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Build resilient

February 22, 2012

Water rushes through a levee in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Green building is becoming more commonplace everyday with many design firms proclaiming sustainability as a standard. It has been a fairly monumental shift in how we design and one that should be applauded. And yet, it may be time to re-think green.

LEED, and many other criteria have sprung up as a model for healthy, smart buildings but there’s a concept getting more attention lately that I really like, and that is resilient building. The idea of resilience shares many similarities with green building — think materials think require little energy input, highly insulated building envelopes, daylighting — but also differs. Resilient building is more adaptive. It considers the down curve of peak oil, the uncertainty of climate change, and demands that we design with flexibility.

With an increasing number of significant weather events, buildings must be durable, must be easily renovated (which must also be cost effective to do), and they must use local, accessible materials that require minimal energy input from oil by-products. Here are well thought out building design principles from the not-for-profit ResilientCity.org.

The idea of resilience is not only about buildings either; it can be applied to communities. Communities benefit greatly by being walkable. Mixed-use development, density, public transit, bike lanes, will all make a more cohesive and resilient community, not to mention a more desirable place to live.

I thought this article, Lessons in Resilience from New Orleans by Andrew Revkin was really interesting. He reflects back on Katrina and makes some interesting points about expecting surprises and how to prepare and react to them. Another article from NPR talks about friends and neighbors being the key to disaster survival, even more so than emergency responders. If we are to prevent future disasters of this scale, we have to think about new ways of designing and living. Check out these design principles for creating more resilient cities from ResilientCity.org (I really like #6).

To me, it seems like the idea of resilience is about managing change. And as I sit here in Boston mid-february with not a snowflake in sight, just 50 degree days, it seems an apt time to think about responding to a changing climate.

image: Vincent Laforest/The New York Times

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