“Resilience” is a current buzzword to describe architecture and environments that can withstand external shocks to a system. While commonly used in the popular media, the term “resilient” has also received significant attention in recent scholarly articles. Not only has the term become common in reference to the built environment, but it is also widely used in reference to computing and networking systems, environmental and biological studies, and individual people.
As Jill Fehrenbacher notes, “In November 2012, ‘Resilient Design’ was a trending search term in Google, moving from near obscurity in the months before the devastating super storm to a popular catchphrase post-Sandy” (Fehrenbacher 2014). The Resilient Design Institute offers a succinct summary of the principles of resilient design. Intended to be broadly interpreted and applied, they are not specifically focused on the built environment. They do, however, offer some vital clues about resilience that can be applied to the built environment.
- Resilience transcends scales.
- Resilient systems provide for basic human needs.
- Diverse and redundant systems are inherently more resilient.
- Simple, passive, and flexible systems are more resilient.
- Durability strengthens resilience.
- Locally available, renewable, or reclaimed resources are more resilient.
- Resilience anticipates interruptions and a dynamic future.
- Find and promote resilience in nature.
- Social equity and community contribute to resilience.
- Resilience is not absolute. (Resilient Design Institute 2013)
Very few scholarly articles discuss “resilient architecture,” though resiliency is a common topic of discussion in many areas of our lives today. Many of the articles that do discuss “resilient architecture” focus on networks and technology systems. For example, Shi and Khan use resiliency to describe shared-memory multicores for computing and communication networks (Shi and Khan 2013). Another article discusses resiliency in off-shore wind farm communication networks. These networks require a “resilient communication network. This can be achieved through a combination of redundancy and Quality of Service” (Gajrani, Gopal Sharma, and Bhargava 2013, 023139-1).
According to Applegath et al. (2010), the principles of a resilient built environment include:
- local materials, parts, and labor
- low energy input
- high capacity for future flexibility and adaptability of use
- high durability and redundancy of building systems
- environmentally responsive design
- sensitivity and responsiveness to changes in constituent parts and environment
- high level of diversity in component systems and features
One approach to resilient cities is an integrated multidisciplinary combination of mitigation and adaptation to raise the level of resilience of the city. In the context of urban environments, resilience is less dependent on an exact understanding of the future than on tolerance of uncertainty and broad programs to absorb the stresses that the urban environment might face. The scale of the context is important: events are viewed as regional stresses rather than local. The intent for a resilient urban environment is to keep many options open, emphasize diversity in the environment, and perform long-range planning that accounts for external systemic shocks (Thornbush, Golubchikov, and Bouzarovski 2013). Options and diversity are strategies similar to ecological resilience, discussed below. This approach again points out the importance of flexibility, adaptability, and diversity to future-proofing urban environments.
Personal resiliency is a common theme in the discussion of recovery from the Boston Marathon bombing (Time 2014) and other natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy (Bernstein 2012). Important in these stories of personal resilience is the ability of people to persevere in spite of severe physical and mental injuries, “shattered bones, severe burns, and shrapnel wounds” (Sanchez 2014). Resilience in the workforce in China is the subject of another paper. Increasing performance pressure is requiring employees to be more resilient. The paper notes that there is an “increasing overlap between the key attributes in resilience and soft skills. This overlap of resilience and soft skills is identified in 9 dimensions: vision, determination, interaction, relationships, problem-solving, organization, self-confidence, flexibility & adaptability, and pro-activeness” (Wang, Cooke, and Huang 2014, 135).
In its common usage, “resilience” describes the ability to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed. In ecology, the term “resilience” describes the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state (Applegath et al. 2010). Resilience in the natural environment is a subject of current research as humans take more interest in the impacts human activity has on our planet. In an article about the development of urban social-ecological systems, Schewenius, McPherson, and Elmqvist argue that “urban futures that are more resilient and sustainable require an integrated social-ecological system approach to urban policymaking, planning, management, and governance” (2014, 434).
Biological resilience is commonly discussed in research focused on the ability of a living organism to resist and even thrive despite changes to its natural environment. In biological studies off the coast of Italy, oceanic sediment bacteria are described by Kerfahi et al. as resilient in the face of rising levels of carbon monoxide in the ocean waters. Here, resilient is taken to mean that the bacteria are resistant to the corrosive waters (Kerfahi et al. 2014). In an environmental study by Hoggart, “coastal habitats surveyed are relatively resilient to flooding due to their species rich nature and their ability to adapt to flooding. However, specific groups of plants such as grasses are more affected by flooding and less able to recover” (Hoggart et al. 2014, 170). This suggests that adaptability and the ability to recover from flooding are important attributes of resilience.
Through this sampling of recent articles on resilient design and resiliency in computer networks, personal resiliency, and resiliency in urban, ecological, and biological systems, it is clear that the term has been widely used. From these articles, it is also clear that there are several characteristics of resiliency that are similar to the concepts of future-proofing. These characteristics include redundancy, diversity, flexibility, durability, adaptability, and local resources such as materials and labor, to anticipate systematic shocks in a changing future.