The aerodynamics of skyscrapers: tall building clusters and the urban environment

This project will assess the impact of tall buildings on flow and dispersion in urban areas, with particular focus on air quality and microclimate.

Start date

1 October 2022


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

University of Surrey

Funding information

  • Stipend £19,062 per annum
  • Full UK fees covered
  • Research training support grant of £3,000 per annum.


By 2050 our cities will host 68% of the world’s population, compared to the current 54%, and 33% in the 1960s. This increase is often accomplished by the proliferation of tall buildings (TBs) that maximise the provision of housing and commerce using a limited street-level footprint. Tall structures affect local microclimate, pedestrian comfort and urban air quality. However, a framework that incorporates the effects of these buildings (particularly when clustered together) on wind, pollutant dispersion and temperature does not currently exist. As a result TB effects are not modelled in current weather forecast and air quality models. This is of particular concern for cities in Asia with very tall buildings and poor air quality such as Shanghai, but even in London TB clusters are more and more common. Understanding, modelling and predicting their effects are of paramount importance.

While there is growing use of air quality sensors within urban environments, the complexity of cities means that it is difficult to diagnose mass transfer processes, influences of atmospheric stability on pollutant dispersion and the location and nature of sources of pollution. Therefore, wind tunnel investigations are required to provide high quality data suitable for developing models and parameterisations. The project will be primarily experimental, using the EnFlo NERC/NCAS National Facility stratified-flow wind tunnel at the University of Surrey. Data analysis and interpretation, including the development of mathematical parametrisations, will be carried out in collaboration with the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading.

Additional notes

The work will be highly relevant to companies, government departments and research organisations requiring knowledge and understanding of the physics of air flow and pollutant dispersal, especially in an urban context. This PhD studentship is eligible to be associated with the NERC-funded SCENARIO Doctoral Training Partnership (, benefitting from its extensive training opportunities available. The student will also benefit from collaboration with large research projects such as FUTURE (Universities of Reading and Southampton) and ASSURE (Reading, Southampton, Bristol and Imperial College London). Specific training courses offered by NCAS (National Centre for Atmospheric Science) and the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Mechanics (Belgium) will also be available.

Eligibility criteria

This project will best suit a student with a first degree in a relevant engineering field (aeronautics, environmental, civil, mechanical) or physical/environmental science (physics, meteorology). We are seeking candidates preferably with a first-class degree or a good 2:1, and proficient with the English language. Good team working and communications skills are also essential. Previous experience, or a keen interest in experimental work would be beneficial. Some level of computer-coding skills might be advantageous, but it is not necessary if keen to learn.

English language requirements

IELTS minimum 6.5 overall with 6.0 in Writing, or equivalent.


How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Aerodynamic and Environmental Flow PhD programme page on the "Apply" tab. Please clearly state the studentship title and supervisor on your application.

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Application deadline

Contact details

Matteo Carpentieri
11 AB 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686370
Marco Placidi (he/him)
01 AB 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 684632

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