Resilient design for climate change: Architecture’s role in adapting to a new reality

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The rapidly changing climate poses unprecedented challenges to the built environment. As extreme weather events become more frequent and sea levels continue to rise, there is an urgent need for resilient design solutions that can stand up to these challenges. This article delves into the role of architecture and construction in making buildings and infrastructure more resilient to climate change.

Climate-resilient buildings

Building in response to climate change research papers suggests that resilient design needs to focus on both new constructions and retrofitting existing buildings. Climate-resilient buildings are designed to be adaptive, durable, and recoverable, whether facing floods, storms, or heatwaves.

The use of water-resistant materials and elevated constructions can mitigate the effects of flooding. Passive cooling techniques and reflective materials can help buildings withstand extreme heat.

Building in response to climate change

Academic research plays a critical role in advancing our understanding of resilient architecture. An article published in a journal highlights that climate change could cut the world economy by $23 trillion in 2050 without adaptation.

Emphasis are needed for adapting buildings to climate change, thereby saving both lives and resources in the long run. Traditional methods of construction may not suffice in this new climatic reality.

The practice of architecture needs to evolve, incorporating materials that are not only durable but also sourced sustainably to minimise environmental impact. For example, cross-laminated timber is gaining attention as a sustainable and resilient building material.

Impact of climate change on buildings

The vulnerability of buildings to climate change is particularly apparent in developing countries, where structures are often self-built and lack professional engineering. This is where guides like UNEP’s “A Practical Guide to Climate-Resilient Buildings & Communities” become invaluable, offering scalable solutions from single-family homes to hospitals.

Climate-resilient infrastructure

Infrastructure resilience goes beyond buildings and encompasses bridges, roads, and utilities that connect and power our communities. For instance, the Thames Barrier in London is an example of a climate-resilient infrastructure built to prevent tidal surges from flooding the city. Sponge cities in China aim to tackle urban flooding by increasing permeable surfaces and green spaces for water absorption. Such climate resilience projects showcase the importance of planning and investment in long-lasting solutions.

Impact of climate change on infrastructure

Beyond buildings, the impact of climate change on infrastructure also includes critical systems like energy grids, water supply, and transportation. For example, hurricanes can severely damage power lines and substations, causing widespread outages. Resilient design needs to address these vulnerabilities by creating redundant systems and using materials that can withstand extreme conditions.

What is the role of nature in increasing climate resilience?

Nature-based solutions can play an invaluable role in making cities more resilient. Mangroves, for example, act as natural barriers against storm surges and flooding. Similarly, urban green spaces can help mitigate the heat island effect, reducing energy consumption and improving public health. The role of nature in increasing climate resilience should not be underestimated and should be integrated into architectural and urban planning.

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Climate resilience projects

From the Floating Piers in the Netherlands to the MoMA PS1’s “Holding Pattern” installation in New York, various climate resilience projects around the world showcase innovative solutions for a changing climate. These projects serve as living laboratories, providing valuable data and insights for future endeavours.

As we continue to experience the undeniable impact of climate change on buildings and infrastructure, the importance of resilient design has never been more clear. Whether through innovative construction techniques, smart material choices, or the incorporation of nature-based solutions, architecture has a pivotal role to play in creating a resilient future for all.