Designing for a rise in sea level

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One of the more pressing challenges facing design professionals is designing resilient buildings in the face of sometimes violent climate change and weather patterns.

As sea levels rise, design firms need to be aware of the relatively new concept of “resilient” buildings. While many firms will incorporate the principles of resilient design into their practices in the coming decade, doing so is not part of today’s standard of care. Resilient design recommendations are in response to studies that address the cost of risk in relation to buildings and infrastructure projects. Climate change, the increase in severe weather events, and the rise in sea levels both locally and globally can all present significant design challenges.

Through a negotiated understanding with the client that is documented by contract language, design firms can mitigate the risks of being blamed by the client, the government, or a third party that a design was negligently prepared because it did not anticipate a sea level change at the site or prepare for adverse weather conditions caused by climate disruptions. From contractual provisions that state that only current building codes and standards inform the design to waivers of claims and limitations of liability, contracts can reflect the reasonable exposure that a design firm should accept and protect the firm from blame for unforeseeable events.

The Schinnerer risk management website has a Management Advisory, “The Design Professional’s Duty to Design for Resiliency,” that provides more guidance.

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