Designing outdoor spaces with climate change in mind
The consequences of climate change are showing. Temperature records are breaking
annually, weather systems are growing in intensity, and sea levels are rising. In the face of a
more extreme climate, projects must be designed with the future in mind.
Many existing structures
are at risk due to the effects of climate change, and if approaches to design do not change, new
structures will be too. In this document, we will cover the forecasted changes in weather, how
those changes will affect outdoor design, and what new strategies can be used to ensure new outdoor
spaces endure the
evolving climate conditions.
The expected consequences of climate change
In short, droughts and floods. Though two seemingly opposing extremes, the number of droughts and
floods will surge as a result of an increasingly warm atmosphere. As the temperature of the
atmosphere increases, the moisture content in the atmosphere increases with it. The problem is that
the moisture content capacity of the atmosphere is rising at a faster rate than evaporation. The
difference in the speed of these two processes means that the natural water cycle is taking longer
to recharge, resulting in prolonged dry spells that
are followed by intense rainfall.
How is outdoor design changing?
Managing two extremes requires two types of solution. Here we will take a
look at the new methods being used to tackle droughts and floods.
The main considerations for outdoor spaces during a drought are irrigation,
temperature and shade.
Ensuring plants receive the right amount of water during a dry spell requires regular watering,
which can problematic if hosepipe bans are imposed.
Installing tanks, water butts and other forms of water capture is an obvious route to take. ‘Grey
water’ can also be considered. Recycled from baths, sinks and washing machines, ‘grey water’ is
pumped into the garden, helping plants to survive. Intelligent planting also helps in this regard,
as a changing climate means that some plants will not survive where they once would have done.
Urban locations are warmer than rural ones, a result of the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon. Urban
spaces radiate more heat through buildings and machinery, creating an environment that is
distinctly warmer than the surrounding areas. The University of Manchester conducted a study that
showed the presence of more greenery and water drastically cooled the spaces around it. Including
more plants within outdoor areas, be it in traditional borders or in-wall trellises, will have a
cooling effect. Water features also help in this regard, although maintaining a source of water
during extended dry spells might be a challenge.
Shade will become an essential part of outdoor spaces. As temperatures increase, the practicality
of spaces like patios and dining areas will be reduced if no shade is provided, as surfaces become
too hot to use. Shade can be provided through the use of pergolas, retractable roofs, trees and
screens. When integrating shading into an outdoor project, it’s important to consider an area’s
airflow as you’ll want to maintain a constant supply of
The primary concerns with heavy rainfall are flooding and structural integrity.
Coastal regions are already witnessing increased flooding as sea levels
rise and inland areas are seeing record levels of rainfall year on year. As mentioned above, the
increased capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture means that the amount of rain falling in any
given storm is increasing in intensity. Allowing for flooding in new and unexpected areas requires
a careful evaluation of proposed locations for new outdoor spaces. Proximity to rivers, streams and
other natural sources will need to be considered carefully.
The capacity of drainage will need to increase to account for ongoing food trends. Sustainable
drainage systems (SUDS) can reduce the amount of water that flows from a home into a drainage
system, by storing and releasing it over time, reducing the risk of further flooding. Another
solution is to design an area of the garden to direct water towards a low-set area
containing hardy and thirsty plants.
A big concern that comes with heavier rainfall is the weakening that it can cause to the
foundations of outdoor spaces. When soil, especially clay-based soil, becomes saturated with water,
it can cause the ground to shift. Shifting ground can compromise shallow, unprepared foundations.
built on clay, it is wise to consider deeper foundations in preparation for more extreme weather.
In all designs, it is advisable that a cistern system be
installed around the foundations to direct water away from the site.
Climate change and outdoor design - Conclusion
Outdoor spaces will be unaviodably affected by the forecasted changes to our climate. As we learn
more about the expected impacts of climate change, we’ll need to reevaluate our built environment
to ensure the long-
term sustainability and endurance of any outdoor space. In this guide, we’ve discussed two of the
most prominent issues expected to result from climate change. Being aware of these issues, and
their potential solutions, will help
to improve design for the future.