The Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013
The Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013

Residential Architect’s 2013 annual conference was all about designing for resilience. Keynote speaker Bill Browning, one of the founders of Terrapin Bright Green and an advocate for biomimicry in building design and construction, opened the conference. Browning talked about how architects, designers, planners, and builders should prepare for increasingly extreme weather patterns and epic storms, which are more and more common. The thrust of his message was that we can’t build totally weather-proof structures, but we can produce houses, buildings, neighborhoods, and entire cities that recover quickly and efficiently. “Resiliency is not about preventing failure,” Browning says, “but how do we bounce back and bounce forward.”

Browning told his audience of residential architects that the real question is not how do we protect and armor everything, but how do we include resiliency into communities? “Resiliency is community—people coming together to solve a problem,” he says. He added that architects should get local support for a neighborhood plan, public building, or a new house early in the process. This allows us to factor community needs into the design and brings people together, he states. Browning gave two examples of how design and smart building strengthened a community’s ability to bounce back from natural catastrophes. First was a case study about a medieval German village that flooded constantly, but also suffered an ethnic divide and cultural tension. The solution converted the historic town square from a tour bus parking lot into a sculptural fountain that collected rainwater runoff and incited community bonding. Browning’s second example was about a small solar shack that had been erected as an alternative energy prototype in lower Manhattan. After Hurricane Sandy hit, the shack was the only thing with power for miles. It became a community gathering spot where people could use medical devices, charge cell phones, and share stories or resources. “Buildings and neighborhoods that foster organic community gatherings and stronger bonds is the best way to deal with these 100-year storms that are coming every year now,” summarizes Browning.

The second half of Browning’s presentation explained the concept of biomimicry and what lessons can be learned from it. He offered several design tips based on studies related to this relatively new but already proven successful science.

Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature and includes mimicking form, process, and entire ecosystems in our built environment. Using the waste stream from one industry to feed another is one example of mimicking an ecosystem. We look to nature to find ways for buildings to produce negative carbon, just like the ecosystems that existed in those places centuries ago did.

Biomimicry also can show us ways to create buildings that help occupants be more resilient. One example is providing views of nature, especially fractals like fire and waves. Just five minutes of exposure a day to nature in some form raises dopamine levels in humans for several hours. There are several ways to do this:

·        Bring nature into a space with courtyards, atriums, plants, rock gardens, fireplaces, and windows that frame natural views.

·        Replicate nature inside through natural materials, ornamentation that mimics flora and fauna, or even pictures depicting natural scenes.

·        Change the nature of the space to incite similar reactions. Include prospect—a distant unimpeded view; refuge—places where people can be embraced by the space; enticement—a partial view that draws occupants toward a space; and risk/peril—balconies, floor-to-ceiling glazing, or towers.

·        People evolved in the savannas of Africa and we are all drawn to those wide-open spaces. Public parks, golf courses, and urban lawns are a few examples of how we incorporate savannas into modern design.

·        Bringing two of these spatial environments together, such as prospect and refuge, creates an even stronger reaction.

In conclusion, Browning again emphasized the need to consider how design affects the surrounding community. He called upon the audience to find ways to create buildings that foster resiliency through strengthening community and bringing people together. Browning also offered several organizations that already work toward these goals and where industry pros can get involved right now:

In My Back Yard,