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Adapting buildings for a changing climate

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Learn more about the Resilient Buildings Lab's research on adapting buildings for climate change.

Published February 16, 2017

Watch the Symposium: From Sandy to Snowvember
Part 1
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Part 2
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Part 3
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The School of Architecture and Planning’s Resilient Buildings Lab is at the helm of new research on how buildings in New York State will need to adapt to the changing climate, an issue brought to the forefront by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and "Snowvember," the seven-foot lake effect snow event that hit parts of Buffalo in 2014.

Led by Nicholas Rajkovich, PhD, AIA, assistant professor of architecture, and sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the two-year project is assessing climate change impacts and proposing adaptive strategies for the state’s building stock.

“The buildings we’re building now will face a very different future. 100 years from now the climate in New York State is likely to have shifted dramatically,” says Rajkovich, who directs the Resilient Buildings Lab at UB. “People are thinking about how to reduce carbon emissions but they’re not necessarily thinking about how our structures should respond to a changing climate."

The effects are many. Rising sea levels may flood coastal areas of New York. More heat waves may create the need for air conditioning high in the Adirondacks. Insect migration northward may result in more termites doing damage to the wood framed buildings of New York. All of this, researchers say, could significantly impact homes, schools and places of work and worship.

Consider that weather events like the October Surprise Storm, which hit Western New York in 2006, caused significant damage because of the wet, heavy snow created by temperatures that hovered near the freezing point. “If you imagine that the winters are slowly getting warmer, over time you’re going to have more winters that are right on the edge of that wet, heavy snow," says Rajkovich.

Research results from the Adapting Buildings for a Changing Climate project are due out this summer. A series of reports will address the climate change's existing and anticipated impacts on the state's building stock and the potential economic costs of those impacts. Through extensive consultation with the building industry, the team will recommend climate adaptation strategies for current buildings and more resilent design and building techniques moving forward. Findings will be widely disseminated to policy makers, builders, building managers and homeowners.

Last November, Rajkovich and his team convened a symposium to present initial research findings. "From Sandy to Snowvember," held in UB's Hayes Hall, featured several guest speakers, including Rosetta Elkin, an assistant professor of landscape architecture in the Harvard Graduate School of Design; Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative; Brendan Kelly of L&S Energy Services; and Rachel Minnery of the American Institute of Architects. You can view the entire symposium by accessing the links in the right-hand sidebar.

UB's Resilient Buildings Lab is leading research on adaptive design and building strategies for a changing climate. Led by architecture faculty member Nicholas Rajkovich, the research team recently convened professionals across the building industry to present initial findings and discuss strategies being employed across the state.