From robustness to resiliance

May 5, 2010

In July 2007 the county of Gloucester experienced its worst floods on record with major economic and personal loss in consequence. The cost to the insurance industry was also high, insurance costs to home owners rose sharply and in several cases insurance cover was refused for the future. Now we can ask questions of the sanity of Building Developers and buyers who were attracted by the idea of using water meadows as a building site, there are generally reasons for names! However it was not just the new developments that were affected but also older buildings as illustrated. Of course those older buildings had been modernised so thy also suffered.

Now some people went back to the architecture of earlier times. Then houses were built with stone flagged floors and no damp proof course, the walls were made of stone and un-plastered. There were hooks in the oak beams of the ground floor rooms. When a flood came along the householder would us the hooks to raise their furniture above flood levels so that it was not damaged. With no plaster and no impermeable membrane under the floor the water drained away relatively quickly and while the clean up was no fun the damage was not permanent.

Now people are looking to do the same, with the addition of taking the electrical supply up to the top of the house and then dropping cables down to sockets above flood height. In earlier days they didn’t try and prevent all floods, although they did build up the banks of the river and create drainage ditches to reduce the number and impact. They did recognise that some failures were inevitable, so they focused on speedy detection and fast recovery. In other words they adopted a strategy of resilience rather than one of robustness.   

This is one of the key strategic shifts in a complexity informed era. Early detection of weak signals, fast recovery and consequently an enhanced ability to exploit the new spaces that emerge. Not only do we reduce real risk and cost if we architect for resilience, we also increase are capacity to move forwards while others struggle to recover and/or hold commissions of enquiry to determine blame and fault.

Of course nothing could preserve the good citizens of Gloucester on the 18th April 2009 when the Welsh came to visit, but that was another story.

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