New York embraces resilience to climate change through building design

New York embraces resilience to climate change through building design

By Gracie Pearsall

New York is a financial and cultural hub, but its coastal location makes it exposed to the effects of climate change. After the deadly Hurricane Sandy, the city recognised climate change as a threat to its health, welfare, and economy. City officials have put in place an ambitious plan to to build a “Climate Ready” New York. To achieve this, the private sector and the city government have embraced resilient design, which incorporates climate data and the principles of disaster risk reduction into architecture and planning.

Real estate resilience

The stakes are high for property owners in New York. With ever-rising property values, the real estate industry has realised that protecting their investments from climate risk makes economic sense. This has driven a trend toward resilient architecture for many construction projects in Manhattan.

One development that exemplifies this trend is The American Copper Buildings, designed by the company JDS. The two-tower complex on the East River will have all the typical features of luxury apartments, but unlike most Manhattan skyscrapers, the American Copper Buildings will include several climate adaptation measures.

JDS began planning the complex in 2012 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. After touring the property in a canoe because of the severe flooding, Simon Koster, a principal at JDS wondered, “How can we make sure that if we lived here, we will not be facing that scenario?”[1]

Designers and architects answered Koster’s question with innovations to ensure residents are prepared for the changing climate. JDS’ priority was to provide residents with electricity for as long as possible in the case of a citywide outage. The developers wanted tenants to be able to last a week in their apartments if the area flooded.

To that end, the top floor is not reserved for penthouses, but rather houses natural-gas generators. These generators will be used during outages to keep elevators running and the lights on. Each apartment is also equipped with two outlets connected to the generators so that residents can keep their refrigerators running and have an extra outlet to charge their smartphones, during an outage.

In an effort to minimise flooding damage, JDS installed the electrical equipment, heating, and ventilation systems on the first floor rather than in the basement. The first floor, which is located seven meters off the street, raises the equipment out of reach of the flooding predicted to accompany climate change. In addition, the buildings incorporate extensive flood-resistant materials. JDS included outdoor-rated elements, such as steel pillars and tiling, indoors to avoid water damage. The entrance halls are made of open-side paneling that dries quickly and does not sustain water damage. Even the decorative copper plating on the outside of the building does not start until twenty feet above the ground.

Resilience in city building guidelines

In the face of flooding, New York City’s building guidelines are co-evolving with the real estate industry and honing in on resilient design. As of 2014, following Hurricane Sandy, New York requires all mechanical equipment to be installed on floors one or two feet above the highest expected flood level. In late April 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio released the preliminary Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, which instituted citywide guidelines on how to integrate resiliency into the planning, design, construction, and renovation of city facilities. A national first, these guidelines are a crucial step in incorporating climate change resilience into infrastructure.

These forward-thinking guidelines mirror the adaptations in the private sector. The guidelines rely on historic climate data and specific regional projections on the impacts of climate change, to provide step-by-step instructions on how to use this data to design more resilient facilities. The guidelines include instructions on how to limit the Urban Heat Island effect, protect facilities against extreme heat, address urban flooding from extreme precipitation, minimise damage from sea level rise, and more.

Cover photo by Phillip Henzler/Unsplash (Public Domain)

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