Choose Your Own Adventure


There is a persistent myth that sustainability and resilience overlap in most aspects. While that is true for certain things – a better building envelope improves passive survivability, renewables can provide power after a storm – in many cases, creating a more resilient building is more carbon-intensive than a standard building. At Greenbuild 2019, we shared some of the trade-offs that architects and their clients face in deciding which performance standard to prioritize.

Ann Kosmal, our great friend, architect, and risk assessor who works for the GSA, joined Allison and John to determine the potential vulnerabilities affecting a site in downtown Davenport, Iowa. (Initially we thought to select a coastal site but wanted to recognize that inland flooding is much more common and accounts for more presidential disaster declarations than any other hazard category.) We talked through hazards – flooding, tornadoes, seismic risk – and let the audience choose the solutions to incorporate. For example, to address flooding they could select wet floodproofing, dry floodproofing, elevating the building, or elevating the whole site; each of these had implications on the building operations during and after an event, recovery time, and embodied carbon, as well as affecting the building form.

A clear understanding of the hazards and vulnerabilities always affects design. A designer may be able to achieve both sustainable and resilient goals with one assembly; the solution the participants chose to manage stormwater was to collect and treat it for reuse as greywater; we combined it with the decision to elevate the building by embedding stormwater chambers in the foundation and allowing that volume to reduce the amount of fill necessary to elevate the first level.

As we walked through the decision points differentiating sustainability and resilience, we didn’t lose sight of the relationship to scale, context, or other principles of design excellence. If a building isn’t objectively good, if it doesn’t function properly, isn’t flexible enough to sustain changes over time, or doesn’t appeal to the community, investments in sustainability or resilience will be wasted.

Links to the resources we often use as a starting point to assess hazards at U.S. sites:

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