225 Wyman, Waltham, Massachusetts
225 Wyman, Waltham, Massachusetts

A Framework for Fostering Climate Resilience and Preparedness in the Built Environment

According to a February 2022 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world faces unprecedented threats to urban centers, coastlines, and farmlands in the coming decades if we do not take drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Amid these dire projections for the latter half of this century, it can be easy to overlook the fact that many people are experiencing adverse effects of the climate crisis today.

Based on data from our recently published U.S. Climate Action Survey 2022, extreme weather events have personally impacted 87% of U.S. residents since 2019 — and as a result of these extreme weather events, 62% of U.S. adults have experienced disruptions to their daily lives, and 58% have experienced disruptions in infrastructure. Yet across all segments we explored the data through, less than a third of respondents think their community has a plan to address climate change, and only 18% of respondents feel their communities are built to withstand climate change.

We have an opportunity to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change with holistic strategies that prioritize design resilience.

Within the U.S. Climate Action Survey 2022, we introduce a new roadmap for climate action through design that is anchored by four pillars: environment, economy, experience, and equity. Each of these pillars serves an important role in the greater framework, with the ultimate goal of inciting positive action and creating preparedness in the built environment.

Environmental preparedness

To achieve environmental preparedness as an industry, we must aggressively pursue strategies to minimize the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by the built environment. At the same time, we must invest in adaptation strategies for the future, to reduce the impacts of climate change on our built environment.

An exterior of an all-electric office building.
Adobe North Tower, San Jose, California — Delivering an all-electric building gives the client more control over their carbon footprint. Adobe’s all-electric building enables the client to pull energy from grid at times when the mix is cleaner and ensure that battery storage or other on-site energy solutions will be easy to incorporate in the future.

Economic preparedness

To achieve economic preparedness, we must address the unique interplay between our buildings and cities and the fragile and aging infrastructure systems across the country. Additionally, the design industry must prepare to address unique concerns across the residential sector, particularly regarding the insurability and long-term value of property in the face of extreme weather events.

A rendering of an aging mall converted into office space.
One Westside, Los Angeles — Hudson Pacific Properties and Macerich. In some cases, developers are repositioning aging malls to support entirely new uses. For example, adaptive reuse transforms Los Angeles’ Westside Pavilion shopping center into 600,000 square feet of Class A creative office space.

Economic preparedness

To achieve economic preparedness, we must address the unique interplay between our buildings and cities and the fragile and aging infrastructure systems across the country. Additionally, the design industry must prepare to address unique concerns across the residential sector, particularly regarding the insurability and long-term value of property in the face of extreme weather events.

Students gather in an outdoor space at a university residence hall.
CSULB Parkside North Residence Hall and Housing Administration Building, Long Beach, California — Two ambitious projects establish a culture of sustainability for the campus, as they seek to achieve Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification. Gensler integrated sustainable design strategies such as the use of reclaimed water, solar panels, drought-resistant plants, natural light and ventilation, chemical-free construction materials, and outdoor gathering spaces — with a focus on student health and well-being.

Experiential preparedness

As we navigate the challenges of climate change, we must take a holistic approach to understanding the unique experiences of our clients and communities while promoting cultural resilience and preparedness. In turn, this understanding will promote collective action that improves quality of life, human health, and social connection. 

A rendering for a master plan development in Detroit.
Infill on the Cut, Detroit — This development will create a new gateway to downtown that is inclusive, welcoming, and equitably prosperous. With neighborhood-serving amenities around dynamic public space, the master plan provides access to the open-space network that connects Downtown to the Riverfront.

This framework directly aligns with the Gensler Cities Climate Challenge (GC3) initiative, our pledge to eliminate all net carbon emissions associated with our work within a decade. As designers, we have a unique opportunity and obligation to create preparedness in the built environment. Through these strategies, we can work with our clients and communities to create optimism for a resilient future.

For more information about fostering preparedness in the built environment, download the U.S. Climate Action Survey here.

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Rives Taylor
Rives co-directs Gensler’s global Design Resilience practice focused on sustainable design, and is the global Resilience lead for the Gensler Research Institute. He is a principal and a recognized global expert in resilient, high-performance, and sustainable design, and has served as a faculty member at Rice University and the University of Houston for 30 years. Rives is based in Houston. Contact him at .
Anita Grabowska
Anita is a research strategist for the Gensler Research Institute. She has a strong background in research methodologies and specializes in research within workplace and resilience research. Contact her at .