A Case for Resiliency

Climate change and its effect on building design are multi-fold. Broadly, there are architectural responses to energy use and environmental footprint that are essential in the aggregate to reducing the impacts of climate change, and there are responses that raise the endurance threshold of specific buildings – resiliency to climate effects. In coastal areas the demand for resiliency -living with water- is immediate. The design for the structure, systems, and program uses of new construction must anticipate higher sea levels, greater magnitude of storm events, and reduced reliance on local utility infrastructure. While some coastal areas will become impractical or undesirable for further development, there are many economically vibrant communities for which development is essential for continued growth. These communities need creative solutions to living with water.

Wilson Architects is working with the IYRS School of Technology and Trades on a project that directly addresses this need. IYRS is an experiential learning school with a hands-on educational model for craft oriented careers in local boat industries and other technology-oriented manufacturing and restoration fields. The campus is sited within a working waterfront business district in downtown Newport and fronts historic Thames Street. This lively commercial wharf setting is also a particularly fragile coastal area that has seen severe flooding, most recently with Superstorm Sandy in 2012. While not falling directly in the path of that storm, Newport nonetheless experienced destructive effects. Photographs taken following the storm document the extent of the damage; one especially poignant street view shows a kayaker maneuvering in deep water past flooded storefronts with taped-up windows. The IYRS buildings -durable masonry structures dating from the 18th and 19th centuries- withstood the storm with little visible damage, though interiors and equipment areas did sustain flooding.

IYRS School of Technology and Trades New Structure for Marine Systems and Composites Programs


The New Structure for Marine Systems and Composites Programs sits adjacent to these historic buildings on Spring Wharf (a FEMA VE flood zone), set back approximately 75 feet from water. FEMA VE flood zones are designated as areas of special flood hazard for wave action; in the case of the site for the New Structure, the flood elevation is set at nearly 8 feet above the natural grade. Enclosed areas at grade, therefore, are limited by regulations to spaces essential for access up to -and egress from- occupied floors above the flood elevation. The design for the New Structure embraces the challenges of resiliency required of this setting.

The program for the building includes classroom and trade teaching areas for marine systems, composites, and digital fabrications on two upper floors above an open parking level at grade. To limit the impacts of wave action and flooding, walls at grade are limited in area; other enclosures are designed as screens to partition storage and to conceal parking; these screens are lightweight wood constructions that meet FEMA breakaway requirements for storm events. While enclosures at grade are largely wood, the façade above grade is brick, a material choice based on the positive experience with durability at other masonry buildings on the campus.

Wilson Architects has given special consideration to the resiliency of building systems. Utility, equipment, and machine rooms are located above the flood elevation, as are elevator components vulnerable to flooding. The structure is steel with open web steel joists, and includes components specifically designed for resiliency and for withstanding wave action. To maintain durability of the structure at grade, columns are encased in concrete; the few walls at grade are reinforced to withstand ocean storm surge; and foundations are sized and placed to resist erosion and the erosion-like effects of scour following a storm surge.

The New Structure is a model for resiliency in a fragile urban coastal setting, and will endure for generations as part of the IYRS campus.


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