By Elizabeth Rudd, FutureNous
The combination of an increasing global population and severe weather means a more property damage as more people live in harm’s way. In efforts to reduce the economic and social impacts caused by natural disasters, architects are specialising in building and retrofitting infrastructure and housing to withstand or minimise the damage caused by extreme weather events.
What is changing?
Severe weather, including floods, fires, earthquakes and major storms cause an increasing amount of damage to housing and public infrastructure each year. AON’s (a large global insurer) Impact Forecasting division, specialises in forecasting and tracking weather related events. In the United States, there were 11 weather related disasters with over $1 billion is damages in 2012, in 2011 there were 14 such disasters. 295 natural peril events occurred worldwide in 2012 (compared to 257 in 2011), causing total economic losses of $200 billion. Records show that 2012 ended as the eighth warmest year in world history since global land and ocean temperature records began in 1880.
The United Nations (UN) estimates economic losses from disasters since 2000 to be close to $2.5 trillion USD and warns economic losses from floods, earthquakes and drought will continue to escalate unless action is taken to reduce exposure to disaster risks. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns all nations will be vulnerable to expected increases in heat waves, more intense rains and floods and a probable rise in the intensity of droughts. The UN considers extreme weather to be an increasing trend.
Architects and the building and construction industry have an opportunity to assist communities to reduce their exposure to these risks. This can be retrofitting existing infrastructure or building entirely new infrastructure. Need to move a beachfront town due to erosion or rising water levels, need to rebuild after an earthquake or hurricane? There are now a wide variety of specialists, including architects, able to assist. The problem is recognised as being much larger than just individuals raising their house, or building farther back from a water source, it needs to be a coordinated effort to protect everything from harms way.
Lately there is a notable increase in the number of design competitions focused on urban reconstruction to mitigate the impact of climate change. With titles like “Rebuild by Design,” “Designing Recovery,” and 3C Competition (Comprehensive Coastal Communities) the competitions tackle challenges such as how to raise the level of an entire coastal community by 8-10 feet, or design housing for storm prone areas.
Why is this important?
The insurance industry has been warning for some time of the growing cost of weather related damage. Large non government organisations have also been raising awareness. Yet little has been done to change existing infrastructure or change existing building practices without first experiencing the impact of a natural disaster.
In 2011, the US announced it would work to make the US a “weather ready” nation. If the US alone begins to reduce the risk to its population and infrastructure from weather related disasters the level of investment could be substantial.
Based on global forecasts of geographies with vulnerable populations this new and rapidly growing specialty in architecture and building could be a major opportunity.