William Stewart

Early last fall, nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy tore through parts of the East Coast, Toronto’s SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building broke ground on a house they designed for the Designing Recovery awards program, sponsored by the AIA, Architecture for Humanity, Dow Building Solutions, Make It Right, and the St. Bernard Project [see “Designing Recovery.”].

When construction begins this summer, the citizens of Rockaway, N.Y., will see residential design that responds to the challenge of climate change. For the AIA and its allies who have partnered in this historic undertaking—the first in a planned series of such projects following the competition’s completion earlier this year—this groundbreaking is the next logical step in thinking about residential design.

The profession’s growing commitment to sustainable residential design has also been carried forward by such initiatives as the AIA/HUD Secretary’s Housing & Community Design Awards program, which specifically identified energy conservation as a criterion of design excellence. Confronted by the growing instances of major natural disasters, beginning with Hurricane Katrina, our understanding of sustainability has now expanded to include resilience. And with it has come greater appreciation of the key role of residential design in shaping communities.

This new understanding sees residential architecture as a creative way to negotiate habitation and nature. How we create shelter has a ripple effect on everything from our daily lives to the health of the ecosystem in which we live.

Incentivizing every citizen to contribute to community resilience efforts isn’t about asking them to trade individual property rights for the rights of a community to ensure its continued viability. Rather, it’s about protecting a home’s value by making it a resilient place where homeowners’ lives are less likely to be disrupted and communities more resilient in the face of the increasing instances of violent weather.

With the support of the AIA and its partners, what is happening in Rockaway will hopefully not stay in Rockaway. Projects like the Resilient House promise to revolutionize home building as architects respond creatively and compassionately to those who are picking up the pieces of shattered lives.

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA
2014 President