The Fundamentals of Building Resilience

The Fundamentals of Building Resilience

By Sofia Siegel

We live in a changing world. The planet, and our communities, continue to fundamentally change as temperatures rise and the atmosphere contains higher concentrations of greenhouse gases.  Shifting weather patterns present new challenges, and vulnerable populations become increasingly more at risk as additional challenges pop up faster than we can come up with individual solutions. How can we respond to the positive feedback loop of new challenges? How can we adapt for the future, and protect ourselves now?

Heather Joy Rosenberg tackles these hard questions, through the lens of the built environment and community building, in her program Building Resilience-LA (BR-LA), and in the capacity-building workshops she is leading. The workshops set out to train: Building Owners, managers and operators; architects, engineers and sustainability professionals; risk managers and emergency management professionals; community organizers and public health professionals, and anyone else seeking to learn how to create more resilient buildings and organizations.

Resilience is the capacity to survive and thrive in the face of stressors and shocks. Those ongoing stressors and inevitable shocks will look different across communities and classes, and different people will find varying degrees of difficulty in responding to the same situations, depending on their resources, and stressors, they have at the same time. Stressors in Los Angeles may be traffic, or pollution induced asthma, or aging / decaying infrastructure (pipes, roads, etc.) that cause interruption to daily life. Shocks in Los Angeles would include larger disasters (earthquake, fire, flood, terrorism, etc.). A resilient building or organization in the LA is one with contingency plans in place for those potential shocks, and mitigating strategies for stressors in the meantime.

On July 18th, Rosenberg lead a full day training on the fundamentals of resilience, and how to best integrate those fundamentals into our professional planning to create physical, social and economic resilience. There were approximately 15 attendees from varying professional backgrounds, but all attendees work in Southern California and were anxious to learn how to implement the tenets of resilience into their own work.

“Responding to change is an opportunity for a wide range of system improvements.” – Alex Wilson

Although this was a Fundamentals Workshop, and built on basic familiarity with the concepts of resilience, when we broke out into groups the attendees dove deep, and used their diverse backgrounds to come up with incredible solutions to many complicated and interrelated facets that compound in cases of emergency and trauma.

This Fundamentals Workshop will be held again in the fall, and I would encourage any who can attend, do so. This workshop provided guidance on being a leader on internal resilience; learning ways to be a better leader empowers us to be better managers and team members, and more engaged citizens in our personal lives. With the tools to make better-informed internal decisions, tackling multiple problems at once, we broaden our worldview and sharpen our thinking. A Class A Office Building serves the employees and stakeholders of that building, but also serves a role in the community at large. How is the ground level courtyard treated? Is it an inviting community space? How do public events transform the community and build relationships? How does a strong, engaged community respond to a natural disaster, versus one that is isolated or unfamiliar with their neighbors? Who gets left out of the conversation when we fend for ourselves, and how do we bear those costs (economic and social) when vulnerable populations cannot fend for themselves?


The Resilient Design Principles (excerpt)
  • Resilience transcends scales
  • Resilient systems provide for basic human needs
  • Diverse and redundant systems are inherently more resilient.
  • Simple, passive and flexible systems are more resilient
  • Durability strengthens resilience
  • Locally available, renewable or reclaimed resources are more resilient
  • Resilience anticipates interruptions and a dynamic future
  • Find and promote resilience in nature
  • Social equity and community contribute to resilience
  • Resilience is not absolute

Leadership in the Green Building space positions us to best move our clients and own firms from the inside, toward better and best practices. Resilience planning allows us to prepare for the complex problems we will surely face, while making our spaces better in the meantime. Learn more by downloading the Building Resilience-LA: Primer for Facilities, and signing up for an upcoming workshop.