Why use CFD in Early-Stage Building Design?

Why use CFD in Early-Stage Building Design?

04 May 2021


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This informal CPD article Why use CFD in Early-Stage Building Design was provided by SimScale, A new, cloud-based approach to CAE, FEA and CFD.

What is Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)?

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is the branch of computer-aided engineering that simulates fluid motion using numerical approaches. Designers and engineers can use CFD to model basic heat transfer methods like conduction, convection, and radiation, study the flow of air and water, and better understand other environmental and physical properties of their designs. No project is too small or too big for CFD. It can be used in a wide range of applications from optimizing the flow from a ceiling fan to changing the design of an entire city to mitigate windy conditions.

While simulation is a powerful tool for designers at many stages, there are compelling advantages to integrating CFD analysis early in the design process. Below we take a look at how simulation, used early in design workflows, can offer Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) professionals insights into building physics and performance.

Assess Performance

Designers can gain a deeper understanding of their design, its impact on the direct environment (and vice versa) by modeling and simulating the physics and climate of a project. This can be approached from two directions: the external environment, which deals with microclimate, and the internal environment, in which designers focus mostly on thermal comfort and air quality for occupants.

 External: Urban Microclimate

When we speak of the urban environment we must consider the many complex dynamics created by the constant interaction of wind, airflow, and other climate variables. As they are difficult to predict, mathematical models and simulations can be employed to examine and better understand their behavior. Urban areas especially, with dense infrastructure, can be the site of particular building aerodynamic phenomena such as wind channeling, cornering effect, and downwash. These effects create turbulent wind scenarios that can be uncomfortable or even dangerous for pedestrians. Specialist modeling tools give engineers the opportunity to see how their designs will perform against these climatic considerations and allow for design iterations or modifications early on, when changes are feasible and not as costly.

Internal: Indoor Comfort and Air Quality

There are many driving factors that impact a building’s need for energy. As the AEC industry trends towards sustainable design, engineers will need to understand how elements related to physics, climate, and occupant behavior affect a building’s energy demand. Specialist modeling tools enable engineers to simulate and test various ventilation strategies for indoor air quality and occupant thermal comfort. CFD simulation affords a holistic view of how temperature, occupancy, airflow, or even building materials can impact the indoor environment. Leveraging CFD provides insights not only for the effectiveness of energy-efficient design choices but also can ensure safety for occupants by measuring for CO2 and temperature distribution within a space.

Achieve Compliance

Within the AEC industry established design codes and guidelines ensure engineers and architects apply best-practice design, construction, and operational methodology to a building. They set the standard in many categories from energy and water usage to protecting the health and wellbeing of occupants. CFD tools are recommended to demonstrate compliance in many areas from environmental quality to ventilation or even environmental analysis of the construction site.

Building Regulations and Energy Rating Systems

Certification and rating systems, like LEED and BREEAM, are focusing on the idea of carbon neutrality in every step of the building process. Engineers leveraging CFD early in their design process can quantitatively estimate the performance of their building design and demonstrate compliance with many categories of building regulations and design codes.


Many jurisdictions or local areas have assessed microclimate conditions and are specifying guidelines that use simulation, or CFD in particular, to prevent future buildings that might cause discomfort or danger for pedestrians. Engineers, designers, and architects alike that are up-to-speed on specialist modeling tools can more quickly comply with the requirements of the new standards.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from SimScale, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements. 



For more information from SimScale, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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