Story at a glance:

  • Material selection plays a huge role in designing buildings that last, and what sustainable building materials you choose matter.
  • States like California are looking at water management as part of their long-term resiliency plan.
  • Building information modeling allows for a collaborative process that can save projects time and money in the long run.

Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions, aimed at responding to natural and manmade disasters and disturbances as well as climate change—including sea level rise, heat waves, and regional drought, according to the Resilient Design Institute (RDI).

Resilient design principles run the gamut from developing diverse systems and passive solutions to designing buildings that will last longer and using reclaimed resources.

Consider these resilient design principles before you design your next project.

1. Factor for Climate Change

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Consider climate change from the beginning of your design. Photo courtesy of EHDD

Brad Jacobson of architecture firm EHDD says designing for the future starts with recognizing the risks of a changing climate.

“Factor in future climate and sea level rise when siting buildings and designing mechanical systems. Arup Engineers developed a tool that allows you to overlay your energy model with projections of future climate conditions to assure your building design can keep occupants comfortable in the near future,” he said in a previous article for gb&d.

Jacobson says designing passive, localized systems and integrating battery-PV in microgrids further ensure resiliency.

2. Establish an Asset Management Plan

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Photo courtesy of HEAPY

Leaders in health care infrastructure have been working to improve resilience for decades and, in the face of the pandemic, an even stronger commitment has been established by some to improve infrastructure, planning, and technology.

The leaders at HEAPY have said real resistance begins by understanding what you have. Brian Arbogast and Daric Hess at HEAPY previously wrote for gb&d about the need for an asset management plan as one of the major resilient design principles.

“A Campus Asset Management Plan (CAMP) can help facilities be more resilient,” they wrote. “It allows organizations to understand the condition and importance of major equipment, gives timelines and budgets to upgrade or replace, and also provides a quick access to equipment zoning and key locations for system isolations. (Think gas isolation valves, AHU zoning, and domestic water mains, to name a few.)”

In health care, such a plan looks to answer questions like:

Where do you have single points of failure for critical systems?

Do you know the age and condition of the air-handling unit serving your operating rooms?

Do you know where the shut-off valves are for the O2 system serving the ICU?

Can you quickly point to where you have cross-connections in the domestic water systems?

Will your network support remote users?

Is your BAS secure?

3. Incorporate Building Information Modeling

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Get everyone on the same page from the start of your project, and keep everyone up to date with building information modeling. Photo courtesy of Sage

BIM, or building information modeling, can also be a catalyst for better building, as it invites contractors, owners, architects, engineers, and whole project teams to get on the same page early on in the design process.

This shared resource establishes a basis for decision-making throughout a project’s life cycle and assists in problem solving, solution simulations, and impact analysis, according to Dustin Anderson, vice president and general manager of Sage, which offers construction accounting and estimating software solutions.

Among BIM’s many benefits, Anderson previously told gb&d that these solutions allow teams to identify incongruences before you have to pay for them, increase quality control and design coordination to decrease remedial work, and impact the design process for higher quality project delivery.

4. Use Sustainable Building Materials

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Schoonschip Amsterdam. Photo by Isabel Nabuurs

Completed in 2020, Schoonschip Amsterdam is a standout example of resilient design principles at work. This circular and self-sustaining floating neighborhood in Buiksloterham is a rapidly growing area with a strong industrial past, designed by Space&Matter.

From wood cladding to modern asymmetric roofs, Schoonschip’s floating homes feature a wide variety of architectural styles and sustainable building materials. To minimize the project’s environmental impact, the residents strived to use natural resources that fit within a circular economy.

Many of the residents chose to construct their homes with timber and FSC-certified wood. Bio-composite materials like wood fiber, burlap, or in one particular home, straw were commonly used for insulation.

5. Build Communities with Shared Services

Schoonschip Amsterdam also functions as an urban ecosystem with shared services like mobility, energy, water, and waste. As sea levels rise and cities search for new housing accommodations, this sustainable floating community provides an innovative solution to global climate change.

Using 500 solar panels and blockchain technology, Schoonschip residences can produce electricity and exchange energy among households.

Yvonne van Sark, a Schoonschip resident and chair of the community board, previously told gb&d that the neighborhood essentially creates its own energy cooperative.

