Hoping for the Best, Resilient Design Plans for the Worst

first blossom
Resilient design: The first blossom after spring
Beth R. Mosenthal, AIA and LEED AP BD+C Architect, Anderson Mason Dale Architecture

Beth R. Mosenthal, AIA and LEED AP BD+C
Architect, Anderson Mason Dale Architecture

If you’ve grown weary of the ever-expanding use and interpretation of the word “sustainability,” you may want to add the term “resiliency” to your lexicon.

Equally broad and important in its intent; resilient design looks beyond energy modeling (and point-chasing) in favor of what the Resilient Design Institute defines as “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to vulnerabilities to disaster and disruption of normal life.” Rather than react, resilient design may be defined as a mode of design thinking and planning that aims to “anticipate” – for example, to implement design strategies that aim to alleviate the impact of disasters and “stresses” before (and as a result, after) they occur.

Whether this seems like a “doomsday” approach to seeing the world or simply common-sense planning practices, organizations such as the Architects’ Foundation, in partnership with the National Resilience Institute, are helping provide educational and regional specificity aimed at creating resilience in the form of “stronger, more liveable cities.”

Launched in 2013 on the heels of the Clinton Global Initiative, the National Resilient Institute is a partnership of academic institutions and organizations brought together to “build a network of community- and university-based design studios dedicated to sharing best practices about how to help communities establish built environments that are more prepared for disasters and more resilient following shocks and stresses.”

Evident in programming such as Mississippi State University’s Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (initially created in response to Hurricane Katrina and now focused on what it designing for “long-term recovery”) or the recently established Regional Resilience Design Studio at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Center for Resilient Design in Newark, aspiring architects are being given the valuable opportunity to learn to design with both short and long-term views of the impacts of their design decisions.

Rather than think about an isolated building design, students must weigh their design decisions through the lens of what is important in both everyday experience as well as in rapidly evolving cultures, economies and climates. For example, course offerings at the University of Arkansas Community Design Center emphasize topical areas that are considered “core challenges in the built environment.” These “challenges” are identified but not limited to transit-oriented development, watershed urbanism, low-impact development, context-sensitive street design, agricultural urbanism and smart growth urbanism.

At a time in history when talks regarding climate change, aging infrastructure and recent natural disasters continue to compound, the holistic intent of resilient design as a tool in creating successful urban environments seems both convincing and plausible. Does this mean that sustainability-focused programs such as LEED have become irrelevant and that architects and engineers should stop counting kilowatts or adding bike racks to their buildings? No, not at all! With yet another tool in the toolbox, the design and real estate community could also benefit from considering how a project inevitably will contribute to the bigger, more fantastic urban ecosystem within which it is built.\\

Find Beth at bmosenthal@amdarchitects.com and @ArchiAdventures

Edited by Building Dialogue