News Brief

Climate Scientists Called on to Produce Projections for Architects

Architects want to design for future weather, but the data aren’t formatted with them in mind.

 line chart showing wildly fluctuating climate indicators increasing over the life of a theoretical building that opens in 2025.

The chart shows how various climate indicators for a theoretical project in Sacramento, California could begin to change drastically over the life of the building compared with historical data.

Source: HGA
There is now more information available than ever about how our climate is likely to change. Why aren’t architects using those projections to design safer, more resilient buildings?

The University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) and HGA recently conducted a study to answer that question. According to the findings, “A&E professionals are aware of and interested in using climate-projection data in their work.” But the barriers are myriad, with the top five cited as:

  • Clients aren’t asking for the data.
  • It is unclear what products and services are available.
  • Practitioners feel they would need to hire an individual or team to offer such services.
  • Liability concerns with using climate-projection data to inform design decisions
  • Data are not in the format(s) used by building analysis/design tools

As a result, most architects and engineers continue to use historical weather files from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which not only fail to consider future predictions but also, for some locations, are more than three decades old.

Many of the barriers relate to the fact that understanding how to use projection data is currently time intensive and requires rare expertise to “downscale” for use in modeling tools, explain the researchers. The data that’s freely available—such as from Localized Constructed Analogs (LOCA), CalAdapt, ResilientMA, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—is not in a format that is accessible to building designers and engineers. Files used for energy modeling typically include hourly values for variables like temperature and humidity, while climate-projection files most often provide daily values. “Ideally, climate data developers would evaluate the needs of the A&E industry as end users of the data and address those needs in the format and delivery of climate-projection data,” says the report.

When climate-projection data are used, practitioners are directionally informing conversations with clients, risk assessments, or design strategies, according to survey respondents. It is rarer to use the data as inputs into analysis tools or energy models, or to inform system sizing.

The report concludes with recommended actions for various groups, including:

  • Climate scientists and modelers should include architecture and engineering professionals in the development of their reports.
  • Trade associations for architects and engineers should be providing guidance on how to use climate-projection data and should integrate future climate conditions into their codes.
  • Architecture and engineering schools should be educating students about climate change and exposing them to projection data.
  • Clients should select for climate resilience expertise and require projection data to be considered in design.
  • Policy makers should require consideration of climate-projection data in building codes and standards.

More on using climate projections in design:

Future Climate and Professional Liability: AIA Weighs In

The Future of Designing with Future Weather Data

Stop Designing for the Past: Your Future Could Depend on It

Downscaled Climate Data: Where to Get It and How to Use It

Published May 1, 2023

Pearson, C. (2023, April 19). Climate Scientists Called on to Produce Projections for Architects. Retrieved from

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May 15, 2023 - 5:50 pm

Dear BG: Thank you for highlighting this important problem. I look forward to reading the HGA report. Here are some quick reactions to this article:

We are fast approaching severeral tipping points in our global environmental and social systems, so we need to act now. More awareness and guidance for adapting buildings to future climates are definitely needed. However, we probably need funding and technical assistance to jump start such efforts, plus guidance and standards, i.e, a carrot and stick approach.

In the meantime, we need disclaimers on buildings, especially those housing heat senstive populations, that the building is desinged for an outdated, historical climate data and not on future weather climates. Some building engineers in British Columbia are already advising clients on how to adapt to future climates, and requiring them to sign an acknowledgment if they do not accept those design recommendations.

For life cycle and power outage design standards to prevent indoor overheating (and usually underheating prevention), the U.S. could easily learn from the examples of several European nations, Canada, and Australia to provide future weather (hourly) files. This would not only help reduce indoor overheating risks to health and productivity, but also reduce peak cooling demand on the grid, GHG emissions, low efficiency lock-in, liability, and operating costs.

FYI, here is a summary of global developments in the area future weather files, urban heat adjustments, and climate adapted/resilient building standards: Phillips, June 2022,

Since 2012, I have requested that the California Energy Commission and the Cal Adapt program to provide future weather files, but we have yet to see much progress. Last spring and in previous years, we have proposed that California consider climate resilience standards to prevent overheating due to climate change and urban heat impacts, but the proposals have been rejected. For example, here is the 2023 Cal Green proposal: Phillips, 2023, As a foot in the door, I would be happy to just to see some assessments of thermal comfort using existing standards under current climates and historical heat waves!!

However, we are expecting a much more frequent, longer, and severe heat waves, heat storms, heat domes, power outages, etc. in the near future, so this approach would still underestimae the impacts of climate change. In addition, we  know that climate change models do not currently estimate very extreme events very well, e.g., the Pacific NW Heat Dome. Nor do they characterize major climate factors such as glacier melting rates, e.g. 200% increase in sea level rise vs. current models,

BTW, your summary of the report stresses the difficulty of getting future weather files for building modeling in the U.S., but I think this is overstated.  Morphed future weather files, although not ideal, have been available at a low or zero cost for years. Better yet, downscaled future weather files are available at no cost (other than labor to extract the data) from CORDEX and NCAR, so that goverment agencies could produce future weather files for general use (see Machard et al. 2020, Downscaled future weather files that included urban heat increases are already available from AltoStratus for California locations at a modest price.

This  problem of accessing future  weather files may mainly be one of building owners, designers, and/or engineering firms that are small, lack resources, or do not realize their liabilty risks for not preventing overheating, wind blown rain, and other climate impacts under current and future climates.  The residential building sector tends to have more of these barriers to climate adapted design vs. the commerical building sector, but that is where our most vulnerable folks live and often work.

Creating consumer, public, and taxpayer demand for climate adapted buildings is also needed to move the building sector in the right direction. Focused info, public education, and professional training campaigns, and perhaps labeling of key buildings for overheating risk, would also help build the awareness and demand for healthy buildings that are not maladapted to our rapidly changing climates.

One ray of hope is that multi objective optimization of energy, GHGs, overheating, cosets, etc. is already being done by many researchers and some designers, and that machine learning and artificial intelligence will rapidly accelerate this trend.

Salud and keep up the great work in future proofing our built environment!

Tom Phillips

May 16, 2023 - 8:32 pm

Thank you Tom, I so appreciate your kind words and reactions. Your response includes lots of resources and updates I wasn't even aware of--and I try to follow these things pretty closely!

That, I think, illustrates one of your main points: downscaled, TMY files might actually be fairly available (though, my inclination is that is probably only the case for some select regions). But it takes resources and time to track these updates, understand where to look, and then make sure you are working with the latest information as the climate science continually evolves. That's a fairly high hurdle; one that might be more streamlined if climate scientists embraced architects as a core end user. 

I am taking note of your idea to label buildings for overheating risk--genius. 

Finally, stay tuned for some future coverage. My next piece is about a study modeling the impact of passive cooling strategies on thermal comfort using weather files from the recent PNW heat dome event.