Case Studies

Rebuild By Design

Developing disaster resilience through competition

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Rebuild By Design was started in 2013 as new type of design competition. Since then, the competition has transformed into an innovative process that places local communities and civic leaders at the heart of an interdisciplinary, creative process to generate implementable solutions that plan and prepare for a natural disaster.

The non-profit, Rebuild By Design works with teams of architects, engineers and scientists to create large-scale infrastructure systems that prepare for the changing climate. With 148 applicable teams, 10 were chosen to embark on a three-month research phase. “We told the teams that we didn’t want them to come to us with answers but with an approach,” says Amy Chester, managing director for Rebuild By Design. “We met with local mayors, departments of public works, first responders and the New York City Public Housing Authority to really get a good understanding of the different impacted typologies and the critical issues that needed to be explored and understood better.”

The next step was for the teams to choose several infrastructural approaches and sites that they wished to work on and present them to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD then chose one site for each team and the competition transitioned from the research phase to a design phase. The teams then spent the next four months in separate geographical regions working side by side with stakeholders and local governments to ensure that the project that was presented at the end of the design phase would be implementable. “Our classification of implementable meant that they had to have both local government and community support,” Chester explains.

One of the goals of Rebuild By Design is to create awareness in disaster preparation as opposed to disaster response. “What’s happening now is other regions have become very interested in learning from this model,” says Chester. “We’re working with the Boston and the San Francisco Bay area to create methods of using this model proactively instead of reactively.”

During the design phase the Rebuild By Design teams collectively worked with 535 different neighborhood organizations, 19 universities and 181 government agencies. At the culmination of the process, six teams were chosen as winners and HUD awarded $930 million to implement the first phase of the projects.

Rebuild By DesignThe members of Rebuild By Design are looking forward to attending the 2015 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo (Greenbuild). Chester says the organization the benefits and how other regions can learn from its experience. “We’d like to display how interdisciplinary approaches ensure a comprehensive look at the issues and engage local communities to generates solid results,” she says. “We hope to inspire the Greenbuild attendees to work proactively in their communities and regions. We have a challenging road ahead of us and all regions need to adapt for the future of climate uncertainty.”

For a regional venture such as Rebuild By Design, logistics, planning and interest can present obstacles prior to launching a competition of this sort. “After Hurricane Sandy people really wanted to do something to serve their communities,” says Chester. “In many ways our complicated process came together relatively easy because of the strong interest that we were able to capitalize on.”

The success of Rebuild By Design has not only been in the form of implementing new infrastructural projects. The collaboration of communities with different governments as well as architects, engineers and scientists has created a network of like-minded folks, interested in preparing for and adapting to future climate change. “We’re now able to witness all of these different people who may have worked together before but now are connecting in different ways on new projects,” says Chester. “A lot of innovations will result from those relationships.”

By consistently adapting and adjusting its model, Rebuild By Design will expand its reach to other regions and different climates. In addition to helping other regions rethink resilience before disaster strikes, Rebuild By Design will keep communities connected to the implementation of the funded designs, changes in policies, regulation and operations and will continue to conduct the best research practices for disaster resilience.

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Spring 2018



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