Focus On Resilience In Buildings And Beyond Gathering Momentum

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

Resilience is once again in the spotlight. As the environment changes around the globe and population continues to grow, the built community and designers will be challenged to create buildings that can withstand ever-changing conditions.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently awarded $20 million to Colorado State University (CSU) to create the Community Resilience Center for Excellence. Their objective is to create modeling tools for local governmental agencies to help them decide how to invest in resources to become more resilient in extreme weather events. This is focused on buildings and infrastructure. In addition to CSU there are nine other universities participating in the project.

In March, the UN hosted the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which was held in Japan. It was reported there that 121 countries had already enacted legislation to deal with disaster management. Many of those countries have already been hit with earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, hurricanes, and drought. The UN is seeing more of the private sector getting involved in action related to resilience in the wake of natural disasters.

In the United States, the DOE is working with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to determine what the future buildings and cities will look like. Their horizon is not over the next 5 years, but looking into a crystal ball to project out to 100 years!  One of the effects that impacts building and community design will be climate change, according to DOE. The impact will be felt in areas of water, energy and materials which all affect the design of buildings in the future.

In a recent DOE webinar titled “The Role of Nature in our Future Built Environment” speakers were mentioning the likely advances in material science and manufacturing in the future.  They also predicted more interest in health, productivity and well-being of the building occupants of the future.

Overall, the discussion during the webinar was centered on how we must create humane, sustainable and resilient buildings in the future. The speakers spoke of biomimicry, biophilia and resilient approaches. Biomimicry looks at examples in nature that can inspire and influence the design and use of new materials and systems. Biophilia is the science of how humans are impacted by their relationship and interaction with nature. And their description of Resilience included survivability, protection, retreating where necessary and embracing in certain conditions. Using these techniques has already shown great promise when combined with today’s technology. One can only imagine what technology will be available to future generations.  Examples already include using 3-D printing to duplicate the building of a wasp nest where the saliva of the wasp is spread on the exterior surface to harden the nest and to keep it cool.  The development of weaving and void-forming soils and concrete is being put to use to manage stormwater surges in some areas. Other examples discussed were inspiration for new ways to collect energy, shade characteristics, vegetated walls and connections to nature through better views in buildings.

A recent Roundtable on Resilient design was published in an industry trade magazine with probing questions to architects. Based on the comments in the roundtable it appears that the design community is beginning to recognize the importance of resilient design in buildings and in communities. 

Resilient building design has been discussed at the last two Greenbuild conferences held by the US Green Building Council.  No specific credits have been added to the LEED program as of yet. However, the Green Building Institute’s Green Globe building rating program is undergoing an ANSI update to the program, which will include new Resilience provisions as part of the sustainability rating.

And the growing interest in resilience is not just limited to building and landscape design.  An organization called AskNature is suggesting that we should learn from nature how to make our food systems more resilient. As part of their strategy, they look at how this approach would improve soil quality, better packaging, reduced spoilage of food and more efficient production and distribution.

One way of thinking about this is the benefit of making a local food system more secure and resilient. The Chester County Food System states “a community food system is a food system in which food production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social  and nutritional health of a particular place…by including the word ‘community’ there is an emphasis on strengthening existing (or developing new) relationships between all components of the food system. “

The resilient component of such a local food system has its benefits too. Encouraging consumption of seasonally available foods supports a stable base of local farms, leads to greater environmental quality, supports agriculture-related business, creates jobs and keeps money in local communities.

It is interesting to see how the term “Resilient” has transcended beyond the original application in building design and material development. This is a sign that the term, and its multiple meanings, is now becoming part of the mainstream conversation.

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

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