[Series] The ghastly winds around EEMCS

The infamous winds around the EEMCS building are a known effect in architecture. For some of the world’s highest skyscrapers engineers have come up with solutions.

"We have all heard stories and seen videos of cyclists fighting relentlessly with the infamous winds in front of EEMCS." (Photo: Floor van Dedem)

One of these days, cycling along the Mekelweg, you will inevitably feel the pressure of the wind that pushes you as you near the EEMCS building. We have all heard stories and seen videos of cyclists fighting relentlessly with the infamous winds in front of this building, trying hard to stay on the ground. Designed in 1969 as the tallest building in Delft, it was meant to be an icon of TU Delft visible from various parts of the city. But today, it has become the vortex of strong winds that can literally make you fly.

The ghastly winds around this building are mainly caused by wind tunnels forming close to it due to the effect known as the ‘venturi effect’, named after the Italian scientist Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746-1822). These wind tunnels commonly form around relatively tall buildings surrounded by large open plazas, like the Mekelpark. But it is not just the EEMCS building that has this phenomenon. Many buildings around the world have problems related to street level winds. For example the Flatiron building (featured in the Spiderman movies as the Daily Bugle office), was one of the tallest buildings in New York when it opened in 1902. It was under constant criticism from residents and pedestrians who passed by as the winds around it used to lift women’s skirts, attracting many young men. Because of this, the street level winds became popularly known as the ‘Monroe effect’, inspired by the famous subway scene of the iconic actress Marilyn Monroe from the movie The Seven Year Itch (1955).

‘Do we have to keep living with the winds around EEMCS?’

As skyscrapers and high-rise structures became symbols of modern cities, designers and engineers took extreme care to ensure that the winds surrounding the building were managed. Tall structures tend to catch all the air that comes close to it and shoot it to the ground, creating the ‘downdraught effect’. The downdraught effect is often elevated if buildings have completely square corners. That is why rounded buildings such as London’s Gherkin create less street level wind. Designed by the British Architect Norman Foster, this building’s curved façade doesn’t make the air accelerate around corners. Similarly, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (828 m) underwent a micro climate assessment around the tower base. The Burj Khalifa manages wind through carefully crafted design and a range of techniques including extreme taper, multiple setbacks and a high degree of corner softening. Another example is China’s Shanghai Tower whose elegantly twisted form tames the wind.

It is important to look at various factors when designing buildings and it is even more challenging if functionality is to be combined with aesthetics. This can only be achieved if the various disciplines involved work together. Often, we see buildings as mere structures that look a certain way. But more often than one might think, they are the result of carefully considered and optimised factors – right from the functions they hold to the micro climate they create. When all these factors are joined together in perfect harmony, that is when you have a well-functioning building that is also an iconic landmark. As for the EEMCS building, there has been talk about demolishing it, but it will still remain a landmark for at least the next 10 years. That makes me wonder if anything should be done about the winds around it or if we just have to keep living with them?

Malavika Krishnan / Freelance architecture writer

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