Designing for Disruption
Source: Red, | Image: Courtesy of Alert Systems Group

In 2017, the United States experienced an alarming series of natural disasters. In less than a month, hurricanes wreaked havoc in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Throughout the fall, California suffered nearly perpetual wildfires. Significant social, economic, and environmental consequences will be felt into 2018 and far beyond.

Hundreds died. Thousands of homes and other structures were destroyed. In late September, Moody’s Analytics estimated that Hurricanes Irma and Harvey caused more than $150 billion in damage, and estimated damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, could run as high as $95 billion. In October, CoreLogic, a leading provider of consumer, financial and property information to business and government, released a hazard risk analysis explaining the total number of homes at risk for damages due to the California wildfires, along with the combined reconstruction cost value estimates, could be as high as $65 billion.

American Red Cross and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data used in the map shown above highlight that nearly the entire United States is subject to one or more risks. Although specific occurrences are largely unpredictable, exposure to these risks is predictable. And we must be better prepared!

Architects and the AIA have many reasons to take pride in our response to the events of 2017. The AIA released its 3rd edition of its Disaster Assistance Handbook, and the Institute has served as catalyst to mobilize and train hundreds of architects responding to affected communities. But, we cannot allow our laudable disaster response and recovery efforts to blind us to the critical need for disaster preparedness and resiliency. We do not have the luxury of suffering “disaster amnesia” when addressing the health and wellness of our communities. While each occurrence exposed different vulnerabilities, their cumulative lesson is that widely accepted planning, design, and building practices are not up to the challenge. It is time to re-evaluate where and how we build on the lessons learned from previous disasters.

2017 made it clear that current codes, infrastructure, and planning fail to adequately account for predictable natural forces that, in the blink of an eye, can sweep away entire communities. In 2018, the AIA is committed to resiliency training and advocacy, and further expanding its state disaster coordinator network to better prepare communities large and small for future disasters and helping to strengthen our nation’s resilience. Our efforts designing new solutions must be disruptive and evolve steadily as we learn even more. In the coming months, I will be speaking to the role of the 21st-century architect, designing with climate change in mind and other topical matters related to the architecture profession.