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What Drives Resiliency?

In July, the American Institute of Architects, with support from Owens Corning, published a study that sheds light on building resiliency.


The report, “Resiliency in the Built Environment,” reveals that architects and contractors think very differently about resiliency. A gap in perspectives exists. And so, it stands to reason, AWCI members have an opportunity to influence players in the construction supply chain. Let’s see how.

Are the Building Codes Sufficient?

What is resiliency? It’s a broad concept that can include not only how well a building holds up over time and how well it performs under severe conditions, but also how much bearing it has socially on the local community. In its report, the AIA focuses mostly on the first aspects of resiliency—the ability to withstand the impact of floods, storms, earthquakes, wildfires, rising sea levels, human-caused hazards and the like.


What are the key findings of the resiliency report?


One is that few projects and properties are built beyond code. Another related finding is that contractors (both general and specialty subcontractors) and “clients” (here meaning developers, owners and facility managers) together believe that building to code is sufficient to ensure a resilient structure. Here, architects disagree.


For example, 76% of surveyed contractors agreed with the statement, “If a building meets code, it is resilient enough for its location.” Eighty-five percent of developers, owners and facility managers also agreed with that statement. But only 13% of architects agreed. In other words, a minority of architects view the current building codes as being “resilient enough” for their projects.


While architects may see current building codes as insufficient, the report suggests they can try to “influence their clients” to go beyond current code requirements. They can make the argument to build with greater resiliency to developers, owners and facility managers.


Contractors can join in this push by enlisting help from engineers and consultants. Making an effective argument for greater resiliency comes down to having expertise when making the case, the report says. Among contractors, developers, owners and facility managers surveyed, 73% agreed that “engineers or consultants are better suited to assessing hazards than architects.” Only 27% of architects agreed with that statement.


While architects said they have the largest share of expertise (at 80%) on the “design of alternate energy resources” compared with contractors (at 76%) and clients (at 58%), that’s only one dimension of resiliency.


Contractors reported having resiliency expertise in more areas than architects. For example, about three-fourths of all contractors reported having greater confidence than architects in “performing building vulnerability and risk assessments,” “using hazard data and maps,” having the ability to “design strategies for climate adaptation,” having the ability to “design strategies for hazard mitigation” and “using hazard mitigation cost/benefit tools.”

Upfront Costs vs. Long-Term Investments

Another report insight involves costs. Most architects and developers said that upfront costs are important when making project design decisions and product selection. Building owners showed more evenhandedness in this area.


Three-fourths of architects noted the importance of upfront costs while only a quarter noted the same for total cost of ownership. In contrast, one-third of building owners said they put a priority on total cost of ownership versus 29% who said upfront costs are important.


The conclusion: Driving the built environment to greater resilience “will start with building owners who have long-term investments in mind,” the report says.


In summary, the number-one driver to resilience is codes and standards, the report concludes. Nearly all clients, 96%, named codes and standards as the top driver of resiliency in the built environment.


But other factors also affect decision-making. These include the reduced liability and risks that come from building more resilient structures, the increased market value of such properties and various end-of-life concerns, such as one-day demolition of a structure, the community impact and so forth.


Anyway, if you have an opportunity to make a structure more resilient, there is much you can do. Basically, you want to help clients to make the connection that “the resilience of their projects can help advance their mission and values,” the report says.

Mark L. Johnson writes for the walls and ceilings industry. He can be reached via

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