Our work is inherently optimistic and progressive, constantly evolving to elevate individuals and communities by addressing broad and chronic problems through new prototypes, building systems, and innovative technologies. These are our tools of design, and of making resilient architecture that fortifies communities and cities against a complex and unpredictable world — superstorms, war, economic upheaval, and even pandemics. The need for architecture of resilience has rarely been brought so sharply into focus. As architects we are very good at making purpose-built buildings for very specific and demanding needs, but deeper design thinking and strategies of resilience in architecture reaches far beyond code conventions and functional competence. As a matter of design we must look around corners and over horizons to anticipate the 100-year storm that now occurs on a 10-year cycle, or social and economic pressures that will force communities and cities to reconsider the design norms of affordable housing and family structures that occupy it, or the repurposing of buildings to respond to a global health crisis. Change is a constant, both locally and globally, and we believe that resilience is both an obligation and an opportunity to address the inevitable and also the unknowable to make our buildings, our communities, and our cities more durable and more adaptable. As a discipline, AW engages in rigorous research and collaboration with our design partners, engineers, fabricators, and builders to develop expertise and critical thinking to make our buildings and communities resilient beyond their prescribed purpose.
Consideration of the impact of our buildings on the environment, and the impact of the environment on our buildings, is a core value of our practice. While sustainability is a methodical and measurable function of energy efficiency and a project’s environmental impact, resilience is built through the lens of durability, flexibility, and adaptability, framed by a “expect the unexpected” mantra. Sustainability and resilience are not mutually inclusive, but we believe that they share many of the same values. With every project, regardless of program, budget, or location, we strive to make our buildings propagators of wellness and stewards of the environment. AW is a signatory to the AIA 2030 Commitment and its goal of carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. No such standard exists for resilience, and it is incumbent upon architects, urban planners, civic leaders, and project sponsors to develop resilient building urban design guidelines that expand upon best practices and building code minimums as a matter of public policy and social responsibility. AW recently joined “US Architects Declare Climate & Biodiversity Emergency”, a mandate for design and buildings as a self-sustaining ecosystem. AW approaches both sustainability and resilience with an integrated mindset that asks how our work can permeate our buildings, communities and cities as we ask them to be capable of both resistance and responsiveness in the face of unknowable yet expected forces.
Permanence speaks to the durability of its material and structure, and architecture of resilience will naturally endure beyond its origins, and therefore be accountable for other purposes, even unknown ones. Permanence in architecture is also a function of likeability and positive impact on its place. When a building or place is embraced by its community it becomes embedded in its culture, and thus more likely to be maintained and adapted over time. Pliability speaks to the capacity of the building to pivot in its use or occupancy, to be able to adapt to acute changes and social order if necessary, sometimes referred to as “loose fit”. Many AW projects are adaptive re-uses of derelict or outdated structures. Some are beloved historic campus buildings, or industrial spaces whose original design can no longer be sustained, but all are a efforts to place “a new wine in an old bottle” and re-animate a structure with a new program and new sustainability and resilience.
“Veggies, Not Art”.
The incongruous headline describes the transformation of AW’s project for the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston “Watershed” into a hub for food distribution in East Boston. The Watershed, closed due to the covid-19 pandemic, became instead a site for distributing food to East Boston families. The Watershed is designed to manifest the ICA’s core values of a “radical welcome” to its immersive galleries and large-scale installations of contemporary art. But in light of the pandemic’s destruction of jobs and income, and an emerging food insecurity, the Watershed was repurposed to welcome trucks and produce for distribution within its East Boston community. The loose fit inherent in the design of its large-scale industrial building makes the Watershed an ideal candidate for adaptation to change of use brought on by a social calamity.
Many public buildings and spaces share a passive capacity to adapt, but the Watershed is also designed to actively adapt to storm surges and rising tides (storm tides) already evident at its site on the edge of Boston Harbor. In 2018 winter storm Grayson brought Boston its highest storm tide on record, and non-storm super tides will cause flooding even without a storm event. So why build in a flood plain? As an adaptive re-use of a derelict building — itself a form of sustainability and resilience — the Watershed’s social and cultural value to the community could off-set its vulnerability to flooding. In response, AW designed a “wet-proof” structure whose monumental doors and concrete, basement-less floor and other features can respond to a flood by allowing water to penetrate and recede without major damage to the structure.
High tech/Low tech
While designing a high-rise office building in Ankara, Turkey, AW encountered a most unusual and unsettling local code requirement: that a permanent “chimney” shall be built through the entire building so that each floor of the building should have access to it. The “logic” here is that a makeshift fireplace could easily be created in response to war-time duress or long-term building systems failure. When all else fails, live in the office, burn the furniture, stay warm. Like many building codes in Turkey, the solution of one problem creates another, perhaps more dangerous one: a vulnerable raceway for fire through a high-rise. Yet despite some primitive code requirements, the Ankara Tower is a sophisticated, high efficiency machine for managing daylight and solar heat gain, making it an exceptionally adaptable and energy efficient high-rise whose unconventional high ceiling loft-like office floors can easily be adapted for other occupancies (and fireplaces) if required by extreme circumstance of war, or social upheaval.
Design and risk
The design of public space and public buildings in particular must embody both permanence (robust, durable, useful, likeable) and pliability (adjustable, adaptable, supple) to resist and adapt to risks posed by an increasingly unpredictable world. Resilient public buildings, housing, and essential infrastructure elevate communities and cities in a powerful and dynamic way. For AW, the resilient design process includes consideration of building type, location, and life cycle in the context of specific risk factors. Our process includes engaging with our trusted design and engineering partners, as well as other consultants who bring expertise in emerging technologies and scientific data to understand the possible scenarios of disruption to our buildings and their communities. Each project poses a unique equation. The resiliency goals of a harbor-side museum are different than those of an office high-rise, or multi-family housing, or a single-family residence. But the outcomes of increased resiliency across all project types amplify safety and wellness, reduce loss (of lives and infrastructure), and expand the capacity for adaptation and long-term well-being.