When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Alex Wilson ’77 was the publisher of Environmental Building News, a trade publication he had founded 15 years earlier in an effort to encourage the construction industry to pursue more sustainable building methods. The magazine had a significant influence in the development of building design and construction practices that were more environmentally responsible and resource efficient.
But the hurricane got Wilson thinking in a somewhat new direction, one that focused on construction principles that emphasized resiliency when living conditions were not optimal.
“I noticed that older homes in the Gulf that weren’t flooded but still lost power for weeks or months were more livable than newer homes in the same circumstances,” Wilson said. “Older homes, constructed before air conditioning came along, were built with passive features to keep them comfortable, with wrap-around porches that shaded windows from the direct sun, designs that channeled summer breezes through the building.”
He knew that Katrina was not going to be the last storm that resulted in lengthy power outages, so he thought about how to design buildings that would ensure the safety of their occupants. He called it passive survivability.