The I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, 2007
Kevin Rofidal, United States Coast Guard The I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, 2007

Resilience is the new sustainable design. That was the message I heard at the Resilient Buildings Workshop held at the National Building Museum on October 18—an event sponsored by the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative and hosted by the Department of Homeland Security, National Institute of Building Sciences, and the National Building Museum.

When we consider the increasing frequency and severity of natural and human-caused disasters, it is little wonder that a collective association representing the most common global building material—coupled with institutions that disseminate knowledge about how to design and construct better buildings—would co-host such an event. Resilience, after all, has become part of the new lingo in the building and infrastructure fields, as evidenced by Thomas Fisher's new book Designing to Avoid Disaster(Routledge, 2012), or Andrew Zolli and Ann-Marie Healy's new release entitled Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (Free Press, 2012).

Resilience has many parallels with sustainable design. As National Institute of Building Sciences' senior vice president Earle Kennett stated in his lecture, one cannot consider resilient buildings and infrastructure without considering the natural environment and its own ability to bounce back from disasters. Quoting Weidlinger Associates' Principal Mohammed Ettouney, he said, "it's all risk management"—a sentiment reflected in DHS senior program manager Mila Kennett's description of an "all-hazard approach" to assessing the security and perseverance of the built environment.

The resilience movement even has its own LEED program. Lionel Lemay, senior vice president of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, announced the Fortified Building Programs launched by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). The programs have checklists that architects, clients, and contractors can follow on residential and commercial projects for potential tax and insurance credits. According to Lemay, several structures that have been built to these code-plus "fortified standards" have already demonstrated their resilience against wildfires and floods, remaining standing among the debris left by neighboring buildings.

Although considerations of durability and multihazard resistance in the built environment are nothing new, the concept of resilience brings important attention to our all-too efficient and first-cost-focused construction approaches. Could resilience, coupled with sustainable design, encourage the construction of higher-quality buildings and infrastructure with a longer-term view?

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.