Resiliency Today: Systems, Standards, and the Case for Going Broad

Appropriately sub-titled “Creating and Communicating a Critical Sector,” July’s panel discussion on marketing resilient design services was as much about framing the services themselves as it was about generating new business. A follow-up to last year’s program entitled “The 21st Century Practice: Marketing Resiliency Planning and Design,” this event asked four leading experts in resilient design to offer their insights into the practice today.

Olivia Stinson of 100 Resilient Cities works globally with both providers and beneficiaries to empower resilient design practices. She has observed a growing interest in the sector for some time. From her perspective, the recent shift toward prioritizing systems – rather than the individuals, neighborhoods, organizations, or regions that those systems affect – is what gives the resilient design sector more traction now than it has ever had before.

Similarly, Stinson is seeing more practitioners move beyond “urgent care” to a more preventative approach to design. In other words, resiliency-minded designers are increasingly aiming to address both the acute shocks to systems and the “dull ache” of chronic system stress. The panelists agreed that confronting the latter is a difficult but extremely valuable diagnostic process, and that doing so successfully requires intensive collaboration within architecture and across a variety of allied industries.

Despite an increased willingness to collaborate on resilient design solutions and the growing global expertise on the topic, there is still a significant amount of progress to be made. For example, many resiliency advocates and potential buyers of related services are unsure of how to define resiliency and of what criteria to use when assessing its value.

Fortunately, efforts such as the Waterfront Alliance’s Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) are a step towards providing a framework for answering these questions. Dewberry’s John Boulé highlighted that defined standards like WEDG, and the various case studies being compiled by 100 Resilient Cities, are what make it possible to evaluate a potential investment in resilient design. As with any investment opportunity, funders have to be confident in their understanding of the risks and rewards. And everyone at July’s event agreed that it would be better if disasters were not the primary way to poignantly communicate the value of resiliency.

Identifying potential clients and funding sources for resilient design services, and developing an ever clearer value proposition for those services, remain critical areas of concern for our industry. The costs of building more resilient cities are high, “and we’ve only made a down payment,” noted the Waterfront Alliance’s Roland Lewis. This is perhaps the most crucial consideration in a city’s especially vulnerable communities, which are often the most in need of resilient design services, but are the least able to afford them.

As Janice Barnes, Ph.D., LEED AP, of Perkins+Will emphasized, the health and wellness of all communities is an essential aspect of the resiliency conversation, and human health should be a top priority for both policy and design decisions. The greatest issues in human wellbeing today, from climate change to healthcare access, are all linked. Design professionals should see this as an opportunity to include a variety of experts in the design process, or to “go broad,” in Barnes’s words. Boulé agreed; there are many interconnected layers of expertise needed to reduce risk factors in today’s cities. This fact may even lead to an uptick in the number of disciplines included within single design firms.

An openness to diverse, expertise-based, solution-driven input has been a crucial characteristic for outcome-focused design movements in the past, and it may very well be the key to developing a successful resilient design sector now. In the words of event moderator Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, “this is an integrative moment,” and a very exciting time in the architecture industry.

Gisela Garrett is the Communications Director of BKSK Architects, and frequently writes about the evolving practice of public interest design. Follow her on Twitter at @giselataylor.

Event: Marketing Resiliency Part II: Creating and Communicating a Critical Sector
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.20.15
Speakers: Janice Barnes, Ph.D., LEED AP, Planning + Strategies Global Leader, Perkins+Will; John Boulé, PE, Senior Vice President, Dewberry; Roland Lewis, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance; Olivia Stinson, Associate Director for City Relationships, 100 Resilient Cities; Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA
Design Organizer: AIANY Marketing and Communications Committee; AIANY Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee