The role of architects in climate change adaptation and urban resilience

December 27, 2018 | By: ARCH. SHEILA CONEJOS, PHD (first published in The Manila Times)

IN support of the United Architects of the Philippine (UAP) advocacy campaign in promoting and protecting the architectural profession, I am sharing some insights on how architects can contribute in creating a sustainable and resilient built environment for the benefit of society and Mother Earth. As the global population living in cities will increase to 66 percent by 2050, it is predicted that rapid urbanization, overcrowding and other related urban problems would worsen. With these pressing challenges, coupled with climate chage issues, sustainability and resilience have become cutting edge in design practices. Architects have an important role in responding to the complex challenges of the built environment by designing building and cities that adapt to time and the changing climate.

As architects are becoming concerned in creating green, climate-friendly, energy-efficient and healthy buildings, a multidisciplinary collaboration among industry practitioners has emerged, along with government and private-sector engagements. Adapting to, maintaining and sustaining the environment will involve architects who are practicing as urban designers and planners, urban conservators and heritage managers, forensic architects and facility managers, building officials and managers, quantity surveyors and building scientists. With the merging of architecture, urban planning and building science, here are some sustainability tools I’ve developed to help assess a building’s performance and sustainability right at the design stage to mitigate environmental effects before its construction and operations take place. Building and doing it right the first time is the most economically, environmentally and socially sustainable approach in ensuring that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 11 is met: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”


The greenest buildings are the ones already built, and buildings that are built to last can easily adapt to change. The adaptability of buildings is a key lifecycle consideration and important strategy for the sustainable design and construction of buildings. New and redeveloped cities, historic or not, need to adapt through time for the benefit of future generations. Postponing the demolition of a building while increasing its useful life through adaptive reuse is an outstanding substitute to new construction in terms of delivering greater sustainability of the built environment.

This brings forth the Design for Future Adaptive Reuse (DFAR), which is a design concept that anticipates the future changes of the building to prolong its useful life before reaching obsolescence, thereby creating sustainable, resilient and flexible buildings of the future. Through this concept, the adaptSTAR model was developed as a design decision tool that ensures new designs are optimized for future adaptivity before they are constructed, leading to better social value and a more sustainable performance during a building’s entire life cycle. This tool is supplemental to the existing sustainability tools that still focus on new developments and existing building operation and maintenance.


The investment in building maintenance represents almost half of the total turnover of the construction industry and such a reduction of resources has a direct effect on a nation’s economy. The lack of maintainability considerations during the design and construction stages lead to building defects, which accounts to billions of dollars in expenditures throughout the building’s life cycle. More so, the potentially unsafe conditions of buildings can be more detrimental to the lives and health of users and may even jeopardize public safety and surrounding properties if they remain unaddressed.

As a sustainability indicator, maintainability refers to the ability to achieve optimum performance throughout the lifespan of a facility within the minimum life cycle cost. Improving the efficiency of the entire construction industry with green maintainability, from design and construction to maintenance, is necessary for the longevity and sustainable performance of buildings. Green maintainability considers the maximum performance, resource and energy efficiency of a building, while minimizing the total life cycle cost, embodied energy, environmental impact and consumption of matter/energy throughout its life cycle, right at the outset.

Due to the lack of maintainability considerations for green technologies, the development of the Green Façade Maintainability Assessor was developed as a stakeholder-based design decision sustainability tool to assess the performance of commonly applied green facade features (i.e., PV/BIPV, VGS, LED media walls, automatic blinds/louvres, high-performance glazing and nanofacade coating).


The creation of green buildings will have its sustainability returns in five to 10 years while there is so much potential in retrofitting and reusing existing buildings in contributing to sustainable development. As cities evolve, urban planning solutions are necessary to transform and upgrade their existing conditions to address the sustainable development goals indicator. The Low Carbon Urban Regeneration calculator was developed as another sustainability tool to assess the regeneration potential of an existing city while proposing stakeholder-based low carbon urban design and co-living approaches.

Indeed, ensuring the sustainability and adaptive capacity and resilience of buildings and cities is a very urgent task. Sustainable development, building adaptation and the maintainability of buildings/infrastructure would be the policy direction for the built environment to withstand the effects of climate change and strengthen urban resilience. To reiterate, architects play an important part in making building and cities evolve through time, age gracefully and sustainable for the future generations. For your building and development plans, get an architect.


The writer is an urbanist, forensic architect and sustainability researcher based in Singapore. She is the co-author of Design for Maintainability book (World Scientific Publishing, 2018) and a chapter of Low Carbon Urban Design (Springer, 2017), and has published in international referred journals related to building and urban sustainability. She managed her own consultancy firm in the Philippines prior to joining the academe and research sector in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Recently, she founded the adaptSTAR Lab to support her advocacy in creating sustainable, adaptable, healthy and resilient cities.

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