ROI: The economic case for resilient design

Hurricane Irma strikes Miami, Fla. with 100+ mph winds and a destructive storm surge on Sept. 10, 2017

The climate crisis underscores the need for a resilient and climate-adaptive built environment. Resilient design encompasses many possible scales of action, including structural approaches, nature-based approaches, as well as both facilities-based and non-facilities-based approaches.1 Architects have a critical role to play in creating a future where buildings can withstand sudden shocks and chronic stresses given that they design projects that transform the lives of their clients, building occupants, and surrounding communities. Architects can share with their clients the critical importance of incorporating resilience measures which will make the built environment more climate-adaptive, sustainable, and ultimately even increase its value.

Architects are also charged with protecting public safety. If a client’s project site or program challenges the tenets of responsible practice, the architect may choose not to compete for a project, help the client find a more appropriate site, or design a project with a smaller footprint. AIA’s Resilient Project Process Guide outlines three critical questions for architects to ask on every project:

  1. What are the hazard and climate projections for this site?
  2. What are the vulnerabilities, e.g. in what ways are people and built environment susceptible to adverse effects?
  3. What design solutions address hazard and climate projections as well as vulnerability?

The economic case for resilient design

When thinking about the economic case for resilient design it is important to acknowledge the various scales of systems that architects and building owners are working within. Taking a systems-thinking approach, there are nested scales of the hazard impacts which are interlinked—from global to federal, regional, state, local, and individual—all impacting the value chain in which building owners, businesses, and architects are acting.2 Climate-related risks are also interconnected across socioeconomic and financial spheres, and can play out over time horizons that stretch beyond traditional business planning or investment cycles.3


  1. "Climate Change Planning Handbook Installation Adaptation and Resilience Final Report." Naval Facilities Engineering Command. 2017.
  2. "Fourth National Climate Assessment." U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2018.
  3. "Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures: Guidance on Risk Management Integration and Disclosures."  TFCFD. 2020.

Literature review completed by University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab for AIA in 2022.

Establishing economic resilience

The resilience of the built environment underpins the economic resilience of all organizations and communities; establishing economic resilience can buffer both from the worst economic outcomes when disasters strike. Architects can assist their clients in increasing the resilience of their built environment by helping them understand their vulnerabilities to shocks and stresses. This includes helping them increase their ability to avoid the shock, withstand the shock, or recover from the shock quickly.

Key establishing economic resilience talking points:

  • Establishing economic resilience, whether in a local business or a regional economy, requires the ability to anticipate risk, evaluate how that risk can impact key economic assets, and build responsive adaptive capacity. Communities can develop goals, strategies, and actions to mitigate the effects of economic incidents and support long-term recovery efforts, including: identifying and mitigating persistent economic challenges or deficiencies, preparing for disruptions by monitoring early-warnings, establishing mechanisms that create flexibility, promoting positive economic visions for the region.1
  • Regional economic prosperity is linked to an area’s ability to prevent, withstand, and quickly recover from shocks its economic base. Many definitions of economic resilience limit its focus on the ability to quickly recover from a disruption. However, in the context of economic development, economic resilience becomes inclusive of three primary attributes: the ability to avoid the shock altogether, withstand the shock, or recover from it quickly.2


  1. U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. 2022.
  2. "Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) Content Guidelines: Recommendations For Creating An Impactful CEDS." U.S. Economic Development Administration. 2020.

Image credits

Hurricane Irma strikes Miami, Fla. with 100+ mph winds and a destructive storm surge on Sept. 10, 2017

Warren Faidley via Getty Images