Integrating Resilience into the Built Environment

Community resilience has been a subject of national interest since Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. The conversation has reached the West Coast and is taking place at local, regional, and state levels. I find resilience an emerging topic across many disciplines in the AEC profession. A lot is happening this year, so let me share some upward trends in California and in building design.

Addressing Climate Change

California is facing the realities of climate change, including changes in the frequency and intensity of drought, wildfires, coastal flooding, and landslides. The question is when the next big earthquake will hit, not if it will hit. Resilience by Design, released in December 2014, addresses Los Angeles' greatest earthquake vulnerabilities. Prepared by the Mayoral Seismic Task Force, the report suggests strategic solutions to protect the lives of residents, improve the capacity of the city to respond to and recover from earthquakes, and protect the economy of Southern California. Its recommendations include strengthening buildings, fortifying the water supply, and upgrading the telecommunications network to enable internet and mobile connectivity after an earthquake. Early in 2016, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law mandatory seismic retrofits for soft, first-story buildings and for non-ductile reinforced concrete buildings. This latest legislation provision links disaster resilience to building design.

Rewarding Resilience in Design

Present building codes address fire protection, energy standards, wind, and seismic load design criteria. Architects design buildings to meet these codes to protect the safety of building occupants. What isn't addressed is when an abnormal event occurs. To reward designs that takes risks and vulnerabilities into consideration, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has recently incorporated three pilot credits into its LEED rating system – design for enhanced resilience, assessment and planning for resilience, and passive survivability and functionality during emergencies. To earn the passive survivability credit, for example, would require the design team to create a building that provides two of these after an event: livable temperatures, backup power, or access to potable water.

Linking Sustainability and Resilience

Organizations and governments are linking sustainability with resilience. In September, the Local Government Commission and the State of California will be holding the California Adaptation Forum. This three-day workshop launches climate adaptation discussions and features policies, projects, programs, and partnerships, as well as tools and strategies highlighting actions to increase resilience statewide. Up in San Francisco, the Department of City Planning is preparing the Bay Area Resilient by Design challenge, which addresses nine counties' vulnerability to sea level rise and coastal flooding. Based on Rebuild by Design's Superstorm Sandy model, ten innovative and implementable projects will emerge in 2018 from the competition. Ten interdisciplinary teams of architects, engineers, urban planners, and social scientists will be working with communities to develop local solutions. This collaboration of partnerships shifts the architecture industry towards resilience.

Building Towards Resilience in Los Angeles

Building Resilience - Los Angeles (BRLA) is a partnership and initiative in my community formed a year ago by the USGBC Los Angeles chapter and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE). By converting an existing fire station to house an emergency response center, SCOPE's South Los Angeles facility will become the neighborhood resilience core, able to respond to surrounding areas that are most vulnerable to threats when disasters hit. Along with the renovation, tools and strategies will be developed for a building resilience certification system that would provide incentive solutions for building owners and communities at large. In October, the BRLA will be releasing a guide for facilities at the International GreenBuild Conference and Expo. I'm excited the guide will feature a case study of one of Dewberry's resilience projects.

Resilience is catching on in many facets of the built environment. I look forward to advancing it in California, and encourage you to engage in the conversation and shape the tools for building resilience in your community.

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