Recent natural disasters including the 2011 and 2022 Brisbane floods have reinforced the importance of resilience and adaptability as key components of sustainability strategies in architecture, the built environment and design.

Increasing pressures from climate change; environmental disasters including storms, bushfires and flooding have a direct impact on our communities and the built environment. Pressures from population growth and changing community demands add to the challenging conditions.  An important element in architecture is a resilient design that can adapt to changing conditions and ideally is able to adapt and recover from adverse events. So, in terms of the built environment, what is meant by resilience and resilient design? What strategies can be applied in the design process?

Resilient Design

According to the Resilient Design Institute, “Resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption”.  

Resilient design then is the intentional and proactive design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to these stresses and disturbances. The aim is to create a design that has an ability to adapt to known and unknown risks and vulnerabilities such a natural disasters or other major emergencies.

A resilient design incorporates sustainability considering environmental, social, and economic factors. From an architectural perspective, and as part of the process, it is important to consider the building as a whole, the products and materials used in the building and an acknowledgement of the surrounding environment and community demands. As always in the design process, it is important to balance costs of the project across the intended operational life of the project.

The design process continuously draws lessons from existing buildings and continues to evolve into even more refined designs. Importantly, resilient design draws on the expertise of a wide variety of specialists – from architects and engineers to town planners and local councils with the aim of creating strong and inclusive communities.

As we all know, the recent floods in Brisbane were devasting for many. However, flooding in Brisbane is not unprecedented. Whilst the 1974 and 2011 floods are woven into the story of the city, Brisbane has experienced many other flood events in our (short) recorded history. Indeed, for many Brisbane residents, living on a flood plane is a reality. For people in these suburbs and communities resilient design is incredibly important. It is about being aware of the risks and planning for them accordingly.

According to the Queensland Government, “Queensland is the most disaster impacted state in Australia, with flooding being the disaster event that happens most frequently. We can’t stop floods from occurring, but we can take steps to reduce their impact. Flood resilient design is one of the many ways Queenslanders can build their resilience to floods. It involves adapting the design, construction and materials incorporated into buildings to minimise damage caused by floodwaters”.

Case Study | Local Lessons - NA House

The design for NA House was undertaken for a family whose Fairfield home was severely damaged in the 2011 Queensland Floods. Rather than simply raising and restoring their existing home, the owners were open to exploring a design approach that would help their home become more resilient to flood risks.

Acknowledging the flood risks for their home and their suburb, the design incorporated a raised under-croft space. There were a number of benefits in taking this approach. In the first instance, the top storey was elevated above the anticipated level of any future flooding. Whilst this is not a guarantee of flood-proofing, it is an effective strategy for resilient design.

An important second part of the process was to recognise that there will be flooding that occurs around the house. Acknowledging that risk, the area of the house on the ground floor was designed with water ingress in mind. The materials used, including block masonry and concrete floors, were intended to permit floodwaters to permeate the area without causing significant damage. This design proved invaluable in the recent 2022 flood event. As expected, the suburb experienced flooding again. The resilient design strategy for NA House meant that the flood waters did not reach the upper storey. The ground floor did flood. However, the owners were able to wash the flood water away and the clean-up after the event was relatively simple.

NA House - Reddog Architects Award Winning Architects Brisbane

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It is simply not possible to create a design that can cope with every unpredictable event, however with good design, we help to make sure our buildings and cities are better able to cope with disruption and bounce back afterwards. Incorporating sustainability strategies, including the idea of resilience and adaptibility into the design process will help our community to react accordingly to climate change, resource destruction and depletion, and a host of other growing challenges.

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Sustainability at Reddog

Sustainability at Reddog