Events have a way of disrupting the best-laid plans. Take the recent national election. While the candidates and political parties concentrated on their respective platforms and argued about each other’s agendas, they forgot to address the growing concern of responsible growth management and the positive role it has played as a driver of the economic recovery. Yet in time-honored tradition, there was an October surprise: Superstorm Sandy’s fury and indiscriminate destruction snapped up airtime, upending the debate and forcing all of us to refocus our attention on what has emerged as one of the greatest challenges of the decade.

AIA members, even those seriously affected by the storm, joined with their neighbors to respond to Sandy and to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster assessment. The greater task, however, lies ahead: resisting the call to simply restore what was destroyed, or to pursue the seemingly more attractive alternative of expensive technological fixes. Neither will serve present or future generations. In the case of rebuilding the homes, businesses, and infrastructure that have been lost or damaged, returning to business-as-usual is not an option. One-hundred-year storms are striking with greater frequency, and more of us are in harm’s way. These are facts, and facts are stubborn things that we ignore at our peril.

Entertaining the idea of an engineering quick fix introduces its own problems. Simply rebuilding using new product technologies to replace damaged structures is not the answer. Instead, architects must lead a broader discussion to develop patterns of habitation that are more resilient to natural and manmade disasters. This means the kind of comprehensive, integrative approach that distinguishes design thinking.

We cannot and should not relocate entire populations to areas less prone to disaster. It’s neither feasible nor ethical. But we can and should work together as leaders to develop strategies that take a holistic approach to living and coping with natural events, rather than struggling against them.

Making the case for design in the face of a growing population and increasing incidences of natural disasters is an agenda that demands bold action. Working with communities, state, and national officials, as well as other members of the design and construction industry, architects have an opportunity to lead future planning and action in a better direction.

Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 President