Featured Member - Allison Anderson, FAIA
Allison Anderson, FAIA, strives to create a more resilient built environment and encourages other architects to do the same.
Allison H. Anderson, FAIA, is founder and principal of unabridged Architecture. As a researcher, educator, and member of the AIA Resilience Education Working Group, she advocates for climate adaptation and resilient design. Along with her husband and professional partner, John Anderson, AIA, she seeks to develop a bright future for coastal Mississippi through collaborative practice.
In July of 2005, we had finished two projects. One was a guest house for a church retreat right on the water. The other was our own home, one block back from the beach on higher ground. They were both five weeks old when Hurricane Katrina hit. After the storm, only one of those was still standing—our house. Both buildings had been designed to meet very high environmental standards, but the guest house completely washed away. We thought we weren’t being very sustainable if the building only lasted five weeks. So, we decided to redefine our view of sustainability and that took us along the path to resilience.
After the storm, we received commissions for emergency shelters in the region. We were asked to start from scratch, to re-envision what these spaces could be. Above all, shelters need to be high-performing. They must have a blast resistant envelope and the ability to withstand 250 mph winds and maintain operations when all other services fail. Shelters take you in if you have nowhere else to go, but they don’t feel like home. In designing them, we realized that they can’t just be technically good places. They also have to really meet the community’s desires.
"Adapting to climate change can’t be done without us."
Community engagement and collaborative design are critical elements of resilience. Design has to provide greater vitality and support social infrastructure, especially when a community is at risk. Our practice strives to find ways architecture and architects can support communities. Architects are trained to consider a wide range of options, illustrate new solutions to common problems, consider the long-term consequences of action or inaction, and communicate a vision for a better world to people without a professional background. We design the framework of our cities: the buildings we live, work, and spend our lives within. Adapting to climate change can’t be done without us.
We are really the great aggregators. We can take knowledge of civil engineering, structures, landscapes, and public space and incorporate that into a project that has multiple benefits for everyone. I think it’s an important role for architects to play.
We can play this role as advocates, as community members, and as a resource for our clients. We understand the anticipated service life; we can recommend adaptation and mitigation strategies for those that hire us. We need to pull together all these ideas and have hard conversations with clients about the risks they face in the coming years and the budget it might take to address them. We are responsible for guiding that conversation from very early in the design phase.
Architects have the skills to design structures that withstand hazards, but our work goes beyond protecting health, safety, and welfare. Advancing resilience is a more ambitious goal. It’s finding ways to test and transform policies. It’s also about incorporating desired community values like reducing risk and improving economic security and environmental sustainability.
Buildings become beloved places if they’re going to last. Resilience is about innovating and making sure the buildings we design are there in 75 years and 100 years. We’re the ones who envision the future and we need to be part of it. —As told to Kathleen M. O’Donnell
Learn more from Allison by taking the AIA Resilience and Adaptation Online Series, which covers hazard mitigation, resilience and adaptation, technical design application, and design process application. For additional programs and resources, visit our resilience page.