Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory (BLWTL)
About the Project
In 2017, Research Western began creating a series of digitally linked heritage plaques to celebrate significant research-related moments in the university’s history, and to encourage the campus community and its visitors to learn how these contributions have benefited the social, financial, cultural and medical well-being of citizens in Canada and abroad.
Two plaques, voted on by the Western community, will be cast annually: one from a STEM discipline and one from a social sciences, arts and humanities-based discipline. Each will be affixed to a relevant building on campus and provide a link to additional media online.
The first-of-its-kind Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory (BLWTL) at Western is an experimental facility that includes two large, fully operational boundary layer wind tunnels.
It is considered the birthplace of the modern practice of wind engineering and its researchers have made countless structures the world over safer and more economical – including many iconic and instantly recognized buildings and bridges – including the CN Tower, the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and The Confederation Bridge. The facility has even tested NASA rockets.
Construction of the first tunnel began in the spring of 1965, opening officially on November 25, 1965. The second opened on May 14, 1984. Led by a team of researchers and engineers, the BLWTL has continued to make significant contributions to the science, practice and teaching of wind engineering.
Conceived of and founded by civil engineer professor Alan G. Davenport, BLWT I was designed by Davenport and Jim Stewart, a fellow Western professor and engineer. Upon its completion, BLWT I became the first boundary layer wind tunnel designed to test civil engineering structures. Its historic significance includes both its physical construction and the contributions of its engineering and technical staff to research and education in this field.
Prior to its inception, studies of wind effects on civil engineering structures focused on uniform air flow and did not account for dynamic and turbulent characteristics of natural wind. With greater emphasis on the latter, Davenport identified an opportunity to advance the study of natural wind and wind-induced dynamic responses of structures.
Davenport designed the BLWT I to test civil engineering structures in realistic wind conditions in a scaled simulation of the earth’s boundary layer (the section of the atmosphere where the velocity of wind increases with height and air is turbulent and variable – extending from the Earth’s surface upwards to a distance of approximately one kilometre). In so doing, he sparked the development of wind engineering science as it is recognized, studied and applied today.
For more than 50 years, the BLWTL has pioneered studies of wind effects on buildings and structures. This has led to the development of appropriate wind tunnel modelling techniques and analysis procedures in the wind engineering field. Central to the historic significance of the BLWTL is the Alan G. Davenport Wind Loading Chain, recognized as an official term in 2011 by the International Association of Wind Engineering.
The wind loading chain summarizes Davenport’s key considerations when evaluating the combined effects of wind action on structures. It links together the concepts of wind climate, influence of terrain, aerodynamic data, dynamic effects and criteria. Using the framework of the wind loading chain as a foundation – emphasizing the significance of each component and their interconnectedness – the BLWTL engineering team pioneered early studies, fostered professional and academic curiosity and led major advancements in the wind engineering field.
Codes of Practice used throughout the world for the design of buildings, bridges and special structures continue to be based upon the work performed by Davenport and researchers at the BLWTL.