An inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of North­eastern researchers has received a three-​​year, $1.1 mil­lion grant from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion to develop a deci­sion frame­work for designing build­ings that are both resilient and sus­tain­able in the face of mul­tiple hazards—specifically, earth­quakes, flooding, and high winds.

The research team com­prises four North­eastern pro­fes­sors in the Depart­ment of Civil and Envi­ron­mental Engi­neering: Asso­ciate pro­fessor and prin­cipal inves­ti­gator Mehrdad Sasani; pro­fessor Matthias Ruth; and assis­tant pro­fes­sors David Fannon and Matt Eck­elman. Ruth and Fannon also hold joint appointments—Ruth’s pri­mary appoint­ment is the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, while Fannon’s pri­mary appoint­ment is in the School of Archi­tec­ture in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design.

Tufts Uni­ver­sity asso­ciate pro­fessor Laurie Baise and William Coul­bourne, director of wind and flood hazard mit­i­ga­tion at the Applied Tech­nology Council, are also co-​​principal investigators.

The team empha­sized the impor­tance of taking an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to this project. Together, the researchers will leverage their exper­tise in areas such as per­for­mance based engi­neering, col­lapse analysis, sus­tain­able archi­tec­ture design, building life­cycle assess­ment, eco­nomics, and public policy.

As a society, we need build­ings that per­form their func­tion well in response to haz­ards and last as long as they are designed for, build­ings that are both resilient and sus­tain­able,” Sasani said. “The goal of our research is to create a frame­work that could help designers sys­tem­i­cally con­sider mul­tiple haz­ards with dif­ferent sever­i­ties and stake­holders to make informed deci­sions throughout the design process.”

The team noted that cur­rent research and design approaches typ­i­cally involve designing build­ings to with­stand each hazard inde­pen­dent of the others, but not a con­sis­tent design to with­stand mul­tiple haz­ards. Fur­ther­more, the researchers said these approaches do not sys­tem­at­i­cally inte­grate resilience and sus­tain­ability over the lifespan of a building’s var­ious systems.

This project, the researchers said, extends beyond performance-​​based engi­neering and cur­rent building codes and stan­dards to account for the resilience and sus­tain­ability of build­ings. Their frame­work would sup­port informed deci­sions based on mea­suring the envi­ron­mental impact of build­ings throughout their life, quan­ti­fying build­ings’ func­tional per­for­mance in the face of envi­ron­mental haz­ards, and ensuring con­sis­tent resilience across mul­tiple hazards.

Designing more effi­cient, adapt­able, and resilient build­ings can have a big impact on reducing the nation’s envi­ron­mental impact,” Fannon said.

One of the goals is for their frame­work to pro­vide uni­form resilience across dif­ferent hazards—that is, build­ings designed for sites prone to one hazard or another will face roughly the same recovery time and roughly equal loss of func­tion­ality over their lifespan.

Their research will examine how well build­ings in three rep­re­sen­ta­tive cities—Boston, Miami, and San Francisco—are designed to with­stand these types of envi­ron­mental haz­ards; each city, they noted, faces at least two of these hazards.

The team envi­sions their final design frame­work being used to inform building codes, risk val­u­a­tion, and design prac­tices, and could help designers, owners, reg­u­la­tors, and insurers to eval­uate the con­tin­uing per­for­mance of build­ings in the face of adverse events.

This multi-​​hazard approach gets away from the men­tality of design based on the impact of the last dis­aster and instead shapes the decision-​​making in a way that sup­ports a much more sus­tain­able, long-​​term per­for­mance of these build­ings that syncs with the needs of their occu­pants over time,” Ruth said.