CFD in the Built Environment: The Pioneering Influence of Hilson Moran

Helen Brearley


I recently visited London to shoot a customer video and I, like many other visitors to England’s capital city, was struck by the ever-growing, iconic skyline. It’s safe to say that we probably take these buildings for granted as they become part and parcel of any city around the world. But the work that goes on behind the architectural marvels includes many aspects, including the incorporation of simulation and modelling software, from providers such as EDRMedeso and Ansys.

As we meet Ben Abel, Director and Head of R&D at the international design consultancy Hilson Moran, his office provides a panoramic view of the City of London skyline. Iconic buildings like the Gherkin (St Mary Axe) and the Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) stand as backdrops—structures celebrated not only in photographs but in films like ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’. Beyond their striking facades lies the realm of Hilson Moran’s expertise, particularly in the nuanced use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

For over four decades, Hilson Moran has been a leader in building design, completing over 14,000 projects. Abel’s team is dedicated to merging emerging technologies with refined processes to push boundaries while adhering to stringent regulations and sustainability mandates.


The Role of CFD in Modern Architecture

CFD is integral to the firm’s approach, providing deep insights and innovation across a broad project spectrum. This technology plays a crucial role in areas from occupant comfort to wind and solar load modeling, turning everyday experiences in our urban environments into highly engineered comforts.

Consider the dynamics of wind funnelling through city streets or the variable temperatures in office spaces due to sunlight—these everyday occurrences are the result of sophisticated CFD models. These models help mitigate risks, ensuring comfort, safety, and compliance within the built environment, alongside a growing emphasis on sustainable design.


From Qatar’s World Cup to London’s Gherkin

Recently, Hilson Moran’s expertise was showcased during the 2022 Soccer World Cup in Qatar. The firm employed CFD to optimize air quality and thermal comfort in the Al Thumama stadium and the unique Stadium 974, built from used shipping containers. Despite challenging climates, their innovative designs maintained sustainability through natural ventilation techniques demonstrated by CFD.


In London, St Mary Axe, affectionately referred to by locals as the ‘Gherkin’ is a testament to the synergy between architectural vision and engineering precision, where CFD and dynamic thermal modeling harmonize the building’s openable cladding with its internal systems, redefining high-rise office design.


20 Ropemaker: A Benchmark in Sustainable Architecture

Another standout project is 20 Ropemaker, which excels in sustainable design and is on track for WELL v2 Platinum certification. This building incorporates strategies to enhance air and water quality, reduce noise, and promote occupant well-being, ensuring it performs optimally over its lifetime. This holistic approach to design not only meets but exceeds the current standards for sustainable architecture, setting a new benchmark for future developments.


Looking Ahead: The Future of Built Environments

The integration of CFD and dynamic thermal modeling is not just beneficial but essential for future-oriented architectural practices. Through projects like St Mary Axe and 20 Ropemaker, Hilson Moran demonstrates how technological prowess can coexist with a commitment to sustainability. These projects serve not merely as buildings but as pioneers of a sustainable and health-conscious future.


Hilson Moran’s philosophy advocates that design should anticipate future needs and help shape them. By embracing CFD and dynamic thermal modeling, the firm is not just solving today’s challenges but is also paving the way for new standards in the sustainability of built environments.


As we continue to face global sustainability challenges, the innovative use of these technologies by Hilson Moran offers a hopeful outlook and a practical roadmap for others in the industry, proving that thoughtful design can indeed make a world of difference.


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Helen Brearley