8 February 2012 – Treehugger has highlighted resilient building and living in what it terms as a subtle shift in focus from sustainability to resilience in two published articles. One says walkable communities and older buildings are resilient; they can cope better when the power goes out, and you can walk to the store when the car is out of gas. The other asks if resilience is the key to making  sustainability mainstream.  From community nut tree plantings to neighbourhood energy action groups, the transition movement has pioneered community-focused resilience initiatives.

But it’s not just activists or community groups getting in on the action. Pure self-interest can build resilience too. The rise of the sharing economy does not just mean less stuff going to landfill. It also means neighbours who actually speak to each other and an increased social acceptability of the fact that sharing your stuff is OK. All of these things can stand us in good stead if things do go south.

That rather than appealing to our environmental consciences, it appeals to our self-interest, and to our social consciences. It makes the case for why sustainability is not just about “doing the right thing” by the planet, but about covering our own asses too.

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Building design principles

But what is resilient design, really? Architect Craig Applegath creates the picture.

From resilientcity.org

Designing buildings to effectively meet the conditions and realities of a post carbon, climate-changed world will require a shift in our current understanding of what constitutes good building design and sound building practice.

Many of the practices that we now take for granted, like cladding our buildings in curtain wall building envelopes, in future, may no longer be economically feasible.

Here is Treehugger’s list of building design principles for designing and constructing buildings in a post-carbon, climate responsive building environment:

  • Use low carbon-input materials and systems:
    Any materials and systems that require either significant amounts of energy, or are derived from oil by-products in their manufacture, will become economically uncompetitive because of the relative increase in energy costs on the down side of the peak oil curve, as well as the probable additional costs associated with potential future carbon cap-and-trade regulations or tariffs.
  • Materials such as wood and low-energy input masonry should be considered as more appropriate building materials. Moreover, the use of wood as a building material will be a very effective strategy for sequestering carbon as part of future regional, national, or international carbon sequestration strategies and policies.
  • Design and plan buildings for low external energy inputs for ongoing building operations:
    Buildings should be designed to be highly energy efficient and include the use of highly insulated building envelopes, triple insulated glazing, and, where possible, passive solar heating with thermal mass storage systems. Where required, lighting systems should use LED task lighting in combination with natural day-lighting. Design to allow for natural ventilation, and simple low energy mechanical systems.
  • Design buildings for maximum day-lighting:
    Daylight will be the primary source of lighting for buildings in a post-carbon city, so buildings should be designed to make the most of daylight for internal lighting. Because the pressure to reduce the overall surface area of glazing in building envelopes to reduce energy loss will be significant, the use of daylight will become of strategic importance in the design of building form. Narrower floor plates, internal courtyards, and atrium spaces are good examples of possible daylight effective strategies.
  • Design generic buildings for future flexibility of use:
    Because energy costs will be higher in the post carbon city, both construction materials and the construction process will be relatively more expensive than they are now. These higher costs of construction will create an impetus for building owners to design for future flexibility in their building designs, so that later renovations and alteration can be undertaken in the most cost effective manner.

The most effective strategies for designing for future flexibility are the use of modularity and standardisation in the planning of program spaces. Modularity provides for building spaces to be multiples of one another, and standardisation of spaces aims for the provision of common denominator spaces that can be used for many overlapping uses. Buildings should be designed for both first and future uses. Form should not “follow function” but instead follow many future functions.

  • Design for durability and robustness
    To maximise the future resilience of buildings, buildings should be designed for durability and robustness. Materials and construction methods must be durable in the face of more energetic weather, and increasing number of significant weather events that increasing climate change will produce.
  • Design for use of local materials and products
    Resilient cities will need to be much more localised in their use of materials and products. The increased cost of energy will dramatically increase transportation-related costs of non-local materials. That should in turn create a greater demand for locally produced materials and products for building construction.
  • Design and plan for low energy input constructability
    Design and plan for buildings that can be built efficiently by manual labour that do not require oil-fuelled machines and systems requiring significant quantities of fuel for operation. As the cost of fuel increases as a result of the price pressures of peak oil, energy intensive construction techniques could become ess economically effective, and the costs of manual labour will potentially be a less critical a factor in selecting construction techniques.
  • Design for use of building systems that can be serviced and maintained with local materials, parts and labour
    Climate change and peak oil will more than likely reduce global trade, and reduce easy access to materials, products and systems from other countries. Therefore, building systems should be designed to be serviceable through a local supply of parts and labour.