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  • Writer's picturePhillips & Donovan Architects, LLC

Resilient Design: Why is it important and what should you know about it?

What is Resilient Design?

Resilient design is the process of designing buildings and infrastructure that can withstand the effects of natural disasters and other challenges. The use of resilient architecture and construction can help to reduce the damage caused by disasters and help communities recover more quickly from those disasters. Resilience asks us to look at the environment’s short and long-term impacts on the building and its occupants. Designing in this way acknowledges the interconnected complexities and unpredictable nature of the world today. Understanding what will make a building resilient includes understanding the impact of social structure, environmental change, and the economics of a design project. Communities need to be able to adapt to these changing conditions over time

Why is resilient design important? Climate change and rising sea levels have caused extreme weather events to occur more frequently. From 1980 to 2016, the annual average was 5.5 events per year. The years 2012 to 2016 averaged 10.6 events per year. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the wrong direction.

Anyone living where earthquakes are prevalent would know the importance of a resilient building. Engineering which allows a building to move with an earthquake can be incorporated into a building's construction and plays a major part in that building's stability. This is just one example of the importance of resilient design. As natural disasters become more common and more severe, it is important to incorporate this type of architecture into buildings being created for everyday use. Buildings constructed using resilient architecture are meant to keep those within safe when a natural disaster occurs.

With an ever-growing population in the world - much of it living in urban areas - it is imperative to keep those areas undamaged by extreme weather and seismic events. As infrastructure ages, it becomes more vulnerable to damage. Incorporating resilient construction into buildings can help them to last longer and better withstand the effects of time. Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 218 weather and climate disasters where overall damage costs reached or exceeded 1 billion dollars. The total cost of these 218 events exceeds 1.2 trillion dollars. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), American taxpayers have spent $721 billion to recover from natural disasters between 2017 and 2021 alone.

Building using resilient design is not without its challenges. The costs are often higher than building without this process. There is also a lack of professionals skilled in designing buildings and infrastructure using resilient design methods. Until recently, there has not been a lot of public awareness surrounding this topic.

How can resilient design be achieved? It can be achieved by incentivizing people to design high-performance, hazard-resistant buildings that can withstand high winds and flooding, especially in areas that are prone to those sorts of weather events. It can be achieved by choosing sustainable materials less likely to be damaged in a disaster. Another method is to create redundant systems so that if one system is damaged the overall system can continue operating. Building in natural features that can help reduce the impact of disasters, such as wetlands or forests, is also a way of incorporating resilient design. Proper water drainage and flood mitigation efforts are key features of this type of architecture. Developing land use and zoning regulations that reduce hazard risk will help when designing in this way. Other ways of achieving resilient design are adopting and enforcing recent model building codes, enacting mandatory retrofit programs as buildings age, and planning for climate adaptation.


Both the United States House and Senate are considering a bill entitled the Resilient AMERICA Act. (Resilient Assistance for Mitigation for Environmentally Resilient Infrastructure and Construction by Americans.) The benefits of this bill if it becomes law are that the amount of pre-disaster mitigation funding available through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program will be increased and states and municipalities will be encouraged to adopt updated building codes, which are critical to supporting resilience in the built environment. Only about half of U.S. jurisdictions have adopted hazard-resistant building codes. The National Institute of Building Science (NIBS) estimates that adopting the latest building codes and standards saves $11.00 for every $1.00 invested in post-disaster recovery

The benefits of resilient design are many. It helps reduce damage caused by natural disasters and other factors. It helps to create economic resilience. It also helps improve the safety and quality of life of those working and residing in buildings designed in this manner. Even having operating windows in buildings instead of fixed glass panes is a small way of incorporating resilient architecture. In this instance, it can help residents in places such as nursing homes be cooler than they otherwise would be in the event of a power failure during a storm. Natural ventilation for heating and cooling is a part of resilient design.

Resilient design is an important concept that can help communities resist damage from natural disasters and recover more quickly in their wake. There are many ways of incorporating this type of architecture into the design process for our communities and homes. The benefits of resilient design can improve the quality of life of those living in communities where it has been incorporated. If you have more questions about resilient architecture or other design methods, please feel free to contact us.

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