Overview of the AIA DC conference “Designing for Extremes: Building a Resilient City”
by Aphrodite Knoop, WELL AP, LEED Green Associate, Assoc. AIA
“Warmer, Wetter, Wilder” is how Kate Johnson, Chief, Green Building & Climate Branch, DC Department of Energy and the Environment, described the future of the northeastern United States.
Cities and communities will be facing greater vulnerabilities and unpredictability from here on out, so they must be more resilient and plan to adapt. That was the underlying message from the February 7, 2019 AIA DC conference, “Designing for Extremes: Building a Resilient City.” Although speakers focused mainly on weather-related events—particularly flooding from storm surge—they did speak to the fact that resilience planning goes beyond climate and sustainability.
Resilience planning is crucial for to adapting to current and future disruptive events caused by extreme weather, seismic events, terrorism, economic collapse, and a variety of other disruptions. Although there is still too much conflation of sustainability and resilience across the building industry, portfolio holders, insurers, and communities are starting to understand the difference between mitigation and adaptation. Therefore, we need to focus our current efforts on resilience to survive and thrive.
It will not just be policy driven from governing bodies. Market forces are going to push more communities, organizations, and real-estate portfolio holders to focus more urgently on resilience.
Currently, resilience discussions and planning are mostly in the realms of government entities and related organizations. Some of the best resources have been developed by FEMA and NIST. We still have a long way to go before we see more robust participation by non-governmental and commercial organizations. To better engage these groups, we need to talk about market forces and the tremendous financial risks that climate-change driven events pose to the built environment and portfolio investments. There is exciting and meaningful work ahead.
Following is a deeper look at conference presentations and recommended resources …
Is It Weather or Climate?
“Climate is personality and weather is mood,” explained Jason Samenow, Weather Editor of the Washington Post, clarifying the important distinction. Both have implications for how we think about the built environment and the evolution of cities.
Data shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing exponentially, and global temperatures are rising. In fact, the last five years have been the warmest ever recorded. As a result, we’re seeing growing urban heat islands, where cities are warmer than surrounding rural areas. As a result of increased warming, we’re seeing more heavy rain events and accelerated, extreme coastal flooding. This is not debating whether the causes are anthropogenic, just following measurements and trends that we’ll have to deal with.
These trends have obvious implications for building design and urban planning, highlighting the need to plan for and adapt to changes as “…Today’s floods become tomorrow’s high tides.”
Coming to a City Near You
DC is one of the many U.S. cities impacted by increasingly extreme weather events. Kate Johnson outlined the District’s progressive climate adaptation and preparedness plan. Currently, DC is on track to be carbon neutral and net zero by 2050. In the meantime, the city is battening down the hatches against increased precipitation events, sea level rise, extreme heat, and wilder weather patterns.
DC has released its preparedness plan, Climate Ready DC, which encompasses both built and social infrastructure: transportation and utilities, buildings and development, neighborhoods and communities, governance and implementation. As the following image shows, the plan is comprehensive in the way it looks at all interdependencies.
The Resilience Audit Tool for Affordable Housing is also part of the city’s resilience strategy and is similar to an energy audit. However, this tool looks at all building risks and helps develop resilience strategies and recommendations.
Johnson emphasized that social cohesion is among the most critical elements in a city’s resilience. She talked about ways in which cities can support social cohesion hubs to foster communication, engagement, and support in a neighborhood or community. Social cohesion is critical to survival because it promotes the resilience and adaptability of even the most disadvantaged communities.
Finally, DC has gone global, joining 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), to prepare for “…acute shocks–severe floods and power outages–while lessening key chronic stresses, like the lack of affordable housing and job diversity.”
What’s Your Risk Level?
Louis Gritzo, VP of Research of FM Global, addressed the loss prevention aspect of resilience. He explained that resilience is not just how you design, but which products you use. Are they tested and certified? Will they hold up to hurricane force winds? To floods and fire?
