Urban Resilience: Designing Hope for the Future of Cities

Urban areas across the globe have always been in a state of pressure and flux, but probably never more so than now. Over 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, a figure due to rise to 80% by 2050, and these areas need to ensure safety and stability for their inhabitants. With climate change, increased human traffic, and sudden acute events, it’s more important than ever to explore the importance of urban resilience — and how building owners and designers can include urban resilience as they create and care for the built environment.

Why do we need Urban Resilience?

As well as social and economic concerns in cities, from employment and public transportation systems to policing and access to clean water, urban resilience looks at the physical state of these busy spaces. Currently, cities not only have to consider the effects of increasing pollution and acid rain — an issue already affecting building façades for well over a century — but of climate change and its attendant risks: floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires and drought. Each of these can attack building structures and façades both in the long term (through gradual weakening of the building’s material) and in sudden stress points (major collapse in an extreme weather event).

Likewise, humans have a more direct impact on the built environment than before, in vibrations and build-up from transport, plus heavier usage than the original architects may have foreseen — as in many older UK public buildings or facilities. There are also those much rarer events like terrorism or rioting; all of which can have the same long- and short-term effects on local buildings.

Urban resilience is a vital strategy examining the past, present and future of cities, while trying to develop and incorporate smart design to reduce risks and adapt the buildings according to the external forces they can experience. Urban resilience means the city and its population can survive, change, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they may encounter, and that its communities can actually become stronger, with support from good city investment, design, planning and care.

The editors of Building Urban Resilience: Principles, Tools, and Practice, say, ‘Building resilience in cities relies on investment decisions that prioritise spending on activities that offer alternatives, which perform well in different scenarios. Such decisions need to take into account future risks and uncertainties.’ They continue, ‘Because risk can never be fully eliminated, disaster planning is crucial.’


How can Building Transformation help with Urban Resilience?

The external envelope of any building often holds its greatest resilience potential. From solar panels to moveable shades, from living green walls and better water usage to stronger materials, the shell can offer enormous possibility to an urban environment.  While the external skin of the building has an important function as an environmental separator between the outside elements and interior conditions, it’s particularly susceptible to changes — after all, these façades are in direct contact with the elements that can deteriorate a building.

Urban resilience is about the health, safety and well-being of the occupants, and the surrounding society and communities, and that includes optimising the condition of a building for the future. But that building condition cannot be optimised if someone isn’t caring for that vital shell. Protecting and caring for the building’s envelope means the resilience of the building is enhanced too — it simply doesn’t make any sense to invest in one aspect of a resilience strategy if in times of stress, the building is not going to be at its highest standard of performance. All these adaptable, important buildings need to be reliable, no matter what the acute event or the gradual pressures. Every part of the building envelope, from simply functional to extra-purpose, needs to be cared for and maintained to its highest standard.

It sometimes seems like a small piece of the puzzle, but façade care is actually key to the integrity of the building. In a time of changing conditions and the need for reliable, changeable structures, building façade care has never been so important.