Exploring Resilient Building Design

Past experience with disasters inform current design decisions
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Sponsored by Carlisle SynTec Systems, Construction Specialties, Ross Technology, Smart Vent + ILC Dover, and Walz & Krenzer, Inc.
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify and recognize the basic principles and terms associated with resilient building design and disaster mitigation.
  2. Assess a variety of methods to protect a building from flooding events.
  3. Explain and specify a high-performance, resilient roofing system.
  4. Examine a low-profile perimeter fencing and gate system to address security in a building or facility.


AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia
This test is no longer available for credit

Well-designed buildings often evoke a sense of permanence and longevity. The reality is, however, that such permanence can be routinely and sometimes dramatically challenged by natural or man-made disasters. Weather-related events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding can compromise or destroy building enclosures and structures within a matter of hours or even minutes. Seismic events can cause almost immediate destruction of entire buildings or sections of them. And in our security-conscious era, human attacks on facilities can target human lives, building structures, or both. In light of all of these conditions, architects and engineers are called upon to design buildings that can withstand these forces and situations. Some parts of the design may be mandated by regulations, others influenced by insurance requirements, and still others simply by request of the building owners. Regardless of the motivation, design teams need resources and understanding on how to address these very real situations in the interest of protecting not only the buildings we design and the contents within, but also the full health, safety, and welfare of the people who use those buildings. This course will look at some of the current thinking on these topics.

Photo of a flooded street.

Image courtesy of Smart Vent Products, Inc.

Designing for resilient buildings involves recognizing potential hazards and incorporating measures to mitigate the risk of adverse effects on facilities, communities, and people.

Designing in Anticipation of Disasters

The reported rise in natural and man-made disasters in recent years has focused increased attention and funding on how to prepare for and survive different types of disasters. Those engaged in this effort understand that while buildings play an important part, community resources and infrastructure are also critically important. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been directly involved in this area since 1972, when the role of architects was formally recognized as part of emergency response. This role became better defined in 2006 when the AIA established a Disaster Assistance Program led by a nationwide committee of architects and other stakeholders. Since then, a number of events and publications have come about, including the recent (March 2017) release of the third edition of the AIA’s Disaster Assistance Handbook (available for free download at www.aia.org/resources/71636-disaster-assistance-handbook). This informative publication provides a great overview of the topics related to resilient design (i.e., the ability to not only survive but to “bounce back” after an adverse event), some detailed information on hazard risk reduction and mitigation, and resilience planning before, during, and after an event. There are also appendices identifying AIA member groups to connect with and extensive lists of resources for more information.

The AIA website (www.aia.org/resilience) provides architects and others with additional tools and information to address the design of resilient buildings and communities. In particular, the AIA’s Understanding Resilience is a helpful primer on key terms, and Qualities of Resilience is a good jumping off point when discussing what makes a building (or community) resilient. Additional technical guidance is also available for both hazard mitigation and climate adaptation.

Using some of the AIA work as a basis, let’s turn our attention to some specific issues and how to mitigate them in the design of resilient buildings.

The Disaster Assistance Handbook cover.

Image courtesy of The American Institute of Architects

The third edition of the Disaster Assistance Handbook published by the AIA addresses disaster response and preparedness, with an expanded section on mitigation, resilience, and long-term recovery.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in July 2017


Exploring Resilient Building Design
Buyer's Guide
Sure-Seal® EPDM 90-mil Membrane
Carlisle’s thicker and more durable 90-mil EPDM membranes offer long-term value, performance, and resiliency. So, whether you face a violent hailstorm or busy rooftop maintenance personnel, it provides superior protection. By investing today, savings can be recognized well down the road.
Carlisle SynTec Systems
SSR Seismic Floor Cover
Construction Specialties’ SSR seismic expansion joint cover is designed to handle everyday thermal movement as well as multidirectional movement that occurs during an earthquake. This virtually invisible floor cover accepts a variety of floor finishes to provide a seamless transition over expansion joints.
Construction Specialties
XL-501 Post-and-Beam Anti-Ram Fence
Ross Post-and-Beam Anti-Ram Fence safeguards high-risk facilities that require maximum protection against vehicle-borne attacks. Tested to ASTM F2656 M50 P1 standards, the innovative 30-foot clear span beam design reduces overall project costs, simplifies installation, and provides superior aesthetic appeal compared to traditional cable systems.
Ross Technology
Smart Vent® and Flex-Wall®
Smart Vent Foundation Flood Vents are ICC-ES certified for any wet floodproofing application. Flex-Wall® dry floodproofing systems provide point-of-use storage and rapid deployment for commercial buildings. To find out what floodproofing solution fits your project best, submit your plans to plans@smartvent.com. For more information, visit www.smartvent.com and www.dryfloodproofing.com
Smart Vent + ILC Dover
Removable Lip Seal Flood Barrier
Removable lip seal flood barriers require no tools to deploy. Just place the panel in the permanently attached frame and slide the two top latch bolts in place. Features include a flush sill, lightweight construction, increased reliability (no inflatable gaskets), and small radius corner.
Walz & Krenzer, Inc.