Four USGBC Platinum level members are leading the way on resilient design.
By Aline Althen
Design is at once an art form and a scientific pursuit. Good design takes equal parts intuition and education, perception and persistence. As designers are confronted with growing public and private interest in risk mitigation, climate change and responsible development, new challenges and opportunities are arising to define resilient building and community design.
Above and below: Dsigned by Perkins + Will, the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts is proving its resilience both financially and experientially. A LEED Gold healthcare facility, the hospital is located on the water, providing an added benefit of water activities in patients’ rehab programs. photo credit: Anton Grassi / ESTO
Resilience is a buzzword, but for those working in the buildings sector it carries real weight and meaning. To design for resilience is to design for a long life – for an individual building or an entire community to outlast whatever may come, be it floods, fires, wind or a drastic economic downturn.
“At the building scale, resilience is about ensuring an organization can continue to function and provide core services after a shock,” says Ibrahim Almufti, a structural engineer in the Advanced Technology & Research Group at Arup. “Buildings support the individuals and organizations that are the backbone of a resilient community. Impacts to buildings have a ripple effect across the community.”
To help communities survive and thrive in the face of uncertain conditions, Arup embraces the role that buildings play in preparing for change, honing their design process to ensure that resilience is always baked in.
They’re not alone in this endeavor. Other major design firms are also taking up the charge, insisting on resiliency considerations in their projects no matter the location. Though they all approach their work from different angles, they have a few basic shared principles guiding their efforts.
Resilience is all about the future, as is design. Anticipating needs, trends, risks and demands is essential to successfully plan and develop buildings and communities that will withstand change. It makes sense that concerns about resilience be considered in the pre-design phase of a project, to account for necessary changes before it is too late.
“Quite frankly, we like to look at the whole resiliency question before we even start on the design process,” says Dr. Lynette Cardoch, director of coastal resiliency for HDR. “Whether we’re talking about a building or roadway we look at what type of vulnerabilities are truly applicable and how to manage those risks before we get to the actual design process.”
HOK’s design for the NOAA Center in Pearl Harbor made use of two existing World War II-era airplane hangars and addressed resilience and survivability concerns with the use of natural daylight and ventilation, as well as passive cooling. The project was honored by AIA with a COTE Top 10 Award.
Cardoch leads HDR’s company-wide strategy and technical direction for integrated resiliency services, a role that’s increasingly common in international design houses.
Janice Barnes, principal and global resilience director at Perkins + Will, also brings her expertise to bear to ensure the firm’s projects address long-term resiliency planning head on. “Resilience needs to be a part of project framing so that our clients are aware of the potential risks and vulnerabilities that a project in a particular location might face,” says Barnes. “We engage the entire design team when discussing risks and potential solutions so that all design disciplines contribute to the overall resilience of a project.”
Establishing full-team investment and buy-in on resilience measures from the start is critical. Making the process about creating places that are safe, secure and welcoming, while also dynamic and functional is the ultimate challenge. By involving every member of the team from the very beginning, firms can create buildings that are flexible enough to bend with unanticipated changes, rather than break.
Long touted as a core tenet of sustainable design, flexibility is also incredibly important for resilience. A building’s useful life can easily extend beyond fifty years, so investing time and energy in the pre-design and design phases of a project can ensure optimum outcomes for owners and tenants alike over a project’s lifetime.
By integrating viscous dampers in the diagonal exoskeleton of 181 Fremont Tower, Arup was able to remove a large Tuned Mass Damper from the top of the building, thus making the entire penthouse floor available for lease and saving 3,000 tons of steel (25 percent of the building material) at the same time.
“It’s important to make sure that whatever you’re designing can evolve over time. What you use a building for today may not be the same in 20 or 30 years. So your project needs to have the flexibility to change with how times change,” says Mark Meaders, sustainability leader for the architecture arm of HDR. In this way, buildings remain resilient despite trends and cultural shifts; it’s more than just preparing for disaster.
Anica Landreneau, director of sustainable design at HOK, emphasizes the need to account for costs. “We have to design for flexibility to anticipate changes in how our clients do business, but we have to ‘right-size’ that flexibility so that we manage first costs,” she says.
Landreneau’s portfolio is vast, spanning responsibilities ranging from project planning and design support to occupant engagement. She also runs HOK’s internal sustainability programs, such as their AIA 2030 commitment. She knows first hand that if resiliency features aren’t cost effective and cost efficient, they may very well be sacrificed.
Upfront costs remain an important driver of design decisions for owners and investors, so being able to control initial outlays while ensuring resilience gives firms an edge. Assuring clients that addressing resilience is not mutually exclusive of creating beautiful, breathtaking buildings doesn’t hurt either.
“Designs should be adaptable, not only for future uses, but for future climates,” says Almufti. “The simplest and most flexible building designs are often the most elegant and resilient.” Some of the earliest manmade structures utilized strategies like passive heating and cooling and natural ventilation—everything old is new again.
Meaders agrees, and believes that education is a missing piece of the puzzle. “It’s imperative for us to educate people about what resiliency really is and how it’s not necessarily something new and different. It’s actually good design, understanding your surroundings, your climate, and designing in accordance with those factors,” he says. “It’s not that big of a stretch, you just need to be mindful and think about it in advance.”
HDR designed this beautiful public park to feature a stormwater detention pond to help manage overflow and flooding. The park is part of a larger development that is being heralded as the one of the most impressive, wide scale economic development projects the City has ever seen.
Creating for both now and the future, especially given concerns about climate change, does require some advanced thought, and also requires a systemic approach that leverages the connection between buildings and their surroundings.
“It’s not just a single asset that you’re designing, you’re designing for it to operate in a system, so you’ve got these interdependencies,” notes Cardoch.
After all, no building stands alone—connections to utilities, area transportation and other resources used by occupants are tie into the life of a building. In order to come out the other side of a natural or economic disaster relatively unscathed, these various elements of a community must be designed to work in harmony.
Every element in a community presents an opportunity to bolster the stability and resilience of the system as a whole. By strengthening individual buildings, entire neighborhoods and cities become equipped to hold steady
“Many resilience approaches are scalable in that they can be used at the building, campus or community level,” explains Barnes. “The best strategies are those that leverage opportunities at the site and building level to support resilient community-scale solutions.”
This interconnected perspective might just be what’s next for resilient design. “We’re going to become more explicitly mindful of the interdependencies that we have within our systems,” says Cardoch. “In fact, I’m not sure that’s the future of design, I think that might be the now of design.”