How Resilient Design Thinking Will Save Us All
Resilience has become a buzzword in the architectural engineering field. The first time I heard the term, as it pertains to the built environment, was shortly after the 2017 hurricane season. Al Gore was promoting his new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel, and I was watching one of his promotional videos on Facebook. One of his talking points was how we need to change the way we discuss climate change. Today, this phrase tends to evoke a strong emotion in people, and the same goes for sustainability. These terms have been appropriated by corporations to sell items and ideas that we don’t really consider to be truly sustainable. Anything from compostable plastic straws at the grocery store, to smaller bottle caps on plastic water bottles have been marketed as “green” or “sustainable.” So, when I heard the term resilient design, I thought, “Yes! That is what is missing from the dialogue.”
In January 2018, I was awarded a professional development grant from DLR Group to produce a podcast about resilient design. The name of the podcast, The Willow Bent, stemmed from the following quote from a book called the Fires of Heaven:
“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”
This quote resonated with me very deeply. We have all been in situations where we felt like we could not go on. It’s too hard, and we just want to give up. But in many of those situations, we’ve persevered, we’ve pushed through, and we’ve reaped the benefits. Resilient design is similar.
When I started this project, I knew very little about the concept of resilient design. The Resilient Design Institute defines it as, “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in order to respond to natural and manmade disasters and disturbances – as well as long-term changes resulting from climate change – including sea level rise, increased frequency of heat waves, and regional drought.”
Today, I feel I know even less than when I started. I think part of what makes this concept so hard to comprehend is that it is so far reaching. Resilient design affects each and every person on the planet.
I’m sure no matter where you are in the world, you’ve experienced weather that is extreme for its climate zone. You can probably recall an event that has affected your home, your work, or perhaps your local community center. Have you had to work remotely because a pipe burst in your building from extreme cold? Have you gone to the mall or the movies because your air conditioning went out during a hot day? Have you had to live in a hotel for a few weeks because your home was flooded during a recent tropical storm or hurricane?
According to the European Academies' Science Advisory Council, climatological events, such as extreme temperatures, droughts, and forest fires, have more than doubled since 1980. These extreme weather events result in substantial economic costs. In the latest data analysis, we find that thunderstorm losses in North America have doubled from under US$10 billion in 1980 to almost $20 billion in 2015. And according to Verisk’s 2017 Wildfire Risk Analysis, 4.5 million U.S. homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfire, with more than 2 million located in California alone. Through resilient design principles, we can affect a small percentage of the buildings and people impacted by these events and make a huge impact on the world.
As architects and engineers, we have a unique opportunity to affect our fellow man by creating buildings that are not only life changing – they can be lifesaving. A building must be designed to withstand not only situations that occur in the present but should also withstand events in the future. Designing a resilient building considers input from all members of a design team. Resilient design takes a holistic view of not only the building, but also the community and the region. And a resilient building must incorporate the current and future needs of its occupants.
The goal of The Willow Bent is to present current research and ideas about resilient design, educate through a different medium, and advocate and bring awareness to the topic of resilient design, so communities can respond and plan for the future. Throughout the process of producing this podcast I’ve learned so much, not only about resilient design, but also about the optimism of people. Although the concept of resilience is not new, our industry has the opportunity to shape the next generation of buildings for people to survive and thrive in a world that is a little more extreme.
I encourage you listen to the preview episode of The Willow Bent, and to visit the website, thewillowbent.com, to find out how resilient design thinking will save us all.