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Cross-Industry Experts Discuss Live

Examining the Different Scales of Resilient Design

Resilience encompasses concerns that are local and concerns that are global. Locally, different environments face unique sets of challenges and vulnerabilities and require us to design solutions according those realities. Zooming out, there are widespread challenges and vulnerabilities that touch society and the planet as a whole, encompassing and intertwining all of these local realities. Looking at these two frameworks that guide resilient design, the central question becomes: How do we protect communities and increase their capacity for resilience while remaining in accordance with the broader goals for humanity, society and planetary systems of resilience?

This was the topic of discussion for From Local to Global: Examining the Different Scales of Resilient Design, the latest installation of our live virtual roundtable series uncovering the role of design in creating a more sustainable world. Moderated by Editor in Chief of Metropolis Magazine, Avi Rajagopal, the discussion brought together cross-industry professionals to weigh in and draw from their unique expertise to offer insight on this vital issue. Panelists for this webinar included Ala Tannir, Architect, Curator & Curatorial Research Fellow at the Heinz Architectural Center; Russell Fortmeyer, Global Sustainability Leader at Woods Bagot; and Gina Ford, Principal & Co-Founder of Agency Landscape + Planning.

Set against the backdrop of recent years' social, political and environmental turmoil—a wave of movements promoting racial, gender and environmental equity, unprecedented public health crises, and an uptick in extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change—the panel began with an important challenge to how the framework of resilience is traditionally understood.

Drawing on Broken Nature, a landmark exhibition she co-organized reconsidering humans' relationship with their environment, Ala Tannir offers a thought-provoking challenge to the way the concept of resilience is and could be understood: "In the face of disaster, resilience can sometimes be a way of naturalizing precarity, instability and violence. So, it’s important for us in the world of design, architecture, planning, and related fields to challenge what the framework of resilience actually means,” she says.

This challenge aptly describes what the panel sees as the beginnings of a positive shift in resilience practice in recent years. While resilient design is still about responding to vulnerabilities, enabling communities to bounce back and thrive after adverse events, they point to increased discussion about what landscape architects, architects, and the building community as a whole can do to address the causes of these vulnerabilities. 

"Protecting communities does not mean maintaining the status quo, and to do so would only mean to repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead, we want to move forward, progress, and build stronger and more vital communities for everyone.”

Avi Rajagopal, Editor in Chief of Metropolis Magazine

The panel continues with a discussion of this evolving understanding and practice of resilient design, how it currently plays out in the political realm, and how designers can best communicate the understanding to maximize the public benefit of their projects. Russell Fortmeyer details his experience contributing to two of the country’s leading resilience planning projects, Los Angeles' Green New Deal and Resilient Los Angeles, and what steps led to the success of these projects among policymakers and the public. "It’s important to think about resilience and resilience planning as a political choice rather than an unavoidable natural occurrence,” Fortmeyer describes. "So as designers, when we’re thinking about a project in an urban context, we have to bring strong evidence to the table to support our recommendations. And we also need to understand that resilience is not only about our local capacity to bounce back. It's about all the interconnected people and places we rely on, the ethical and environmental considerations surrounding the products and materials we specify, and then effectively bringing this intelligence to the table.”

Building on the discussion of the intersection of environmental and human health and resilience, Gina Ford introduces a unique perspective as a landscape architect who has worked in waterfront design and planning and has authored solutions to help communities recover from rising water and increased episodic flooding. "It’s critical to understand that we can no longer separate human health and environmental health. And the space where I think landscape architects are really taking charge is on the subject of tackling issues of urban inequity,” Ford says. "We all feel the effects of climate impact, but what’s become very clear in my years in the field is that the most vulnerable populations are the ones we see increasingly impacted by climate change and natural disasters. The optimist in me is excited by the investment cities are making in systemic change, but our field needs to continue to work at this intersection that is so key."

As the discussion progresses further, the panelists dive deeper into their inspirations, resources, references, and professional tools that drive their work, and they offer key insight into engaging the public and enhancing understanding of the importance of resilience planning. From Local to Global: Examining the Different Scales of Resilient Design is the second in our series of live webinars featuring esteemed industry professionals who share new insights into the ways that design can enhance sustainability. 


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