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AIR MOVEMENT SIMULATION OF NATURAL VENTILATION

IN A NEW ADMINISTRATION
BUILDING WITH TWO OPEN ATRIA
Catherine Ho
B u i l d i n g Simulation L i m i t e d

Introduction

This presentation discusses a recent consuttancy project for a large public company. The company
had taken the bold and admirable step of deciding to design a new administration building without air
conditioning systems. The natural ventilation had still to provide an acceptable working environment
and not overly restrict the use of the building in terms of partitioning and layout.
The building comprised three foors which were linked by a central atrium and an internal lightwell.
On one side of the atrium, there was a single storey ground floor restaurant with office accommodation on
the other side comprising three floors. Figure 1 shows the floor plans for the building. An office floor is
approximately 500 m 2with the atrium floor area in the region of 150 m 2 with the lightwell approximately
30 m 2. A sectional view of the building is shown in Figure 2.
The building design concept was to ventilate the building using cross ventilation with the 'extract' from the
building via high level vents in the central atrium. In addition to the central atrium there is also an internal
lightwell containingthe lift shaft which links all three floors and which has automatically opening vents at
roof level. Figure 3 outlines the concept for air flow during normal working hours. In order to allow the
air to pass from the offices into the atrium and the lightwell, all office floors were open to both the atrium
and the lightweIl. The only exception was on the ground floor where the office accommodation was
separated from the atrium, principally for security reasons.
Although the building was primarily for office staffwith computers, the small power loads were low with a
design small power gain of 13 w/m2. The occupancy density was also quite low with a design occupancy
rate in the region of one person per 25 m 2 of floor area. The lighting was principally via uplighters and a
design heat gain 0f20 w/m 2was assumed.
The principle of the ventilation scheme was to use the openable windows on the perimeter to allow outside
airto enter into the building. Where therewere individual perimeter offices there were high level transfer
grilles to allowthe outside air to pass into the central office area. Itwas intended that the air woutd then
leave the offcesvia the atrium and the lightwell.

The Brief

The brief was to assist the design team to achieve a natural ventilation scheme which provided the
staffwith a comfortable working environment wh_ilst a t the same time devising a control strategy for
natural smoke extract and control.
The objective of the air movement simulation from an environmental view point was to determine
the likely air flow paths in summer and to ensure that sufficient outside air passed through the
building. In addition the air temperature had to be acceptable and the air velocities not too high or
too low - a range of 0.05 to 0.3 m/s was the guideline.
The objective from the point of view of smoke extract, was to prevent smoke logging in the
occupied zones, inhibit smoke spread and to facilitate natural smoke extraction.
The requirements of these two objectives had to be balanced in order to achieve a practical
design solution which was acceptable to the Fire Authorities and to the client.

Constraints

There were a number of constraints on the project which influenced the approach to the analysis:
I.

Time -there was not much time (when is there ever!). The results of the initial environmental analysis
was needed within 10 days.

2.

The designteam wanted all the building to be modelled ifpossibte.

2.

Any solution had to satisfy the environmental and smoke extract requirements.

The final scheme design had to be practical and acceptable to the Fire Authorities and the
Client.

The First Simulation

It was decided to assess the performance of the natural ventilation scheme using the Ftovent CFD
software.

The smoke extract strategy was developed by the application of extensive

experience and fire engineering principles. The two assessments were developed side by side
to ensure that an integrated strategy was achieved.

This presentation focuses on the CFD

model with brief mention of those issues which were common to the smoke extract strategy.

The air change rate needed to provide acceptable internal air temperatures in the summer had been
predicted by the design team using an admittance based design package.

The objective of the

simulation was to see whether the air volumes assumed in the assessment could be reasonably
achieved.

In addition, the air velocities within the office areas were to be checked to ensure

that excessive air movement was minimised.


The physical presence of furniture was not modelled because the locations could not be predetermined although it is appreciated that the eventual position of furniture will affect local air flow
patterns. However, the absence of furniture in the model does not affect the applicability of the
results.
Because of the short time-scale, itwas important that the model be kept as simple as possible whilst at the
same time respectingthe wishes of the client foras complete a model as possible. Acompromisewas
reached which enabled approximately 50% of the floor area to be modelled with the option to extend the
model ata later stage if necessary.
The aim of the first model was to see what was the highest ventilation rate which could be achieved on a
still summer day and what would be the natural airflow pattern. To this effect itwas assumed that all the
windows in the perimeter werefulty opened togetherwiththe high level vents in the atrium andthe lightwell.
The orientation ofthebuilding meantthat solar gain into the atrium was limited because ofitsNorth and
East orientation (it is an L shaped space- refer to Figure 1). Whilst the offices on the other hand had
significant solar gainbecauseofthe Southand West Orientation. Thesolar gainwas calculatedtaking into
account the shading devices which comprised an internal light shelfand theproperties ofthe glazing. The
solargain was modelled as a convective source on the floor and an allowance of 50% was made for the
storage effect of the floor.

Findings from the First Simulation


The first simulation showed that the air flow left the building in three ways; via the vents in the
atrium roof, via the vents in the lightwell roof and also via the open windows on the top floor.
This was an undesirable air flow pattern for a number of reasons;

a)

The air quality on the top floor was reduced because the air entering the floor was not directly
from outside. Although, the actual 'outside air contentwas sufficient forventilation. Exceptwhen a
lower proportion of open windows would have reduced the outside air content.

b)

The air flow into the top floor would also carry heat and contaminants from the floors below.

c)

The occupants on the top floor had less direct control over the ventilation in their working
environment.

