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Local Architects Making Adjustments for Future Sea Level Rise

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Architects and engineers across Hawai‘i are taking sea level rise into account now for the buildings they’re designing for the future.

About 70 architects, engineers, planners and officials have joined the Design for Risk and Resilience Committee of AIA Honolulu since its inception two years ago.

Committee chair and architect Hale Takazawa said the group sought out members beyond the ranks of architects because many of the issues they’re looking at will be dealt with by a range of specialists.

Hawai‘i architects are already looking, for example, at potential sea level rise or increases in rainfall.

Architect Bettina Mehnert said those considerations involve site planning, building orientation, building design, and even material choices.

Mehnert is president and CEO of AHL, formally known as Architects Hawaii Ltd., where every project now has an eye on possible climate change impacts—especially in regards to critical infrastructure, such as the size and location of emergency generators for a hospital project it is designing.

Normally, the mechanical parts of a building are located in a basement equipment room, but that is looking like a vulnerability to be avoided in Hawai‘i.

It’s also becoming more routine to elevate buildings at the design stage, so they can be built from the ground up ready for the future.

An example of this is a new math and science building under construction at Brigham Young University—Hawaii, which will stand on a base or plinth 3.5 feet high.

Katie MacNeil, a principal at architecture firm G70, said clients are asking about these kinds of adaptations.

“It becomes a business decision, as well as alignment with mission and life-cycle costs," she said. "The costs of modifications made now are a way to protect the long-term investment in buildings that could last for decades."

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