Making Buildings That Stand Up To Mother Nature

 Making Buildings That Stand Up To Mother Nature

By Julie Frazier

Weather events in recent years have demonstrated the threat of flooding extends beyond coastal regions. Even far inland, communities are susceptible to extreme rainfall with devastating effects. Although planning for a 100-year flood was once the standard (and remains the code minimum in many areas), the 500-year flood plain is more appropriate to consider when designing a building meant to weather storms in our changing environment.

Most immediately, as many communities face rebuilding in the aftermath of Harvey, Texas’s business and municipal leaders have an opportunity to plan for a more resilient future — and that starts with resilient design.

“Resilient design” refers to plans that take events like Hurricane Harvey and other stressors into account, creating buildings and landscapes ready to withstand whatever nature throws their way. Elements of resilient design include oversized drains, pervious surfaces, and bioswales that reduce the impact of a sudden influx of water. Likewise, these plans locate generators and critical services above the flood plain or the ground floor.

Though the most important aspect of resilient design is the increased safety of building occupants, the strategy comes with plenty of other benefits. A resilient design may qualify for tax incentives, lower points on a mortgage or lower insurance rates. It may help owners avoid costs associated with loss of business continuity or reduce the time between an event and a return to operations. And it communicates value to risk-averse shareholders.

CHRISTUS Spohn’s Shoreline Hospital in Corpus Christi is a perfect illustration of resilient design strategies. Recognizing the facility’s vital role as a regional command center in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist threat, and its need to remain in continuous operation as a place of refuge for the community, the hospital’s executive team identified resilience as a top priority in the facility’s expansion.

The hospital design follows a framework called RELi, which was created to help business leaders, community planners and designers outline and prioritize resilience strategies. The RELi Action List + Credit Catalogue provides a comprehensive list of resilient design criteria and the latest in proven, integrated processes. It includes guidelines for preplanning and discovery, risk adaptation and mitigation, community cohesion and overall productivity, health and diversity, among other factors.

The resilient strategies included in the design of the 10-story project in Corpus Christi include durable, low-maintenance materials, such as a masonry skin and impact-resistant glazing, galvanized metals, and terrazzo flooring in high-traffic areas. In the event that systems are out of service and people must shelter in place, reflective roof surfaces will minimize heat while sun shading devices filter natural sunlight throughout the patient floors. Supply rooms will be provided to house several days of food and water provisions. Currently under construction, the project withstood Hurricane Harvey and is expected to open in late 2018.

At a time of more frequent extreme climate events, business and community leaders face increased pressure to protect assets and investments. Resilient design strategies offer more security in an environment of unpredictability.

Julie Frazier, an architect and senior associate with Perkins+Will in Dallas, specializes in resilient design. She tackles the typical project on two fronts — potential acute shocks and chronic stressors — and then addresses each from the perspective of their potential social, economic and environmental impacts.

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