The Growing Interest In Resilient Building Practice

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

More and more information is coming forward on activity in the field of resiliency. The Resilient Design Institute defines the term resiliency as “the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance.” A 2011 UN report on disaster risk reduction stated that losses from disasters are rising faster than gains being made through economic growth in all regions. The topic has been on the radar of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for years, and the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) has been very active in this area.  To-date, DHS, FEMA and NOAA have implemented resilient building and community programs.  NIBS has modified their Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council to focus more on specific resiliency issues.

Resiliency is often qualified by the “4 R’s” as follows:

Robustness -  the ability to keep operating in the face of disaster

Resourcefulness – the skill to manage a disaster as it happens

Recovery – the ability to get things back to normal after a disaster

Redundancy – the provision of additional and/or duplicate systems and equipment.

The concrete industry has been positioning themselves as a prominent leader in resiliency.  In a 2014 document prepared by the Portland Cement Association for NIBS, titled “Resilient Buildings: Prerequisite for Sustainable Communities”, they outline the requirements for building design and construction to achieve enhanced resiliency.  The PCA outline includes:

Service Life – 50 year design service life

Structural Components – Resistance to fire damage, flood damage, seismic damage, snow load, wind damage

Fire Protection Components – Automatic sprinkler systems, internal fire barriers, storage and collection areas

Interior Components – Acoustical comfort, moisture protection

Exterior Components - Resistance to exterior fire damage, wildfire damage, wind damage, hail damage, and radon entry.

By looking at the topics listed by the PCA, one would think that resiliency and sustainability are interrelated. However, some say that resiliency is diametrically opposite to sustainability since resilient building design often calls for more materials, redundant systems, and heavier materials that can have a negative impact on the environment. Others, such as NIBS, say that sustainability is just one component of resiliency and the development of advanced materials will offset concerns about the excessive use of conventional building materials available today.  The development of certain high performance materials can also be seen as a form of regenerative design, which of course is at the heart of sustainability.

The growing awareness of resiliency has been responsible for the success of  the NIBS’ Building Innovation Conferences. The conference in 2014 sparked symposia and presentations on topics related to design, construction and life cycle. The 2015 conference and expo is promoting the theme of “Creating High Performing Resilient Communities” and will be held in January 2015. 

In 2013, NIBS and the AIA launched the Building Research Information Knowledgebase (BRIK)  to provide online access to peer-reviewed reports and case studies. Also the NIBS Advanced Materials Council began collaboration with the US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate Resilient Systems Division to achieve high performance of materials used for resilient design.

As with any new initiative that begins to transform an industry, Resiliency is beginning to spark the development of high and ultra-high performing materials. These products have extraordinary physical properties such as durability, strength, stability, and tolerance to damage. The April issue of the Journal of the National Institute of Building Sciences describes many examples of advanced materials. The list includes a new steel material that has been developed by a collaborative effort between AISI and the US Navy that displays toughness that is 10 times that of conventional steel. Ultra High Performance concrete with very high compression strength and flexural strength has also been developed. Research at the University of Illinois, Delft University of Technology, Yonsei University and others has led to a self –healing form of concrete. Research has also introduced self-healing plastics, textiles and composites.

In the ultra-strong category of new materials, research at Rice University created Carbyne which is 2X stronger than the previously discovered strongest material – Graphene.  Research at the University of Southampton has led to silica nanofibers that are 15X stronger than steel and 10X stronger than glass reinforced plastics. McGill University has developed a bendable glass product. There is even research into a metal with adjustable properties such as strength and pliability. Reported research on nano particle reinforced composite materials holds promise for being capable of resisting wind uplift pressures from tornados. However the long-term effect of nano particles on human health is being debated.

To address the human health and environmental impact concerns with some of these products, there are products being developed for resilient building practice that are bio-based. An example is a bio-based plastic made from the components of water rather than petroleum. Likewise there are reports of a polyester made from the components of air.

To keep up with the research and development of advanced materials, in 2010 the US Department for Homeland Security created an advanced material database. This database helps to coordinate information on new materials, and allows others to review the listings. The database is hosted by NIBS. In keeping with the development in new materials, President Obama in 2011 announced the “Materials Genome Initiative” which is designed to double the speed at which new materials are discovered, developed and manufactured.

Clearly, the noise surrounding Resiliency is getting louder. The topic of resiliency was even part of the testimony given at the International Green Construction Code hearings in Memphis in April. Some feel that resilient building design should be part of the IgCC code in the future. Others feel that it deserves its own code. Some even feel it should be part of the LEED program. Regardless of where guidance will be offered for resiliency, it is clear that the momentum is building. Whether there are new high performance metals being used, or new systems utilizing conventional metal building materials, the use of metal in a resilient building is creating a new and growing market to explore.

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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