While global, severe weather events used to be an occasional occurrence, we now understand their increasing frequency to be evidence of climate change. We’re facing numerous shocks and stressors to our environment to which we must quickly adapt and respond.
In New York City, we’re especially concerned with climatic shocks like hurricanes and floods, and stressors such as rising sea levels and extreme high temperatures. Equally important socio-economic stressors are also on the rise and, with globalization, have an increasingly wider impact here and abroad. If not addressed accordingly, we can expect overpopulation, economic strain and deteriorating infrastructure to be among the stressors we see in the near future.
Though the conversation around resilience often takes place among politicians, government agencies, and architects on a larger scale, interior designers are also in a unique position to create and influence the ways in which we prepare for and respond to these changes as a society. Interior spaces are critical – they are spaces where people work, commune, and thrive. They foster productivity, commerce, and trade.
Resilient design is no longer an idea to be explored – it’s an essential conversation for interior designers to have with landlords, brokers, and tenants alike to create spaces that go beyond their most basic stated functions to ensure total human wellness, including physical safety and mental health, well into the future.
To better understand the impacts and the opportunities we might have in corporate interior design to guide our clients to make better resilient decisions, I approached Viacom, a long-standing client with headquarters in New York City, to review their space and evaluate their design through a lens of economic, environmental, and social implications as related to resilience.
While not part of their decision making at the time, Viacom ultimately selected a site that offers protection from flooding. They chose a location where their presence would contribute to economic revitalization of the area; it’s also highly visible with tons of access to local entertainment and cuisine, important for employees and visitors alike.
Within the building, Viacom put measures in place to lower their lighting levels during times of extreme heat or high power usage, and also have backup generators and sites in case of a loss of power. They also implemented sustainable practices: to reduce the dependence on cars and encourage public transportation, there is bike storage on-site but no car-parking available. The building’s roof is designed as a shady area of refuge, reduces rainwater runoff, and features gardens for food to be grown on-site. The building is certified LEED Gold and 13 floors (and counting) have been certified either LEED silver or gold.
In response to their unique location at the “Crossroads of the World,” they have established extreme situation preparedness with emergency protocols, go-bags, food, and provisions on-site. To support employee mental health and wellness, they have diversity support programs, fitness amenities, mother/wellness rooms throughout, and an on-site nutritionist. They also participate with local charities.
Viacom has already taken many significant steps forward in designing their space for resilience, and with future projects they will continue to make using resilient methodologies a priority.
Addressing climate change and the dramatically changing socio-economic landscape is a new challenge for which we have no precursor, but to make it less daunting, especially for designers, Perkins+Will has pioneered a comprehensive process for incorporating resilience into new building design and planning with the RELi Resiliency Action List. With 8 categories of criteria ranging from hazard preparedness (readiness) to applied creativity, the action list is designed for resilience planning at multiple scales and addresses a variety of unique issues. It is the most comprehensive reference guide and certification available anywhere for socially and environmentally responsible design (from http://c3livingdesign.org/?page_id=5110), and has now been adopted by the USGBC as a new system of evaluation and affirmation of resilient design.
As interior designers looking to bring resilience to the forefront of our design approach, we might start by asking ourselves the following questions:
- What are the most pressing environmental concerns of our clients?
- What are possible shock situations that could happen in the context of your design?
- How have shock and stressor situations affected your current designs, and what solutions have you implemented to better prepare you for future situations?
- What concerns do your clients have regarding extreme events, and what precautionary moves are companies making to mitigate the effects?
By spreading awareness of how we can be effective in making better design decisions around resilience, we are working towards a better and stronger world – one that will ensure the longevity of our spaces, our cultural organizations, and continuity in our way of life.