“If I’m at home and I generate electricity, and my neighbor is putting on the washing machine and doesn’t have electricity at the time, it’s all interconnected in a smart grid,” she said.

6. Consider ICFs

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In 2016 the ICFMA commissioned an independent scientific study comparing a wood-framed cavity wall to a standard six-inch core ICF wall. Photo courtesy of IFCMA

ICFs aren’t just eco-friendly, they’re also incredibly strong, standing up to extreme weather conditions and the test of time, Brian Corder, marketing chair of the ICFMA (Insulating Concrete Forms Manufacturers Association) and president of BuildBlock, previously told gb&d.

Corder emphasized ICFs’ five core benefits—energy efficiency, comfort, quietness, improved air quality, and disaster resiliency. An ICF is literally what it stands for—an insulated concrete form, or EPS foam insulation filled with reinforced concrete. ICFs are suited for many built environments, whether in cold weather or warm. And because the EPS insulation in ICFs is protected and stable, it won’t fail when needed most. The EPS insulation lasts for centuries, and the concrete stands up to tornadoes and hurricanes.

At a minimum, an ICF wall can withstand 150 mile per hour winds, Corder told gb&d.

7. Reclaim Materials

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The Surfacedesign project’s planting approach was to use native plants of Puget Sound, as well as plants that increase wildlife. Photo by Marion Brenner

Material reclamation and adaptive reuse were core resilient design principles for both Surfacedesign’s “Beach” project and the adjacent 40-acre Expedia Global Headquarters campus. The existing site (previously the home of Amgen’s Seattle Campus, and before that a series of pier shed buildings) had a series of formal landscape spaces that featured stone paving and monolith features. The stone onsite was stockpiled and reimagined for the new campus, including informal stone groupings nestled into the dune planting on the Beach.

Inspired by the driftwood that washes onto the shores of Washington beaches, knotty spruce “boom sticks” from a decommissioned log mill in Port Angeles were brought to the site and nestled into the planting and gravel dunes. The reclaimed stone boulders and driftwood break up the planting while also functioning as informal seating and play areas.

This project also emphasized use of native plants.

8. Soil Management

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Illustration courtesy of Surfacedesign

Surfacedesign also developed a comprehensive soil program to build and restore conditions consistent with native soils in the area to support the new vegetation on this Seattle project.

Soil profiles were designed to rebuild natural conditions, including soil horizons similar to those found in the local natural environment. Taking this approach, the soil profiles were constructed that both reproduce natural function with minimal inputs and also meet site-use demands. This approach established sustainable and resilient soils and planting communities that will continue to grow into natural balance with the Seattle environment.

The harvested site soil that had tested positively for ecological benefits and long-term landscape health was used to inoculate the compost and base loam soil used to build the eight custom blends that correlated with the site’s distinct planting communities.

Soil testing and monitoring after installation informed formulation of compost tea blends used to seasonally inoculate the soil and plants, stimulating biological activity and resilience without the use of chemical fertilizers or other inputs.

9. Water Management

Photo courtesy of LADWP

Locally available, renewable, or reclaimed resources are more resilient. And reliance on abundant local resources like solar energy and annually replenished groundwater provides greater resilience than depending on nonrenewable resources or resources that have to be trucked or flown in, according to the RDI.

Some places know better than others the struggle of water management in particular. Take California, for example. The state has always been at risk of climate extremes. In a single year California could suffer both epic drought and torrential rains, scorching wildfires and shattering quakes.

Los Angeles has taken up the challenge to plan for a sustainable water supply in a changing climate future. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has continually developed the City of Los Angeles’ water supply, becoming a critical component of the city’s economic and population growth.

One of the city’s biggest water goals originated with Mayor Eric Garcetti—sourcing 50% of LA’s water locally by 2035. It’s a lofty bar for a city that’s been importing water from hundreds of miles away for generations.

The city’s crown jewel in this effort is set to be its massive groundwater remediation program, recovering local water such as the San Fernando Groundwater Basin, an aquifer and superfund site once polluted by war-time industries, into high-quality sources of drinking water. The city broke ground on the $92 million North Hollywood West Groundwater Treatment Project in January 2018.

“We’re teaming up with the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to take more recycled water and put that to use, ideally get it back into the environment by recharging our groundwater basins,” Marty Adams, chief operating officer at LADWP, told gb&d in 2018.