Australia New Zealand, Buildings and Places, Melbourne, Resiliency

Upon visiting Melbourne in 1885, British journalist George Augustus Sala was so taken by the city’s rapid development that he coined the phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’.

Melbourne really does have it all — including, as we saw last month, earthquakes.

The COVID-19 pandemic may continue to dominate headlines, but natural events like last month’s 5.9 magnitude quake that shook the city have been no less frequent, and no less devastating, over the past year.

Additionally, we’ve seen wildfires decimate communities in California and Spain’s Andalusia region. We’ve watched summer flooding destroy parts of Germany, Austria and Belgium, and submerge subway systems in New York and in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. And in Haiti, mammoth quakes have once again caused widespread devastation.

Collectively, these events reinforce the growing need to think of resilience in much broader terms; they are both a timely wake-up call to ensure our existing and new buildings have appropriate levels of resilience, and an opportunity to demonstrate the commercial benefits of doing so.

The principles of resilience encourage an integrated consideration of climate scenarios, sustainability and design excellence, and provide insights into how to manage through emergency situations in a way that can enhance economic, environmental and social outcomes.

Resilient design requires a different approach based around four questions:

  1. What critical flows is this asset dependent on? (e.g., water, power, information, workforce)
  2. What hazards endanger those flows and assets? (e.g., natural, cyber or manmade)
  3. What plans and countermeasures are in place to reduce the risks and mitigate the impacts of those hazards?
  4. What steps can be taken to increase the asset’s ability to recover faster and be more resilient?

In Australia, we’ve recently applied the above four questions to the operations and design strategies of a commercial tower and university campus.

Our review identified a range of exposure findings related to water security, critical infrastructure failure, direct attack (physical or cyber), geological hazards, economic crisis and regional conflict. The stresses were identified and the range of interdependent assets and services during a shock event relating to digital, energy, social, transport and water infrastructure were considered as we mitigated risks through our design approach and operational responses.  

For landlords or developers, resilient buildings attract sales and tenants, enhance property values and dramatically improve an asset’s ability to be adapted or modified to accommodate changing needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a prominent case-in-point: we now have a heightened awareness of the importance of biosecurity in buildings and have accelerated the integration of resilient design approaches. Health facilities are now being designed to better respond to isolation and social distancing requirements, while encouraging greater use of natural ventilation and outdoor spaces.

Owners of other asset types can leverage lessons learned in the context of the pandemic, as well as others relating to seismic safety (where in California venues like the LA Clippers’ Intuit Dome and the Inland Empire Emergency Operations Centre are designed to meet, and even exceed, respective code requirements). The result? More resilient assets that can remain operational and minimize risk to occupants in the event of future disease outbreaks or natural events.

From the pandemic to last month’s earthquake in Melbourne, recent events have only reinforced the importance of building with resilience in mind. It’s an approach that requires planning, multidisciplinary expertise, integrated design, and a long-term view that, if embraced, will ensure our global cities, including ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, continue to grow and thrive, regardless of what might shake them.

Marc Colella

Originally published Oct 24, 2021

Author: Marc Colella

Marc Colella is global building and systems engineering lead at AECOM. He is based out of Melbourne, Australia.