Resilient Construction for a Changing Climate

May 11, 2018 Adam Higgins

The 21st century has seen 14 of the 15 hottest years on record, and more adverse weather events than in previous centuries. Extreme weather has an impact on humans in many ways, and our buildings and structures are among the most obvious casualties. That’s why many construction companies are turning their attention to resilient construction.


What is Resilient Construction?

Resilient construction is the practice of using construction materials and techniques that increase a structure’s ability to withstand adverse weather and changing climate conditions. It includes simple approaches such as tighter building envelopes and stronger materials, as well as cutting-edge technologies like floating platforms.

The concept of resilient construction is not new. Construction in harsh environments, such as on beach fronts, has always used techniques such as stilts and waterproofing to provide resilience against changing elements. However, changing weather patterns have made its concepts more relevant than ever.



Principles of Resilient Construction

As the GC, you may or may not inherit “resilient construction” features in the plans you’re handed. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand the principles involved. More and more often, owners and architects involve the builder early in the preconstruction process, for constructability reviews and collaboration. And even when you come in later in the process, it’s important to understand the purpose of any resilient features that are included in the building plan.

The resilient construction planning process usually involves four key steps:

  1. Understand potential hazards, vulnerabilities, and impacts based on the location and type of structure.
  2. Identify opportunities to create value in terms of both mitigating hazards and creating long-term operations efficiencies.
  3. Balance first costs and long-term savings.
  4. Plan the design, materials, and building techniques accordingly.

On the last step, builders can add substantial value to the discussion when we understand the technologies, materials, and techniques that are available and proven in the field.


Proven Resilient Construction Tools

Fortunately, the business of building resilient structures hasn’t had to start from scratch. Building techniques that are currently used in harsh and remote locations are being used now to make buildings all over the world more adaptable to whatever the future may hold.

Here are a few areas you should be watching for materials and techniques.

  • Daylighting. By reducing a building’s reliance on fossil fuels, daylighting the interior of a building makes it less vulnerable to power outages and possible future fuel shortages. For builders, it pays to watch the market for better window products and installation techniques.
  • Green. Anything that makes a building more energy efficient and better insulated contributes to its ability to function under adverse conditions. If you’re not already investing in green building techniques and knowledge, now is the time to start, as the demand will continue to escalate.
  • Better building envelopes. The building envelope is the structure’s first defense against changing climate conditions. New and more effective materials are constantly hitting the market that can provide both better resilience and better first cost.
  • Flood-resistant materials. From the foundation to the walls, using flood-resistant materials is a simple way to increase a building’s resilience. Concrete, rubber, treated lumber, and metal are commonly used flood-resistant materials. It pays to know what’s new in this area, as well.
  • Pre-emptive canals, culverts, and containment. As flooding becomes an ever-increasing threat to the functioning of a building, pre-emptive water containment structures become more important. For builders, this means becoming familiar with the various methods and approaches for pre-emptive flood management, and being prepared to incorporate it into your projects.
  • Floating superstructures. It may sound like something from a far distant future, but the truth is that floating structures are happening now, and will probably become an increasing feature of our landscape. Familiarity with the needs and demands of building on a floating platform places a construction company at the forefront of resilient construction, ready to tackle what the future holds.


Resilient-Construction-RedshiftRead More: As Natural Disasters Intensify, It’s Time to Build Back Better

Natural disasters are a part of human existence—ever since the inhabitants of Pompeii were victims of Vesuvius, Homo sapiens have been dying unnecessarily due to the extremes of Mother Nature. Yet today, extreme weather events are even more calamitous, increasing in both frequency and cost. In 2017 alone, the United States experienced 15 natural disasters that each caused more than $1 billion in damages... Read More



Managing Complexity

There is no question that building resilience into structures adds yet another layer of complexity to an already immensely complex industry. New materials come available constantly. New techniques are developed at almost the same rate. New technologies, likewise. Meanwhile, some materials go out of favor, and manufacturers go out of business.

And through it all, you, the folks on the ground doing the work of getting the building made, are responsible for managing these changing conditions while still meeting cost and schedule constraints.

To thrive in this environment, construction companies have to invest in strategies, processes and tools that help them get a handle on complexity. It starts at the top with a commitment to understanding the demands of resilience, and making it a priority.

Organizational strategy then has to be matched with effective management tools. Construction management tools that were once the domain of architecture firms now become critical to the construction industry for managing the many documents and specifications associated with increasing complexity. Likewise, teams must be equipped to manage complexity as it arises on the site--RFIs, issues management, and markups.

A central repository for this information is a requirement. Collaboration, coordination, visibility, and communication are paramount. Likewise, it’s critical to establish a single source of truth so that everyone is working off the same plans and data. This ensures that mistakes don’t creep in that could undermine the resilience of the end product.

The right software can manage all of this while providing cost savings that can aid in striking balance between first cost and operational performance.

Autodesk has been leading the way in this field for several years. We’ve invested heavily in acquiring and developing an inter-operative software suite that serves the industry from conceptual design through to operations, ensuring continuity throughout the project.



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