How do you solve an equation with nothing but variables?
One of the many challenges facing the US Army Corps of Engineers is coastal damage caused by waves, wind and surge. Hurricanes have significantly increased the vulnerability of coastal areas to natural disasters. The Corps aims to reduce these coastal risks and “improve resilience to these hazards through an integrated approach that draws from the full array of coastal risk reduction measures.”
As a national thought leader on the topic of resiliency, our own Mark Ripple, FAIA, traveled to the Corps’ facility in Vicksburg, MS to deliver a presentation about creating a framework for designing resilient buildings along the coast. After Hurricane Katrina, we shifted the focus of our practice to rebuilding our home city, completing dozens of restoration projects over several years in New Orleans. Even beyond New Orleans, designing for resiliency is a critical element of many communities throughout the world, and there are many lessons to be learned.
As Louisiana architects, we’ve designed our fair share of buildings in this challenging environment. In addition to creating resilient structures, many EDR projects are living, breathing examples of sustainable design in a humid climate, in particular the Cote Top 10 winner New Orleans BioInnovation Center, which recently was featured on the cover of High Performing Buildings Magazine.
The 2014-2015 EDR Research Fellowship focused on Resilience, whose findings taught Mark that this term traveled far beyond technological innovation and heroic infrastructure. Solving this kind of problem involves understanding the dynamics of people, community, and change. Architecture has a large role to play in reinforcing the social infrastructures that contribute to resilience. This also includes shifting the focus from building higher and thicker structures, to focusing on flexibility and accommodation. That’s not to say that infrastructure isn’t critical to this equation, but the act of pouring concrete can simultaneously create both culture and community if done strategically.
“Most civil works projects deal with a fundamental battle between the rights of the individual and the collective good of the city. In almost every case, there are greater forces at work than simply technology or design,” Ripple explains. “These are complex scenarios that affect entire communities, hundreds and thousands of people with unique cultures and rich histories. Sustainability, resiliency, community engagement, health. These are all different lenses through which to view design, but the common link is that we’re designing things for people. We’re improving the human condition.”
The Corps of Engineers has an obligation when rebuilding communities to make them technologically sound, but why stop there? We have the tools to blend beauty and function. With every natural disaster comes the opportunity to create spaces that represent the culture, heritage and architectural traditions of our home. The goal of resilience shouldn’t be to just come back after a disaster, it should be to come back with more strength and vitality than ever before. We’re here not just to survive, but thrive, in our natural habitat.
If you'd like to learn more, take a look through Mark Ripple’s entire presentation to the US Army Corps of Engineers below.