Over the past week, two earthquakes measuring greater than 7.0 in magnitude struck Japan and Ecuador.
This April marks the fifth year of the California drought. In March, the Paris Prefecture conducted the Sequena 2016 to help authorities and citizens prepare for a hypothetical 100-year flood similar to the one that drowned the city in 1910.
Globally, we have seen an increase in unpredictable weather patterns, growing populations in urban, coastal areas and social inequity in access to basic infrastructure and services. It is imperative, as designers, we understand how our work can strengthen the resilience of our buildings and communities. In the post-Hurricane Sandy world, resilience has finally come under a long overdue spotlight. The design community and policy makers alike have focused on the role of sustainable buildings, specifically passive design strategies and islandable power sources. Consider a building in which the most regularly used spaces are predominantly day-lit and naturally ventilated, and the rooftop PVs, fleet of electric vehicles (and on-site battery storage for extra credit) are all part of an on-site micro-grid. This building has the potential to remain operational – or at least habitable - in the event the power grid goes down. Ironically, the more technology-driven society becomes, the more designers need to consider how our buildings can function when that technology cannot be plugged in or turned on.
Even more importantly than the individual building scale, we should focus on how to nurture and develop resilient communities. Not all disasters are weather-induced. Some issues are public health related. Flint, Michigan has experienced one of the greatest modern examples of failed and deteriorating infrastructure. Because the cost of fixing the piping infrastructure is so large, community members have had to rely greatly on their neighbors, their local businesses and their public partners in order to get back up to an operating level.
As designers, we have the unique ability to affect the resiliency of the physical building. But the larger impact of our critical thinking provides us with opportunities to support the development of resilient communities. This can come in many forms – for example the current focus on health and wellbeing often fosters community relationships through promotion of community exercise classes, car-pooling, or even the realization that you share a bike route with your co-worker. Space planning to include a large room in a building for exercise classes means there is also a gathering space in the event of a disaster, natural or man-made.
We cannot foresee 7.0 magnitude earthquakes or hurricanes that shut down an entire metropolitan area. But we can anticipate and proactively design more resilient buildings, and the infrastructure needed for resilient communities. The ability to be resilient leans heavily on the local environment. As design professionals, we are one of the best resources when it comes to understanding the local environment and the potential catastrophic effects these events can cause on our communities.
Our next biggest design challenge, however, is to shift our thinking from reactionary resilience to proactive resilience. This is a conversation we are having on many of our projects right now, particularly with our transportation and utility company clients. Every project, every location faces different threats and requires different definitions of what ‘resilience’ means, but the common thread is the need to stay one step ahead of an unknown future.
Korey White, Architect
Rachel Bannon-Godfrey, Director of Sustainability