Preparing for an Uncertain Future: Climate Change Guidelines for Resilient Design

As the world transforms due to a rapidly changing climate, our cities and communities need to adapt design principles to prepare for the potential disasters that can result from extreme weather.

Although current design codes and standards factor in historic weather data to inform on how to build in the future, they haven’t accurately taken into consideration the extreme impacts that we suspect climate change will have. Large cities like New York, which has more than eight million residents and large coastal areas, need to take immediate action to inform and update their standards accordingly.

Putting Climate Change Under the Spotlight in NYC

To provide a consistent standard for climate change loads during design, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency developed preliminary Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines based on hard scientific data that they put together in April 2017. The New York City Department of Design and Construction and Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency engaged Dewberry to test the effectiveness of these preliminary guidelines that would inform the development of an updated version. The updated version of the guidelines would provide consistent future looking climate load data and guidance for resilient design to the architecture and engineering (A/E) industry.

Our multi-disciplinary expertise allowed us to look at the effectiveness of future climate data through an A/E lens. We identified useful climate datasets used by the A/E community and helped develop the applicability of appropriate future climate data that should be used for planning and design. The future climate dataset includes loads arising from three climate stressors: heat, precipitation, and sea level rise/coastal storm surge. We also developed a benefit-cost analysis methodology to assist the design community in making sound decisions in resilient design investments.

We tested the applicability of the guidelines on a variety of project sites to gain insight on how these guidelines could be applied. Testing the guidelines provided insights into the applicability of various intervention strategies to reduce the risk from future climate stressors loads. Best practices from these tests were rolled into the update of the preliminary climate resiliency design guidelines - known as the Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines Version 2.0, which was released in April 2018.

Following the release of the version 2.0 guidelines, the team continued to develop a citywide climate risk assessment that could be applied during various stages of New York City’s capital project development process. We conducted extensive literature review on strategies currently utilized all over the world to incorporate climate loads in the risk assessment framework. Following this literature review, the team developed a New York City-specific climate risk assessment framework that the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency refined further to roll out in the Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines Version 3.0 release on March 14, 2019.

Working Towards a Common Goal

As outlined in each version, the primary goal of the guidelines is to “incorporate forward-looking climate change data in the design of all City capital projects which provides consistent methodology for engineers, architects, landscape architects and planners to design facilities that are resilient to changing climate conditions.” The guidelines are meant to be used through the duration of the design process for all projects.

Although not regulatory, these guidelines are recommended for new capital projects in New York City to design stronger, more resilient buildings and infrastructure which is vital to the long-term resilience of the community.

You can read the third version of the Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines online. 

  • Rahul Parab
    Rahul Parab
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