With a global increase in temperatures causing sea levels to rise and ushering in more extreme weather events, the world as we know it is rapidly changing. The buildings we construct now and in the future must account for these new challenges and be built to withstand them.

This is the concept behind building climate resilience, which the Resilient Design Institute defines as: “the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities and regions in response to vulnerabilities to disaster and disruption of normal life.” PCL Construction is putting its expertise to work to build some of the most resilient buildings in the market today.

One project that highlights PCL’s commitment to resilience is the new St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia. Scheduled for completion in 2027, this state-of-the-art $2.2 billion hospital is being built to withstand climate-related risks and continue to provide essential services throughout any natural disasters that may occur.

That means PCL was planning an ultra-resilient building right from the get-go, says Paul Watton, PCL’s design manager working on the project.

“As soon as we saw the requirement for it, we engaged our climate resilience consultant,” he says, also noting that a risk review and evaluation was completed and the design responded to those risks. “They were able to give us a lot of insight into the background and the goals of the climate resilience guidelines the provincial health authority had put together in combination with the City.”

PCL and its client, Providence Health Care, participated in resilience-focused workshops with key stakeholders, planners and City officials. PCL’s ability to undertake a design-build delivery model also helped. Under this model, PCL manages the design process, using input from specialist contractors to ensure the completed facility will be efficient and effective while meeting functionality and performance requirements.

“The design-build form of procurement is definitely a benefit for resilience because we need to consider certain measures in our design,” Watton says. “We’re in a position to adapt our design to suit requirements as necessary.”

Extreme weather could adversely affect patient care at the new St. Paul’s Hospital in a myriad of ways:

  • Connections to utilities, transportation networks and supply chains could be disrupted.
  • Heat waves could lead increased heat stress on patients and infrastructure.
  • High winds and flooding could cause power outages.
  • Increased moisture could cause a greater risk of infections and mold.
  • Extreme weather may give rise to new water-, air- or vector-borne diseases.

In response to these risks, PCL designed and built several resilience measures into the project. The structure itself is designed to withstand earthquakes and operate as a post-disaster facility. It has enough fuel storage capacity to support critical services for a minimum of 72 hours in case power, water or heat is lost, as required by the health authority. With flood barriers at key entrances, the building is built to withstand the rise of global sea level and storm surges projected for the year 2100. Critical mechanical, electrical and communications equipment have all been located above the five-meter flood level.

“It was very important that we make sure the level of the building suited the flood control level,” Watton says. “We had to determine those requirements early, when we were establishing the building’s layout, to avoid significant problems later on.”

While PCL and Providence Health Care designed for resilience, they also had to design for the people working at St. Paul’s Hospital. Human-centric design is a huge part of the project, which means including amenities for patients and staff to keep up wellness and standards of case in what can be incredibly stressful circumstances.

The amenities at the new St. Paul’s Hospital include restful staff lounges, rooftop gardens, a Traditional Medicine Garden, and public spaces for health, wellness and community gathering.

Meshing design and resilience is a balancing act, but Watton says the key is to develop the form to achieve the function and make sure the building can still operate after an extreme weather event.

“Resilience measures tend to be more fundamental and practical elements that keep the hospital functioning,” he says. “Then we build the form and the architectural design around those elements.”

Watton says that the new St. Paul’s Hospital is a good example of how new builds are trending in climate resilience. And he expects more clients will want to address it in the future.

“I think we’re going to see resiliency appear far more now, on every pursuit and project that goes forward,” he says.

With the experience gained through this project, Watton hopes putting PCL’s expertise to work in the early stages will pay dividends for everyone involved.

“We need to make sure we’re liaising with municipal governments and provincial health authorities and doing it from the pursuit stage. When we do that early, we’re able to incorporate resiliency into the design and construction planning,” he says.