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Design For Resiliency: Combating Natural Disaster

Whether it’s natural disasters, environmental stewardship, or impacting human health, the power of design can help us overcome virtually any challenge we face to better our natural and built environments.

06/01/2014 By Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, FASID, CID, LEED AP BD+C

Last month, as part of National Building Safety Month, ASID joined allied associations from across the built environment to promote resilience in planning, building materials, design, construction, and operational techniques. If you want to know why we and our colleagues are concentrating our attention on resiliency and what it means to our practices and to society, all you have to do is turn on the television or browse the Internet for the latest news: hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, and flooding, as well as wars, famine, and political unrest.

Design Surviving Natural Disasters

How do our built environments prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and successfully adapt to these adverse events? That’s exactly the question we tackled at the National Building Museum on May 13 when ASID, along with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), and more than a dozen other allied organizations, made a commitment to educate, advocate, and respond when disasters strike. I’m proud to say that our colleagues from all disciplines are making advancements in landscape design, material science, structural engineering, and planning to reach the goal of building a safe and sustainable future. The commitment coincided with the opening of Designing for Disaster, an exhibit on response and mitigation on display well into 2015.


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As designers, we are in a position to contribute to the conversation around resiliency in a powerful way. More than anything else, it is our perspective on people that matters most. Because whether preparing for floods, fires or riots, or designing for everyday life, we think beyond protecting property to safeguarding people. Our design decisions have huge implications for the safety of building occupants—from finding their way through the building or finding their way out, to the selection of materials that will withstand natural and manmade disasters, and stand the test of time.

Converting Buildings into Shelter

A recent example of the emphasis on safeguarding people is with our 2013 ASID Student Design Competition, which was open to all design students enrolled in a CIDA-accredited interior design program. The 2013 competition, Shelter, called for insightful and creative interior design solutions for converting existing, vacant buildings into temporary shelters that address and support the health, safety, and welfare of a community impacted by natural disasters and economic hardship. The winner, Sarah Wadding from Anderson University, devised a flexible modular shelter system and outlined ways it could provide lodging to victims of an earthquake in Alaska, a tornado in Kansas, or to people fleeing a civil war in Syria.

As we push for resilience to protect people during times of disaster, we must never step back from our priority to protect the earth. To remain focused on sustainable practices and products, ASID continues to partner with the USGBC and other organizations. We also educate our members on the programs and principles of sustainable design and remain committed to the Architecture 2030 Challenge to become carbon neutral by the year 2030 through sustainable new building and renovation. In addition, we advocate for the 2030 Challenge for Products to specify interior finishes and furnishings for new buildings, developments, and renovations that meet a maximum carbon-equivalent footprint of 30 percent below the product category average.

ASID also supports the Healthy Building Network through funding of health product declarations (HPDs), and continues to engage stakeholders in important conversations about materials.

Full Effects on Healthcare

Further, the ASID Foundation is investing in research to explore the full implications of design on healthcare and wellness, workplace, and home—research that will showcase the value of design and its return on investment, as well as prove that design can have an impact on such intangible but invaluable factors such as satisfaction, fulfillment, and well-being.

Whether we’re discussing resiliency during crises, stewardship of natural resources, or research demonstrating design’s return on investment and impact on our well-being, we keep coming back to one overarching truth: the profession we’ve devoted our lives to touches all aspects of human endeavor and carries with it equal amounts of responsibility and pride.

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