The Whistle of Regret: How to Mitigate the Stack Effect in Tall Buildings

Session: Track E: Designing with the Wind

Patrick LoughranProject image

Patrick Loughran
Principal, Goettsch Partners

As our urban centers reach for the clouds, the challenges of stack effect become increasingly difficult to overcome: Doors refuse to close as air rushes through skyscraper entrances; building engineers struggle to keep elevators operating as pressure prevents cab doors from closing; and small gaps in a building whistle a tune of regret as high-pressure air squeezes through the façade, creating unwanted noise. Stack effect can cripple a building, as it can drive smoke and fire upward and put unwanted pressure on ballooning roof membranes. What can be done to minimize it?

All the openings that rise through our tall buildings are like straws that provide channels for buoyant air to push its way upward: stairwells, elevator shafts and trash chutes. Exacerbated by winter temperature differentials between inside and out, the vertical movement of air through a building can wreak havoc. This presentation focuses on the causes of the stack effect and how it can be minimized through careful design considerations. Simple principles can be used to neutralize the positive and negative buoyancy forces. Chicago, the Windy City, is an excellent location to discuss historic projects that have been cursed with the unwanted chimney effect, and to showcase new projects that have moved toward solving the problem. The main 296-meter tower at One Chicago, a project completed in 2022, will serve as a case study for how the design team, owner and contractors worked together to minimize stack effect for the city’s new tallest all-residential building.