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Addressing the Microclimate

Addressing the Microclimate

A city model in RWDI’s boundary layer wind tunnel.

By Luke Carothers

Neetha standing in front of the Austin TX city skyline.

Neetha Vasan is a Senior Microclimate Scientist and Associate at Rowan William Davies & Irwin (RWDI) LLC, who specializes in building engineering with a focus on assessing the aerodynamic and wind resistant properties of construction projects.  Using state-of-the-art software and modeling, Vasan helps city planners and the real estate development industry create wind and climate-responsive buildings and outdoor spaces.  This in turn proves critical to improving pedestrian safety and comfort in urban planning.  Vasan’s work involves evaluating the interaction of microclimate variables like wind, sunlight, temperature, snow, and other environmental factors within the built environment and human experience.  

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, Vasan describes her first steps into the industry as a leap of faith.  After a chance introduction, Vasan joined RWDI and entered a “niche field [she] had very little knowledge about.”  This leap of faith put her in the position of Wind and Microclimate Engineer with RWDI India where Vasan analyzed the aerodynamic forces on buildings and evaluated wind speeds and microclimate in outdoor spaces using wind tunnel testing and computational modeling.  Although Vasan was new to the field, this work allowed her to integrate her interests in physics, mechanics, fluid dynamics, and sustainability concepts.  Furthermore, the client-facing work allowed her to work collaboratively with other people, which she found rewarding.

This work encouraged Vasan to seek an advanced engineering program to help strengthen and expand upon the technical and practical skills needed to advance her career in wind and microclimate engineering.  To this end, Vasan got her certification as a LEED-accredited professional, and began a Master’s program in Building Engineering at Concordia University, Canada.  She used this opportunity to pursue research that examined the effects of wind on transpired-solar collectors.  Following her completion of the Master’s program, Vasan returned to the RWDI team in Guelph, Canada where she is currently a Senior Specialist, People Leader, and Associate.

During the 13+ years Vasan has spent working with RWDI, she has worked on and led unique and challenging projects across the world.  Furthermore, this work has allowed Vasan to champion development and research projects, train and mentor staff, and lead diverse teams in India, the UK, the US, and Canada.  Vasan’s work portfolio includes building and development projects where she provided consultation for designing or solving complex wind issues and the potential human impact.  Some of her projects include: The Guggenheim (Abu Dhabi, UAE), Vrindavan Chandrodaya Mandir (World’s tallest temple, India), Yonge & Eglington Development (Toronto, Canada), Brickell City Center (Miami), Mission Bay (San Francisco)  She has also gained experience in working within city planning bylaws to deal with environmental impact assessments for building projects.  

Neetha performing smoke flow visualization in the wind tunnel

Vasan believes that her experience successfully navigating through different regulatory frameworks, has “not only broadened [her] technical expertise, but has also sharpened [her] ability to collaborate effectively with interdisciplinary teams and stakeholders from various backgrounds.”  She points out that each region and place has its own unique and specific challenges, and her exposure to diverse environments has honed her problem-solving skills.

Reflecting on her path and success in the wind, microclimate, and climate performance engineering field, Vasan believes her success rests on guidance she received from experienced mentors and leaders, who helped her overcome her initial feelings of being underprepared to navigate the complexities of some of the field’s technical challenges.  Vasan asserts that, to “develop oneself from a junior scientist to a specialist and mentor, one needs a multifaceted skill set that goes beyond technical expertise.”  Understanding this, Vasan now works to pay it forward by bringing up the next generation of engineers in her highly specialized field.  She is involved with training and mentoring technical staff and continuous improvement projects related to technical and operational efficiency gains.

The importance of this next generation is understated by a growing awareness of wind and microclimate considerations in urban planning and building design.  There is a growing emphasis on sustainability and creating living, resilient urban environments, which has elevated the role of wind and microclimate specialists.  Vasan believes there is a greater recognition that optimizing local climate conditions and designing for changing climate can not only enhance the comfort of outdoor spaces, but also contribute to energy efficiency and overall well-being.  As to the future of Vasan’s professional space in the microclimate, she believes that continued advancements in technology will continue to allow more sophisticated modeling and simulation tools.  These tools will give us the ability to better simulate and predict microclimate conditions with “unprecedented accuracy.”  Vasan points out that, as sustainability becomes even more a central focus in the building industry, microclimate specialists will play a crucial role in developing strategies to mitigate urban heat island effect, improve air quality, and enhance overall environmental performance.