In the face of many recent natural disasters, the term “resiliency” in the design world has become a buzz word. The term first became a hot topic after Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc across the East Coast. When Hurricane Katrina followed, and then other disasters like the typhoon that hit the Philippines, and earthquakes in Japan and Haiti groups started to organize around this concept.


Resilient design is defined by the Resilient Design Institute as “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to vulnerabilities to disaster and disruption of normal life.”


The basic principals emphasize the need to keep the long-term picture in mind when designing and to prepare buildings to withstand possible disasters as well as more mundane long-term wear and tear. The design community has come to realize that the way sustainable design has evolved is not always truly sustainable. Green products that don’t stand the test of time are not sustainable in the face of a natural disaster. Resilient design serves to remind us to design for durability over time.


There are certain strategies that have been adopted to create buildings and communities that are more resilient:

  • Putting HVAC systems on the roof of buildings instead of in the basements to address damage by potential flooding
  • Including wash out zones on the first floor of a building that are designed to have water flow through them during a major flood to reduce structural damage


There is much more though that must be done to make buildings resilient and to protect the building inhabitants. Electricity is the first step to keeping people alive during a disaster. If a building is designed with enough renewable energy to keep the basic life systems running and power specific necessities, HVAC equipment can maintain internal temperatures, life support systems can remain on in hospitals, elevators can remain moving, perishable items can remain cool in refrigerators. This will apply to the entirety of the systems.


During Hurricane Katrina, a hospital’s mechanicals had been on the third floor to prevent issues during floods. However, some of the main electrical switches were in the basement. Once flood waters reached the basement, those mechanicals shorted out. In order to create truly resilient spaces, it is necessary to think outside the box.


Katie Craven
Katie Craven is Marketing, Communication and Brand Manager at Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers, a real-estate consulting firm that provides owner’s representation and project management services. More about Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers as well as additional blog posts can be found here.
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