It was concluded that the vents in the atrium were too wind dependent because of their vertical
locationin thesouth-west faces ofthe atrium roof. This affected the internal airflowaswellas reducingthe
smoke extract effectiveness.
Based on all the windows being open an air change rate of approximately 16 air changes per hour
had been possible. However, the air temperature ofthetop floor accommodation was approximately
2C higher thanthat onGround andFirst floors.
It was decided to relocate the atrium vents into the ridge line of the roof.

This reduced the

wind dependence and also increased the pressure differential between the window openings
and the outlets.

The Second Simulation


The second simulation assumed that 50% of the ridge vents in the atrium were open and all the vents
in the lightwell were fully open.

It was assumed that only the two lower lights of the windows

were fully open (this reduced the effective opening by approximately one third compared to
the first model).
The modelwas extended to include all the atrium and all of the office area on each storey. The reason for
this wasto includethe new openings inthe atrium roof. A three-dimensional model 21.9m wide (thez
direction) by 21.9 m deep (thex direction) and 14.5 m high (the y direction) was modelled. The modular
offices on the perimeter walls were 4 m deep and varied in length depending on the floor.

Findings from Second Simulation


The second simulation showed an improved air flow regime, especially on the top floor where
outside air was now entering the offices via the open windows. From the air movement analysis it
was concluded that the natural ventilation design satisfied the requirement for independent
ventilation on eachfloor and acceptable velocities inthe offices. In addition, the requirements fornatural
smoke extract were not adversely affected.

Modelling Difficulties
The consultancy could not have been undertaken in the short time scale required if the software was
not asuser friendlyas iris. However, inspiteofthis there were still somemodellingdifficulties which
were experienced and in most cases overcome.
4

The first model was undertaken using a DX486-66 pc. The time for each iteration was in the region of two
minutes which meant that watching the residual errors in order to adjust the falsetirne steps was laborious
and the model frequently diverged after 200 iterations when teftto its own devices overnight! The option
thenwas to retrieve the previous file containingthe data at the startofthe simulation. This meant losing the
benefit of the200 good iterations at a time penalty of approximately 6hours. It would be useful if there
was a'save the results as atthe best residual error' option which although woutd have adisc storage
implication, thebenefitswould prove useful.
The second model was fine tuned to reduce the iteration time to in the order of 40 seconds.
This was achieved by a combination of grid rationalisation in terms of reducing the actual
number of cells and reduction of the size differential between the minimum and maximum
aspect ratios.

The results were not affected and the original model was rerun using the

revised criteria and the results did not vary significantly from the first run.

The hardest part

of this strategy was spotting the grid keys amongst the mass of white lines on the screen! It
would have been useful if the grid key lines were in a different colour so that they could be
identified more easily.
Both models never visually convergedand this is often the case with natural ventilation models. Itis not
always easy to determinewhatwould be an appropriate falsetime step, especially when there are so many
differenttypes of inlets, outlets andtransfergriltes. Therefore, aseries ofmonitoringpoints were setupin
the model and the residuals of these were monitored. When there was no change inthe residual values, the
model was deemed to be converged. An additional check that convergence had been reached was made
by ensuring that the flows into and out of the model domain were balanced.
This model had many roof openings and it was often difficult to identify the various elements of the
model in the display - 3D was impossible! This was primarily because the model was very complex
and contained many elements but it would have been useful if it had been possible to point to an
element to see what it was rather than have to construct the model and try to spot it! This is
especially true when the3D viewportrayed is very literal and not as seenin the mind's eye.
It was important in the model that the air flows into and out of the offices, atrium and tightwelI were
known. Toassist this, mean flow regions werelocated at various points ieacross theoffice/atrium
boundary on each floor, across the base&the Iightwell at each floor etc. However, itwould be easier to
have amean flow option in some of the HVAC boundaries, for example across resistances - this would
remove the need to enter the coordinates twice and it would ensure that they were located as intended.

An added difficulty for the consultancy project was that the analysis was left to a late stage
when the major part of the design concept, and indeed substantial parts of the detailed
design, had been completed - in fact the building was under construction!

However, this is

not unusual and, whilst significant benefits were gained from the simulation, a more holistic
design evaluation and increased benefit would have been gained at an earlier stage inthe project.
The Benefits

The design team were able to visualise their concerns about the project.

Until a simulation

was undertaken, the design team did not fully appreciate the interdependence of the natural
ventilation and natural smoke extract systems.
The simulation also highlighted the need to understand the mechanism of a design concept
under all envisaged scenarios - not just the design condition.
The simulation enabled two design concepts to be successfully married together without
adverse effects during occupation.

The simulation also had the added benefit of bringing the

design team together to evaluate integrated performance issues instead of technical issues
within a particular discipline.
The cause and effect of design solutions was also clearly shown - a dual approach forced the
consideration of a solution on a wider front.

This meant that members of the team with

more of an interest in the performance of one concept could play a useful devil's advocate
role when solutions to solve performance issues in the other concept were put forward.
Conclusion

The consultancy project was very successful for a variety of reasons.

The ease of use of the

software was a critical factor in meeting programme and budget constraints which were
stringent and challenging.
The compromises which had to be made to the modelling rationale were not detrimental to
the project and the simulation produced practical results which clearly had a significant
beating on the success of the project.
There is no doubt that CFD played an important rote in the design team. The client was also
particularly receptive to the concept of performance modelling and clearly benefited from itsuse.
PS. Ali's well that ends well - there is also an extract fan now athigh level ...just in caseT

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FIGURE 1 - Plan view of the building showing 'L' shaped atrium and lightwell

TOP
FLOOR
ATRIUM

FIRST

F'~OOR
GROUND
FLOOR

FIGURE 2 - Sectional view of the building through atrium and galleria

I
FIGURE 3 - Conceptual air flow for summertime ventilation

FIGURE 4 - Actual air flow for summertime ventilation

FIGURE 5 - Final air flow for summertime ventilation and natural smoke extract