Urban resilience - Sara Wilkinson outlines the important questions surveyors need to ask themselves and their clients to ensure buildings are protected.
Resilience is a complex concept, with multiple attributes and levels of interpretation. However, we can get a better understanding of it by asking ourselves the following five questions.
Who determines what is desirable for an urban system or building? Whose resilience is prioritised, and who is included or excluded?
- What should the system or building be resilient against? What networks or sectors are included in the urban system, and is the focus on generic resilience or resilience to a specific threat?
- When – is the focus on rapid or on slow-onset disturbances; on short-term or long-term resilience; and on the resilience of existing generations or future ones?
- Where are the boundaries of the urban system? Is the resilience of some areas prioritised over that of others, and does building resilience in some areas affect others?
- Why is there a need for resilience? Is the focus on the intended outcome, or on the policies and strategies used to achieve this?
These questions are a good framework to inform decision-making and professional advice. A built environment’s physical, institutional, economic and social capability to keep adapting to existing and emergent threats means the focus is on coping with dynamic changes, so we must keep asking these questions throughout a building’s lifecycle. Typically, there are no right, or easy, answers, but it is imperative that we understand and debate these issues as we endeavour to develop resilient cities and buildings.
Advice to clients
Building surveyors’ skills lie in numeracy, communication and problem-solving, and we also have a deep understanding and knowledge of building technology, pathology and management, to name a few qualities.
We can advise clients throughout the whole property lifecycle on matters relating to adaptation, repair and maintenance, and risk, at building and portfolio level. Importantly, at key stages in the lifecycle, we advise clients in respect of the numerous ways buildings could, and should, be built or adapted to be resilient.
Public clients value advice on improving amenity for the community, and this may be of greater value than the actual capital expenditure. Commercial clients, on the other hand, want advice to add economic value and minimise risk and loss throughout the building lifecycle.
Understanding the value of resilience sits well with our professional knowledge base and skill set as building surveyors. Being able to comprehend, identify and communicate the options for a particular building in terms of adaptation for resilience, and to consider both initial costs and the ongoing long-term maintenance and lifecycle costs of potential resilience measures, are both skills we possess.
There is a major role for building surveyors in property management and advising clients about existing buildings, to ensure that measures to provide greater resilience to future events are considered during retrofitting. We can also advise clients that inaction could lead to lower property values and higher maintenance and repair costs.
Resilience is an issue that clients will need to take into account to protect people and investments. Building surveyors have a key role in this process.
We need a long-term view and a broad perspective when advising clients. For example, we must look at refurbishments specified to withstand future weather events, particularly rainfall flooding.
There will be times when it is not immediately commercially viable to invest in resilience measures for a building, and professionals need the relevant knowledge, skills and understanding of risk assessment and probability to advise clients when this is the case, and how long they might defer action.
We have to be proactive. With our deep understanding of technical, legal and planning issues relating to property as well as building pathology and value, we are in a strong position to guide and advise on resilience.
Sara Wilkinson is Associate Professor, School of Built Environment at the University of Technology Sydney.
Read this full article, which also covered eight resilience issues, in RICS Building Surveying Journal July/August 2018.
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