Ten years ago, organizations didn’t really plan for resilience. That all changed with Hurricane Sandy. Yet today, 95 percent of companies have exposure to natural disasters and 62 percent of companies remain inadequately prepared. This lack leaves them vulnerable to public relations and economic setbacks. According to the latest data, 75 percent of U.S. based workers believe their employer is ill-prepared for a natural disaster, making for a public relations problem.
Piggybacking on data presented by Samenow, Gritzo discussed the impact of seal level rise and flooding in coastal areas and in D.C. Statistics clearly illustrate why CFOs need to invest more in resilience to secure their human and financial investments by proactively mitigating disruptions to operations.
In making the crucial distinction between sustainability and resiliency, Gritzo explained that the insurance industry views mitigation as a sustainability measure, whereas it sees adaptation and resilience as loss prevention measures.
He recommended that an organization’s adaptation plan begin with a flood modeling and mapping approach for understanding flood exposure and pointed to the National Flood Barrier program.
Citing examples including the Dubai Torch building, Gritzo stressed the need to go beyond standards in resilience planning because building codes and standards have yet to catch up to extremes in heat / flammability and weather events. In the case of the Torch, products were built to standards, but failed spectacularly under duress because many tests are expensive and not repeatable—thus not widely implemented.
To buck this trend, “…certain systems will need insurance companies to help fund or provide cost reduction incentives for unique testing.”
Resilience by Plan
Katie Wholey, Sustainability Consultant at ARUP, presented a series of case studies to highlight the organization’s emphasis on and approach to resilience planning. Case studies included public housing renovation in Brooklyn, NY and the waterfront redevelopment in Boston.
Wholey outlined three phases of a strategic resilience plan:
- Phase 1: Hazard assessment and priorities
- Phase 2: Vulnerability assessment
- Phase 3: Implementation
Ultimately, resilience depends on context and interdependencies. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. And, a successful planning approach is one that encompasses buildings, systems, and management.
Climate Proofing Your Portfolio
Ben Myers, Director of Sustainability for Boston Properties, weighed in on resiliency at the portfolio level. He discussed the need to reduce costs, protect asset value, and grow social responsibility. “Design as if you are going to own and operate for the lifetime of a building. This will bring in strong rent returns.”
There’s a business case to be made for sustainability because “…more properties and fewer buyers means you need a sustainability and resilience angle to have greater market share and value.” And, there needs to be more collaboration among owners and architects.
Right now, most investors don’t necessarily buy into sustainability and climate risk, but they do understand financial risk and materiality. So, the conversation has to start there—with a financial materiality assessment that shows the impact of climate risk on business. In fact, GRESB 2018 (developed for real estate) now includes resilience model vulnerability across a portfolio.
Myers explained that resilience planning isn’t about over-planning, but rather, about right-sizing systems. Systems need an open architecture and organizations need to decide on an acceptable level of risk rather than over designing.
He also advocated for developing a resilience survey and assessment of existing buildings. “When there’s a scoreboard, people play differently. So, we need more scoreboards.”
Myers pointed to the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures (TCFD), which focuses on opportunities as well as risks to give investors tools they need to determine what will impact their investments.
Resilience by Design
Jon Penndorf, Senior Project Manager and Senior Project Associate at Perkins+Will, addressed resilience from the architect’s perspective. He acknowledged there is still a great deal of skepticism regarding climate change and its effects on the built environment.
However, he advocated meeting those skeptics at their value level—for example: their love of family and pets, protection of assets, whatever it may be. Penndorf also pointed to the triple bottom line of resilience—economic, environmental, social—as considerations in design.
There is an array of publicly available tools for folding resilience into project solutions. Key among these is the RELi Resiliency Action List. “Developed in conjunction with Perkins+Will, the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS), and others, RELi—like LEED, but for resilience—prescribes methods for designing more resilient buildings, neighborhoods, and communities.”
Because of its adoption by USGBC, the building industry will soon be seeing more of RELi as it continues to evolve as a design tool and rating system.
At ECO-MAR, we’ve reviewed the latest iteration of RELi. The system is in the piloting phase and still has a few kinks to work out. It’s likely to undergo changes before it’s ready for wider implementation. We’ll be taking a closer look at the standard in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned…
Resilience Resources at a Glance