Four things you must consider when designing in different geographies

The building market is changing

The skyrocketing global building market has propelled building industry players to look outside their own backyards. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a complete shift in the locations where the majority of new buildings are going up around the world. Capitalizing on economic opportunities in China and the Middle East in particular, real estate developers have put down roots in those regions, which are now home to billions upon billions of Euros worth of development annually. Such development demands a wide range of design services­, not just traditional building design.

Multi-layered decision making is a part of any building project

The start of any project includes architects, developers, and planners coming together to determine site, scale, scope, budget. Design choices are influenced by hundreds of factors. Decision making in areas undergoing rapid development undoubtedly requires collaboration of many stakeholders in various disciplines related to architecture like landscape architecture, urban design and master planning.

The decisions of multidisciplinary design teams can be enhanced and eased through the use of Building Information Modeling and building simulation tools. “Technology definitely helps in decision-making for clients,” says urban designer and landscape architect Dietmar Böstfleisch. “BIM is a communication tool within the disciplines where you can look [at designs] closely. It ensures it’s implementable design and give a client a better understanding,” he says.

In locations where many new buildings are being constructed or existing ones are being adapted, it’s important to engage with many disciplines and technologies. It’s also important to seek to understand the unique qualities of the region where you’re building.

Böstfleisch has over 20 years of experience working in various parts of the world from Europe to Australia to the Middle East. He believes there are a few primary things you must be thoughtful about when embarking on projects in regions where you may not have previously worked: environment, culture, urban design, and infrastructure. “I believe it is really important to understand these four key areas and to have an understanding of where you are in the world,” he says, noting that by doing so, you’ll be able to come up with the best design solutions for that region.

Let’s take a closer look at these four considerations and why they’re so important.

1)    The environment

The environment factors into many decisions in any building project including site selection, orientation and massing, and building envelope and systems. Environmental forces can be invisible or in your face, and they are all very specific to the regional geography and climate. Böstfleisch says when it comes to design projects, the environment is “an important driver that can vary significantly.” A few things to pay particularly attention to are the weather and climate patterns, which will drive your decisions on the layout and materials. A few examples: in desert regions, you may not have to worry about coastal resilience, but you’ll have to accommodate your design for high winds. In coastal regions, you’ll have to design for flood mitigation and erosion. Understanding the unique geographical and climate variants will ensure your building incorporates sustainable design strategies and is suited for a long lifecycle.

2)    Local culture

The social implications of design are infinite, and when developing a new project, you must consider the people who live where you’re building. “You have to adapt to the environment in terms of climate, but also the cultural and social aspects,” Böstfleisch says, adding that project teams must come at design from a “human comfort and human nature point of view.” Put yourself in the shoes of local residents, learn about their customs and explore their ways of life. Think about public space and interactions that take place there. As a designer, Böstfleisch is always asking himself, “What can be done to make a project better for people?”

3)    Urban design schemes

Different governments and civic organizations have various planning schemes and methods. Before starting a new design project, learning about the existing local approaches to design is crucial. By doing so, you can work take advantage of the work others have done to understand their region, maximize time with collaborators, and design a project that really works for local residents. Böstfleisch investigates urban design principles wherever he works. He starts by asking about master planning schemes are already in place at the city, regional, and country levels. He says a few urban elements worth looking at closely are plazas and streetscapes, and water and transport systems. Analyzing how such parts of a region were planned and comparing that to how they are actually used will go a long way as you adopt design plans and offer your own.

4)    Existing infrastructure

All towns and cities have structures that support civic life. Buildings, bridges, streets, underground and above ground systems can be challenging to upgrade and maintain but are necessary for functional cities. When designing in a new location, it’s important to take stock of what infrastructure is already in place. Seek to understanding the quality of the structures and their specific functions, so your design plans can leverage them and contribute to an even more functional community. Böstfleisch also says that it’s also worth learning about any blue and green infrastructure initiatives that may be in place, so projects can be designed to fit in with local priorities.

No matter where you’re building, thinking critically about these four design-influencing aspects will help ensure projects in diverse locations are successful. And as Böstfleisch reminds us, working together will help, but only if building industry professionals become more proactive about embracing new and changing building technologies in practice. “Designers, planners, and architects have to be involved in this process and drive and lead it,” he says. By collaborating across disciplines and using innovative tools, you’ll contribute more sustainable and thriving cities around the world.