads and snow loads: we’ll develop a path forward for the implementation of a uniform risk approach, as opposed to the uniform hazard approach currently in use. Experts believe that adopting a uniform risk approach would put the NBC in a better position to account for climate change – even if we can’t know today precisely how risks will evolve in the future.