Architecture for Climate Change |
Designing Architecture for Climate Change

Designing Architecture for Climate Change

We ask the experts how they're responding to the threat of climate change

Written by –
Jess Ng
on April 10th 2019
Born and raised in the UK, Jess is NONAGON’s resident historian turned marketer turned writer, drawn to Hong Kong by the lure of dim sum breakfasts and bustling city life. A foodie who loves to cook, food occupies 70% of her brain 90% of the time. When not eating, Jess can typically be found buried in a book or obsessing over making NONAGON’s Instagram #feedgoals.

While aesthetics, functionality and cost remain prevailing concerns for architects when dreaming up their next creation, the daunting peril of global warming has introduced a new priority into the fray – that of climate change. Indeed, in recent years, the issue of sustainability has slowly risen to the fore, but just how do architects go about designing architecture for climate change? We turned to the professionals to find out.

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Futuristic rendering of a hurricane-proof building by artist Dionisio Gonzalez

Architecture for Climate Change

As one might imagine, the ongoing battle against climate change is no easy undertaking. In designing architecture for climate change, the task requires a twofold approach, both of which have changed the priorities and nature of traditional design.

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Energy Efficiency

In the first place, we’ve seen a marked effort to reduce a building’s carbon footprint via clever energy efficient design. Given that buildings account for nearly 40% of all CO2 emissions in the US, this is a critical place to start.

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Sustainable skyscaper Bosco Verticale designed by Stefano Boeri Architetti

As noted by Alexander B. Jacobs, Principal Architect at Stephen B. Jacobs Group Architects and Planners, these efforts typically revolve around minimizing energy usage. Practically speaking, this may include higher insulation, strategic shading systems or the installation of green energy resources. “We think about the energy efficiency of the building envelope and other systems much earlier in the design process, and energy efficiency and sustainable systems, such as green roofs and green wall systems ,become part of the design itself as opposed to additional afterthoughts.”

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Sustainable home design by Vo Trong Nghia Architects

Architect Rebecca Calbert of Calbert Design Group agrees, citing the introduction of required Energy Codes as a catalyst for change. “[In the past], I was always faced with trying to convince my clients to spend money on energy efficient building materials and systems,” shares Calbert. “Now that the codes require mandatory compliance with energy codes, building owners do not have the option to cut smart choices out of the building program.”

Preparing for the Future

While efforts to mitigate the growth of climate change are imperative, the flip side involves preparing for the worse. Beyond aesthetics and functionality, durability has become key in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of environmental change. Here’s how they do it.


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Flood-proof Redshank cabin design by Lisa Shell


Thanks to climate change, rising water levels and torrential rain has dramatically increased the risk of flooding. This is especially the case in coastal areas. However, as Calbert notes, extreme rainfall coming up through storm drains means even inland locations can be in danger.

“Mitigation can include raising the existing structure on a higher foundation, meeting or exceeding a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) specific elevation to avoid flooding,” explains Calbert. “We have also installed floodgates when it is possible to isolate the house with walls and controlled access points. The floodgates are passive, discreet and once installed, maintenance free.”

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Elevated flood-proof home design by Refresh Design

“For a low cost alternative, if one has ever been to Venice and observed aqua alta (the seasonal flooding), residents and businesses use a very low-tech solution for keeping water out. [It involves] installing wooden boards which slip down the jambs of the exterior doors. Being wood, they swell in place and act as an effective barrier. They are still low enough one can step over them into the building.” – Calbert


For more on flood-proof architecture, head HERE.

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George Paul's hurricane-proof Dome House

Extreme Weather

Progressively more extreme weather is part and parcel of the climate change phenomenon. As long as global warming continues to develop as is, it seems hurricanes and storms are par for the course.

With this in mind, architects have turned to a number of hurricane-proofing methods for the home. Though most commonly found on buildings in hurricane zones, these techniques are slowly becoming more widespread. Hurricane-proof glazing, and hurricane strapping which attaches the rafter to the top plate of your wall, are just some of the measures our experts recommend.

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“For those who happen to have a Bermuda style tile roof with flat tiles, we installed a new roof but mimicked the installation technique of traditional Bermuda roofs and applied a thin slurry of concrete. This acts as a monolith and makes the roof less prone to uplift. Our roof survived a hurricane unscathed while all around us suffered damage, proving our theory, and justifying the extra step.” – Calbert


For more on hurricane-proof architecture, head HERE.

Enjoyed reading up on architecture for climate change? Check out our guide to earthquake-resistant architecture next!


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