Design for Resilient Communities
Research Panel

Design for Resilient Communities

This text is an elaborated version of the editorial by Anna Rubbo1 and Juan Du2 published in the proceedings of the UIA World Congress of Architects 2023 Copenhagen (Springer)

1Senior Researcher, Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD), The Climate School, Columbia University (USA)

2 Dean and Professor of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, University of Toronto (CA)

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals draw attention to issues of global inequities. It has become clear that the effects of climate change, poverty and social inequality are experienced disproportionately by women, people of color, and marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities around the world. In response to the urgency of the UN’s endeavor to “Leave No One Behind,” the discipline of architecture has been called upon to form alliances across disciplines to take action on the environmental, social, race and gender and economic issues highlighted by the SDGs, and to target these multiple challenges through the design of local solutions that enhance community resilience. 

 Design for Resilient Communities is the Research Panel at the UIA2023CPH “Leave No One Behind” World Congress that promotes this call. It has encouraged the dissemination of community-driven, participatory design research, practice and education. It investigates connections between the 17 SDGs and global phenomena and attempts to highlight local initiatives that help make  communities resilient. Adopting a bold ambition, the Research Panel has sought to explore practice, research and education interventions that call out profit-oriented, neoliberal, segregationist and eco-cidal spatial practices and governance. Design for Resilient Communities is embedded in the Lefebvrian concept of the “right to the city,” which must also protect bioversity, and has promoted the investigation of cultural and ethical shifts that orient architecture toward social and environmental justice. 

This Research Panel makes the considered choice of focusing on the SDGs framework as a meaningful tool for architects to pursue people-oriented designs that strengthen the resilience of communities and their ecosystems, taking into account architecture’s potential impact on social, environmental and economic equity. Embracing the SDGs can create a common language for partnerships and alliances beyond the design field, and help designers work together with communities and governments, while caring for biodiversity and ecological regeneration. Design for Resilient Communities also encourages self-analysis of the field of architecture. How is it that issues of discrimination and social inequality are still present in the discipline? What contributes to a continued focus on the interests and spatial desires of the powerful and affluent, and a professional love affair that also fuels an associated architectural stardom. Today, a new generation of architects, researchers and educators is subverting modernist views of the master architect/master planner, placing emphasis on the potential of design to help achieve more equitable outcomes, such as those highlighted in the SDGs and their targets.

The response of Design for Resilient Communities to social inequality often comes in the form of greener and more accessible public services, better community infrastructure, affordable and sustainable housing, spaces for low-emission lifestyles, participatory building transformations, interventions that improve the quality of public spaces for all and more. The urgencies posed by climate change in combination with the rise of illiberal values across the world make it even more relevant for design to join the cause for social and environmental justice. Crucial yet unanswered design-related questions play a part in addressing global inequality: How can architectural education, research and practice be truly decolonized? How can it bring about positive social change in entrenched  political and economic systems that mostly benefit  privileged minorities? Can design help repair the trauma of oppression and marginalization? 

Design for Resilient Communities will be presented over 12 sessions (65 papers) at the Congress, and in long form in the associated publication (Springer, 2023). The presentations will be delivered under five sub-themes that unpack the intersection between resilient communities and the SDGs:

  1. The SDGs and Daily Life argues that the improvement of people’s everyday lives through design is fundamental to a community’s ability to recover from and adapt to adverse environmental, political and social circumstances.
  2. People as Partners insists on the proven benefits of participatory design processes and inclusive architecture, supporting the implementation of a “people as partners” model.
  3. Global Crisis and Designing Resilience focuses on benefitting marginalized, under-prioritized remote and displaced communities. The effects of environmental, social and political crises on vulnerable communities require design to adapt to specific, contextual spatial needs in order to ensure the resilience and well-being of these communities.
  4. Housing and the Right to the City addresses the main challenges relating to housing that affect major cities across the entire globe: lack of affordable dwelling solutions, rental precarity, urban segregation, unsustainable commutes, informal urbanization and the challenges of maintaining biodiversity and providing adequate green and public open space. Community resilience can be supported through affordable, sustainable and safe housing for all. 
  5. Architectural Education in a Global Habitat emphasizes the need for interdisciplinarity in architectural curricula to prepare spatial practitioners to design for resilient communities. The global challenges of the future will require today’s architecture students to work across disciplines and fields of knowledge, in collaboration with local communities and environmental scientists, if they mean to stay relevant.