Perspectives February 25, 2019

ResilientSEE: A Framework to Achieve Resilience Across Scales

By Maria Roldan and Yanel de Angel
Tao Baja, Puerto Rico

The worst part of Hurricane Maria was not the atmospheric event itself, but the aftermath. Poor infrastructure, unsafe construction practices, and lack of an emergency plan made Maria the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, with deaths estimated at over 4,000. For months, people didn’t have access to clean water, food, or medicine. Roofs were blown away, homes were completely under water, and diseases like leptospirosis and depression skyrocketed across the island. To date, the destruction is still evident. While recovery efforts have gone a long way, Puerto Rico is not ready to withstand another major natural disaster.

In response to Hurricane Maria, Perkins&Will architect and native Puerto Rican Yanel de Angel spearheaded a campaign to attract partners in academia, private industry, and the nonprofit and civic realms to come together and devise implementable recovery and resilience strategies. They envisioned an interdisciplinary symposium with a common objective: to create a resilient future for the island. However, the group quickly understood that a full recovery effort would require more than a symposium. Their strategy shifted from a one-time symposium to a permanent platform of experts, ready to partner with Puerto Rico for the long run. Over the course of a few months, the group grew into a global, interdisciplinary alliance known as ResilientSEE.

Conceived in the Boston studio of Perkins&Will, the ResilientSEE team developed a resilient planning framework that can be applied to other neighborhoods, cities, and countries in need – any place at any scale. The name ResilientSEE stems from this flexible framework, a multi-lens approach to achieve resilience that considers “Social”, “Economic”, and “Environmental” vulnerabilities. The logo and visual identity that were developed graphically communicate our mission, methods, and goals.

Currently composed of over 50 academics and professionals, ResilientSEE members donate their time and expertise, meeting monthly to discuss ongoing events and projects. Partners range from academic institutions (students, professors, and researchers), to non-profits, to private partners in various industries. Within Perkins&Will alone, there is participation from the Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. studios. The diverse backgrounds of the team members allow ResilientSEE to cater to the communities in need by putting together a team with decades of expertise across scales and settings.

ResilientSEE-PR projects to date include:

Keep Safe Manual: A guide for resilient construction

Led by Enterprise Community Partners, the Keep Safe Manual includes 25 strategies for resilient housing. The strategies range from instructions for building a roof that can withstand a hurricane, to planting a medicinal garden, to basic preparations for an emergency. For this project, Perkins&Will is the lead technical partner and has been part of the team since inception, contributing content, graphics, thought leadership and connecting to other experts. The manual will be workbook-style, published in Spring 2019, and distributed across communities in Puerto Rico. Many other ResilientSEE partners are involved in this effort – a true team approach!

Community Hubs Guidelines

Led by Perkins&Will and in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities/ReImagina PR, Waggoner+Ball, Enterprise Community Partners and Global Green, the Community Hubs Guidelines will be a supplement to the Keep Safe Manual. Communities in Puerto Rico are in the process of organizing themselves in order to re-build in a resilient manner. To do this, they must increase their organizational capacity. This manual will provide design guidelines to help communities identify or create a meeting space that can serve as an emergency shelter during a natural disaster. The guide will be brochure-style, published in Summer 2019, and will be distributed electronically.

Villas del Sol Resilient Planning

Led by Perkins&Will, the Villas del Sol Resilient Planning project aims to create a resilient framework plan prioritizing storm water, sewage, and potable water systems for an informal community in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. This community was forced to move from their original land more than 10 years ago, and to this day, residents have not properly settled in their new plots of land. Streets are poorly paved, there are no sidewalks, no lampposts, water and electricity are informally set up, and the debris from the hurricane (which includes cars, pieces of roofs and damaged furniture) has not been removed. The community is strong and wants to be resilient. With an open mindset, ResilientSEE will use a holistic system approach to co-create an infrastructure plan and position the community to seek federal funds for construction. It will later tackle economic development and social issues.

As Puerto Rican natives ourselves, we hold a personal connection to ResilientSEE and all of the efforts in Puerto Rico. These projects have prompted immense self-reflection, and, though they have stemmed from architectural and design skills, they have equally drawn from our culture, past experiences, local know-how, and the desire to contribute to our beloved country. While our methodologies transcend cultural differences, cultural awareness is key to delivering the right message, working around stigmas, understanding barriers, and making appropriate recommendations.

In 2019 and beyond, we are excited to see the ways that ResilientSEE will continue to gain momentum and expand to other at-risk locations. Please visit our website and connect with us on social media: and @ResilientSEE_PR.