It's as Melbourne as the MCG: it's wind at Docklands

It's as Melbourne as the MCG, meat pies and cold days in summer. It's wind whipping through Docklands.

When there is even a breath of wind about, Docklands is like one of those cool machines that simulates sky diving. OK, maybe that is a little over the top, but you get what I mean. I understand that it was a windy place prior to development, but I do not think that is an excuse.

The people of Melbourne deserve better and what is worse Fishermans Bend could potentially end up in the same situation. Fishermans Bend is not wholly owned and managed by one vendor (like Docklands was/is); as developments take form in Melbourne's newest enclave the wind effects are modelled only on the current proposals, not the precinct as a whole.

Meaning it is quite likely that by the time new developments are designed, they could create wind problems for established developments. If you are a retailer, it is possible you will get the worst end of the stick in this situation; people may just stop visiting your establishment and sadly you will have no leg to stand on in terms of recourse.

There are two elements that I believe need to be addressed here:

  1. How do we model and masterplan in a way that holistically addresses the microclimate of a precinct?
  2. How do we provide developers and authorities with an objective platform to accurately assess wind comfort?

The first factor is not an easy one to solve; my thought was to study masterplan scenarios to find out the best way to deal with excessive wind concerns. The result being to provide guidelines for building mass and orientation per site.

But there are problems with this when it comes to expectations that land owners have on the return or value of their asset. Put simply, it requires land owners and developers to work collaboratively together for the good of the precinct. This is possible, but knowing how adversarial property development can be, it is not immediately probable. It could, however, be done if it is undertaken early enough so land owners are not given any expectations prior to specific rezoning.

As for the second issue, I believe there is some ambiguity when it comes to wind criteria for comfort. For the safety criteria it is easy to agree between developer, architect and planning authority; it is either safe for humans or not. But when it comes to comfort, consensus among project stakeholders becomes difficult because there is a much higher level of subjectivity.

How many times a year will it be too windy? Will it only be windy on those icy days in winter, in which case no one wants to be outside sipping a latte anyway. How do you know people will not be comfortable? Can't they just wear a coat? All these types of discussions take place and what results is only a few design concessions are made to relieve wind issues.

It is the ambiguity in the criteria that is the root cause. Having said that, the criteria, developed back in the 70's is a brilliant piece of work. Pioneering for its day! But we know more about wind and its effects now and have much more data to draw from. The old criteria can be built upon to create a new criteria that addresses development, not just in Docklands, Fishermans Bend or Melbourne, but all over Australia.

So where does this leave us? To develop a new criteria needs research as the want and need exists in understanding more detail about the human response to wind. Temperature has an effect on comfort as does the season. For example , in winter we just accept that it is going to be uncomfortable outside so wind as much less of an effect. When it is chilly, even a breath of wind can make it unbearable.

A new criteria could be developed to take these things into consideration. I am interested in what everyone thinks about the wind and higher density living, especially those that live in and around the Melbourne CBD.

Craig Skipsey is a consultant at Global Wind Technology Services: an Urban Melbourne Industry Hub member.

Lead image courtesy Chris Mitchell (Flickr).

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