Alex Wilson

Alex Wilson ’77 knows the best way to prepare for climate disaster is to expect it—and plan how to bounce forward when it strikes. 

Alex Wilson

Alex Wilson '77 is an avid paddler who has written multiple quiet water canoe and kayak guides for the Appalachian Mountain Club.  (photo submitted)

Torrential rains and massive floods, rising oceans, withering droughts, devastating tornados, roaring wildfires—the climate crisis has taken on pressing urgency in recent years. And if society is going to face the threat, it can’t be business as usual. 

Take it from Alex Wilson ’77, who’s pushed for sustainable energy and resilient architecture for decades. What is resilient architecture? Simply put, it’s the intentional design of buildings and communities to enable them to withstand the ravages of nature or infrastructure failures, and to recover swiftly. 

“Where we were isn’t where we need to be,” Alex said. “We need to bounce forward, to use disaster or an interruption as an opportunity to create something better.”  

“We need to bounce forward, to use disaster or an interruption as an opportunity to create something better.” 

Build Back Better

Alex spearheads the nonprofit Resilient Design Institute, which he founded in 2012 to showcase the principles of the movement.  

Though he’s spent his career promoting sustainability through use of renewable energy and better building practices, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 spurred him and other industry colleagues to make a stronger push for resilient design principles.  

Alex watched the news in dismay as the Superdome, where so many in New Orleans had fled to escape flooding, had to be evacuated days later due to unbearable heat inside. The stadium simply wasn’t designed for mass occupancy without power and air conditioning. Meanwhile, he knew that older homes on the Gulf Coast—built in the days before air conditioning with features like wrap-around porches and shaded windows—remained relatively cool and habitable.  

Sometimes moving forward means seeking inspiration from the past.  

“Shouldn't we be designing homes and schools and other buildings that do as good a job as the homes our grandparents were building at keeping people safe if they lose power?” Alex asked.  

That type of questioning eventually led to creation of the Resilient Design Institute.  

Alex admits retooling the way we think of our homes, stadiums, offices, retail spaces, and entire communities is daunting, but he knows our society is capable of positive change.  

“I hold out hope and belief that once America fully embraces the reality of climate change and what we're doing to the planet, we will use our ingenuity to solve those problems, as we have in the past.”