Being Resilient

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September 1, 2021

Resilient is one of those suddenly rediscovered adjectives in our vocabulary that has found use in a number of contexts. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of resilient is “able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions” or “able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.”

In the building enclosure industry, several uses of this word spring to mind. However, resilient is most commonly used in our industry to signify the ability of components, structures, or systems to remain intact and fully functional, and to withstand weathering and deterioration over time. Resilience is of special importance when the long-term impacts on building enclosures are more variable and potentially increasing, as in the case of climate change. 

Two recent events bring the importance of resilience into sharp focus. First, as I am writing this message, the Tokyo Olympics are in full swing. Even in the best of times, these athletes need to be resilient. Now, under the lens of an ever-changing pandemic, the resilience of both the bodies and the psyches of these particular Olympic athletes have been tested in ways they never imagined, including long-term shutdowns of training facilities, canceled competitions, and a one-year setback to all of their schedules. Still, the most resilient athletes persevered and were able to produce amazing results; for example, Damian Warner, the Canadian gold medalist in the men’s decathlon, managed to keep training over the past year by improvising his regimen within cold, dark, COVID-19-mothballed hockey rinks. 

The second recent event relevant to this message is the collapse of the residential condominium in Surfside, Florida. This is a tragic lesson about the importance of understanding and interpreting the resilience of structures and building enclosures. Although we do not yet know the details of this calamity, in our industry we are all aware that each building system has its own life expectancy, and that the life spans for different building components may be quite different, depending on the design, materials, installation, and maintenance of those systems. We also know that the deterioration of one system, such as the building enclosure, can negatively affect other systems.

When systems’ performances are interconnected, as in the case of reinforced concrete structures and their waterproofing systems, evaluation of their performance must encompass the entire group as soon as any one of the interconnected elements starts to display a lack of resilient performance. 

This understanding of interconnectivity is not universal within the construction industry, the real estate industry, or homeowners’ associations—and it is definitely not found among typical condominium residents. Clearly, therefore, any evaluation of risks of building system failure versus the cost of repairs needs to be done by knowledgeable and objective engineers, architects, and consultants using a holistic approach. This is especially true when building systems that directly affect life safety, such as structural systems, are involved.

The need for this understanding is not going away. The resilient performance of our buildings is attacked every day. Our building stock in North America is getting older, and climate extremes and loads on buildings are increasing. At the same time, more buildings are now relying on protection by sophisticated building enclosure systems, such as those providing waterproofing and drainage for concrete structures.

IIBEC members have a unique understanding of the importance of building enclosures in resilient building performance, because our experience and involvement extends throughout the life of a building and spans across interconnected building systems. We have a vital role to play. It is our duty to speak up and be heard so that building enclosure systems get the attention they deserve in maintaining safe and resilient building performance.