Adapting Building Design for Climate Resiliency

by Natasha Gayl, Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston

As the impacts of global warming have become increasingly visible to the public, architects and engineers are forced to adjust current and future building designs to better withstand unavoidable climate change.

The following are a number of suggested building strategies for adapting to a sampling of climate change impacts (source: Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate Changing World):

Warmer temperatures

  • - Design cooling-load-avoidance measures into buildings
  • - Design natural ventilation into buildings
  • - Model energy performance with higher cooling design temperatures
  • - Provide landscaping to minimize cooling requirements

Drought and Water Shortages

  • - Avoid new development in the driest regions
  • Specify water-efficient fixtures and appliances
  • Plumb buildings with water-conserving fixtures in mind
  • Harvest rainwater
  • Plant native, climatically appropriate trees and other vegetation
  • Avoid building in flood zones
  • Expand stormwater management capacity and rely on natural systems
  • Design buildings to survive extreme winds
  • Raise buildings off the ground
  • Specify materials that can survive flooding
  • Install specialized components to protect buildings from flooding or allow flooding with minimal damage
  • Elevate mechanical and electrical equipment
  • Begin planning for rising sea levels in coastal areas

Power interruptions

  • - Design buildings to maintain passive survivability
  • Design mechanical systems to operate on DC power
  • Provide site-generated electricity from renewable energy
  • Provide solar hot water
  • In urban and suburban areas, maintain access to the sun
  • Plan and zone communities to maintain functionality without power

  • It is sensible to incorporate these actions into our design palette today.  Other, far more complex challenges, will present themselves should we fail to properly adapt to a future that is not only warmer but must function without petroleum.  The adaptive measures addressed here give us something we can think about and act upon today.  One of the many benefits of taking on such adaptive techniques is that most of these measures also help to mitigate climate change, and quite a few reduce building operating costs and improve durability, benefiting building owners, occupents, and the planet.

  • Natasha Gayl is an intern with the Sustainable Business Leader Program, as well as a student majoring in Sustainable Design at Boston Architectural College.  She can be reached at

email:    |    phone: (617) 395-0250

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