Risk and Resilience in the Era of Social Unrest, COVID-19, and Climate Change

Presenters: Ariane Laxo, HGA, and Doug Pierce, Perkins & Will

Resilience is more urgent than ever as compounding shocks and stressors ― a global pandemic, social unrest, an economic recession, and climate change― have challenged the health of cities and organizations alike.

How do we talk about climate assessment?

Reputable climate models are currently all over the board. They provide a range of what may happen. So, it’s a matter of determining what the level of risk your team is comfortable with, starting in the design phase. Try to understand potential risks and hold tabletop meetings before the design begins.

Right now, our industry is using outdated weather data. ASHRAE weather information is from 2005. Civil engineers use ATLAS 14, but it doesn’t project out. Analysis is becoming more complicated in this age of climate change, but the information is only as good as the tools.

Remember, Climate Adaption and Liability from the Conservation Law Foundation indicates that the failure to act responsibly can result in liability with our clients.

The value of design in the Anthropocene

Humans are now driving the biosphere by literally designing ecosystems. Resilient design pursues buildings and communities that are shock resilient.

It is predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) will result in a loss of 20 million jobs by 2030. Construction is one of the areas that is targeted by AI, but remember, creativity cannot be replaced. So, we need think and work differently to remain creative and solve for higher levels of complexity. The good news is that we have designed a lot of what got us here, so we can redesign it to make it work better for us.

Using RELi 2.0 Resilient Design and Construction provides an actionable model that involves productivity and health. It brings together the engineers, developers and ecologists. RELi is not just a guideline, but it uses ANSI and was publicly reviewed.

What we are experiencing now is weather is shifting, so insurance companies are sometimes refusing to pay for damage from water. That can result in the owner suing the architect. But the architect designs per current weather models. The 100-year storm now happens several times a year and that needs to be considered.

From the discussions

Fire and social unrest – how do these factors affect the way we design buildings? Climate adaptions and riots are separate conversations because the framework is different. It goes beyond design ― how does it fit into the community? What is the likelihood of these events happening? It may not affect design, but is part of the greater community and how we plan to respond.

To get the client involved upfront, start by talking about resiliency in the beginning. Let a client know you will look into resiliency and share the results with them. Then it is part of the regular discussion, part of the interview, and part of the narrative. As the project goes on, you can bring them along with you, one step at a time. More and more it is the architect bringing the issue of resiliency to the engineers.

Are clients willing to deepen and broaden their teams to deal with resiliency? Narrowing it down and being reductive about it helps. Slowly bring clients along with your team. Connect with them in a space they understand. You might convert the conversation into what they understand. For a health facility, talk about the climate or risk effect on health – not climate change. Our job is to support and make a success of our clients.

Douglas Pierce, AIA, LEED Fellow, RELi AP (Perkins & Will)

Cycling from research, to practice, to policy, and back, Doug's work as an architect, advocate, researcher, author, and teacher is a continuous loop that has advanced living design across our industry. Combined with his dedication to mentorship and volunteering, his work has empowered both professionals and students alike to take on the world's most challenging issues through design. In his mission to build a better world inspired by nature, Doug is notorious for creating paths where there are none to follow. From advocating for AIA2030 Energy Targets, to championing Minnesota's first LEED NC Platinum Building, to co-leading Perkins and Will's Sustainable Design Initiative, Doug is now recognized as a LEED Fellow. His systems-based thinking led him to author RELi-an actionable checklist to help designers create resilient communities, buildings, and infrastructure to withstand shock. RELi has since been adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council, becoming the world's first resilient design standard.


As Sustainability Director, Ariane leads with an evidence-based, collaborative approach to sustainable design that results in positive, transformational impacts. Her expertise includes workshop facilitation, resiliency planning, climate change adaptative design, change management, and positive psychology. With a background in Interior Design, Ariane blends human-centered design with sustainability so that client outcomes rely on reliable evidence to improve both the occupant experience and building performance.

These highlights represent the knowledge and considered recommendations from the presenters and participants at the August 2020 Coleman Executive Round Table for Architects and Engineers, rather than those of Coleman & Erickson. Note that this is not a comprehensive summary of the law. Legal counsel should be consulted for questions on how these points apply to specific situations.