Designing the Built Environment as a Climate Adaptation Strategy

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Designing the Built Environment as a Climate Adaptation Strategy

Auckland University of Technology Associate Professor Maibritt Pedersen Zari and Billie Faircloth of Kieran Timberlake, a Philadelphia-based architecture firm that espouses a philosophy of sustainable design, co-chaired the Design for Climate Adaptation: Knowledge to Action research as part of the UIA World Congress of Architects in Copenhagen in July 2023. 

Writing a piece for Architecture, Zari says that as professionals of design and the built environment, we must form a strategic, rapid, and radical response that matches the pace of the crisis before us.

To this end, she and Faircloth brought together leading global experts with varying knowledge, worldviews, experiences, and expertise to aid in pursuing just, rapid, and effective adaptation to climate change through the medium of the built environment.

A series of expert panel discussions was held in 2022 around three main themes:

  • 1. Adaptation with indigenous knowledge. “presents design-oriented scholarship and/or indigenous or local understandings and practices of approaches to climate change adaptation. During this panel, we will seek to answer the following questions: How can local and Indigenous knowledge shape, challenge, or improve our understanding of climate change adaptation through the lens of spatial design, planning, and ways of living in the built environment? What climate adaptation concepts or projects are led or challenged by Indigenous people and communities?”
  • 2. Adaptation through nature-based solutions. “Examines the means to achieve multi-scalar and interdependent climate adaptation and ecological regeneration. This panel will seek to answer the following question: How are people currently working with, understanding, integrating with, and/or emulating nature in the built environment to aid and transform efforts to adapt to climate change?”
  • 3. Adaptation through behaviour change and action. “Investigates design strategies that support or challenge human behaviour and elevates individuals and communities that witness, are impacted by, and directly respond to climate change. We will explore the following questions: How can the design of the built environment contribute to, support, and/or challenge changing human behaviours, values, and processes for working together to adapt to the impacts of climate change? How can innovative design and practice processes, including co-design and participatory design for climate change adaptation, make the design more effective as an advocacy and positive change agent?”

From these three themes, five have emerged due to the panel discussions. These five themes are:

  1. Adaptation with Indigenous knowledge.
  2. Adaptation through frameworks and feedback.
  3. Adaptation through nature-based solutions.
  4. Adaptation through architectural technologies.
  5. Adaptation through behaviour changes and actions.

Within the five themes, 57 papers and speakers from more than 30 countries were selected.

These papers were compiled into a book, Design for Climate Adaptation, Proceedings of the UIA World Congress of Architects Copenhagen 2023, which is part of the six-volume Sustainable Development Goals Series, that explores the agency of the built environment in relation to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In conclusion, Zari writes, “It is clear we must adapt. Everything will need to change rapidly and profoundly.”

“Let us use this necessary change to move towards the kinds of built environments that support the holistic and interconnected wellbeing of all people, ecologies and wider planetary climate systems,” she adds.


Zari, M. (2023). In pursuit of just, rapid and effective adaptation to climate change. ArchitectureNow. Retrieved from

Panel 1 Pre-event: The Design for Climate Adaptation Symposium. (2023, July). UIA. Retrieved from

Design for Climate Adaptation. Proceedings of the UIA World Congress of Architects Copenhagen 2023. Retrieved from

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