Climate change may still be a political hot potato, but the scientific community is almost unanimously on the same page: It is real, and it is already impacting our planet.                

Today’s weather

The 21st century has already seen 15 of the 16 hottest years since record-taking began in the United States in the mid-19th century. We cannot ignore extreme temperatures any more than we can ignore precipitation that has intensified in recent years. We cannot deny imperiled air quality any more than we can deny the increased severity of hazardous weather-related events.

While we may yet be unable to calculate with pinpoint accuracy the long-term effects of climate change, it is clear that in the short-term a paradigm shift among professionals designing for the built environment is necessary. Indeed, a swelling global population and rapid urbanization are placing greater pressures on an aging infrastructure in many quarters.

In for a shock

By 2050, global demand for water is projected to increase by 55 percent. By 2035, global demand for energy will increase by 35 percent.

Climatologists have been Malthusian about pointing out that our natural resources — oil, freshwater, nutrient-rich soil — may be depleted to an unsustainable level for the future global population. And food scarcity is not just about an immediate lack of food; it’s also about the impossibility of growing more food in overworked soil — and that’s assuming the required agricultural land has not been developed or otherwise taken over.

“By 2035, global demand for energy will increase by 35 percent.”

The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) initiative refers to these profound shifts — economic, social and environmental — as acute shocks and chronic stresses. Natural disasters are the shocks to a system, and the stresses are the daily pressures or barriers that prevent communities and individuals from thriving. In a natural disaster, these stresses can be the difference between those who recover and those who suffer.

Urban preparation

Cities are systems, so it is important to view all issues, understand their interdependencies, and make decisions that do not harm the other components. To attract investment and development, cities sometimes must hide or deny their vulnerabilities. So 100RC asks communities to name vulnerabilities and seek support to identify solutions that allow cities to respond and adapt.

Resilient design strives for environmental, social and economic sustainability with the ability to adapt to known and unknown risks and vulnerabilities. Community problems require community-based solutions. Applying creative systems-thinking in design innovation can result in thriving and sustainable communities that allow both people and the planet to prosper.

Getting resilient

In our effort to be more resilient as individuals, families, businesses and communities, architects will need to carefully plan buildings, select products, and design systems that are easily adaptable to changing needs, holistic in acknowledging adjacencies and regional impacts, and finally see the environment as their client, inasmuch as they see their paying patron as their client.

Those in the building industry are paying attention to their evolving responsibilities and liability due to the increasing risks and threats to buildings. Aligning building performance expectations with community resilience is essential for continuity of service during and after a disaster and for the service life of a building. Thus, development decisions, building science and construction methodologies will evolve to reflect consumer expectations.