The UK’s recent prolonged heatwave, aside from giving the British the opportunity to complain about a different kind of weather, has been a reminder of the very real effects of climate change. For the inhabitants of dense major cities such as London, the sunny weather has been accompanied by conditions that have become distinctly uncomfortable. The heavy masonry that makes our urban landscape and has historically repelled the weather has now become a heat sink, raising temperatures to sweltering levels that disrupt sleep and lower productivity as the population scrambles for the shade. Our cities and their population are simply not built for the changing climate they are now confronted with.
We need to think about how we can retrofit our cities to adapt to changing climates and it follows that we should learn globally from urban environments that already face these challenges. While air-conditioning often feels like an easy fix, it is the passive architectural measures incorporated into these environments that we should be taking lessons from. Darwin’s proposed cooling canopies are a good example of how we can make our cities more comfortable without entering into a faustian pact with the emissions that have driven climate change in the first place. Shade not only creates cool spaces that provide respite from the heat of the day but also stops asphalt and masonry absorbing heat that is reflected back at the users of internal and external spaces. The planted, pergola like quality of these canopies creates something that is distinct from surrounding buildings, joyful and able to change with the seasons.
This is an important lesson. One solution will not work everywhere, but neither will one solution work all year round in one specific place. For solutions to be effective they must be as changeable as the seasons. We must also look at how technologies can be adapted to the specific local qualities of our cities to ensure they remain habitable and retain the qualities that have driven their identity. Our designs for the Warner Centre in Los Angeles are an illustration of how this type of technology can be employed in different contexts. The challenge for us will be to think about how we can adapt these global lessons to cities such as London that, in the past, have developed without them.
Learning from and using nature will allow us to take a holistic approach to the creation of new internal and external city spaces that truly address the environmental challenges faced by our cities today.