”The greenest building is the one that is already built.”
These are words from American architect Carl Elefante, describing how architects who want to build green should be aware that green buildings ought to last more than a lifetime. In other words, Elefante is describing what the world of architecture has been aiming for over the last handful of years: resilient design or to put it simply “resilience”.
Resilience is the idea of making architecture last the test of time, so that buildings can withstand nature’s wild turns as well as adapting to new surroundings as well as the different demands and behavioural patterns among the people using the architecture. In other words, resilient architecture is flexible architecture.
The Danish architectural studio Gehl Architects is known for creating cohesion and urban energy across the world through resilient and adaptable architectural solutions. With large-scale projects in some of the world’s biggest metropolitan areas, including New York and São Paulo, Gehl Architects is very aware of the requirement for their solutions to adapt.
“Local, cultural adaptability is crucial for all of our projects. We work very internationally, and every city holds distinctive qualities and has distinctive organisational and financial abilities. Different cities have different possibilities to go from vision and strategy to action and implementation. This means we rarely can make a “one size fits all” solution when it concerns cities, even though a lot of our know-how can be shared as best or next practice”, says Helle Søholt, Founding Partner and CEO of Gehl Architects.
According to her, Gehl Architects works just as much with physical solutions as with behavioural change and culture, and to her, resilient design must enable humans, and not just systems and infrastructure, to absorb adaptability.
“We put a lot of work into developing our processes based on collaboration with our customers, so that in the widest possible sense we adapt to local needs and opportunities, while at the same time we develop a strategic long-term way of thinking that is essential in order to incorporate resilience”, says Søholt.
Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter is another Danish architectural firm that seeks to make its solutions as adaptable and resilient as possible. Founder and Creative Director Dorte Mandrup knows a lot about the challenges that can arise in connection with making architecture long-lasting.
“During all the processes involved in a project, there are a lot of users interests involved, so it is crucial to be aware that the present needs may not necessarily be the same as the needs of the future”, says Mandrup.
Mandrup’s architectural practice works with open and adaptable programmes to ensure that a building’s functionality is not assigned to only one type of usage. According to Mandrup, her team works more with spatial typologies than bespoke solutions.
“We believe that buildings must give something back to the common space, and in this way create a special place. To make the public space attractive, it must be considered as long-lasting”, says Dorte Mandrup.
According to Helle Søholt from Gehl Architects, time is the single biggest challenge, when creating resilient architecture and solutions.
“Long-lasting solutions demand long-term planning, which again calls for governments or municipalities to make decisions that reach beyond their own election period. In addition, knowledge about social resilience, and not just about environmental and economic resilience, is very important”, ends Helle Søholt.
In this way, Søholt rounded off where Carl Elefante’s quote began. To make resilient solutions, architects and decision-makers must reach beyond their own time and build architecture that lasts way into the future.