Conquering COVID and climate change with innovative design

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In any industry, the need to adapt to our changing world is what spurs innovation, and the fields of architectural design and engineering are no exception. Challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have created an urgent demand for spaces that are both health-conscious and eco-friendly. Long Island professionals have continued to drive trends in these industries with creative, forward-thinking approaches by providing cutting-edge solutions in various applications.

JOHN CAMERON: ‘The post-COVID economy has affected our work and living environments in a major way…that effect has created challenges in the commercial real es-tate world.’

“The post-COVID economy has affected our work and living environments in a major way,” says John Cameron, founder and managing partner of Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP, and chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. “That effect has created challenges in the commercial real estate world, which translates into business and design challenges for the architectural and engineering professions.”

Cameron says this has caused developers to pursue more proposals to convert under-utilized office and industrial space to residential use, and to consider design updates to existing buildings to better suit work-from-home concepts, by maximizing smaller, more affordable spaces.

“Adaptive reuse is one unique way to address development challenges,” says Eric Meyn, an associate at Bohler. “Given Long Island’s dense population and cost-conscious mentality, this innovative approach to development has become critical.”

Unfortunately, there are difficulties to this approach. “Trying to maintain a high level of design while keeping people comfortable in their interactions with others can be challenging; we have to keep spaces somewhat compartmentalized without disrupting the open flow of the space,” says Kevin Paul, senior vice president and discipline director for private sector architecture at H2M Architects + Engineers. “Multifamily residential buildings—for example, The Bristal Assisted Living at Bethpage—are becoming more compact in their design, forcing us to account for every inch of the limited space.”

Breakthroughs in heating, ventilation and air conditioning design also reflect the adaptations of building construction to life in the post-COVID era. However, they also address growing concern over the impact these systems typically have on our environment. According to Cameron, clients have sought a number of improvements to the energy efficiency of their heating and cooling systems, seeking modern, electrified systems with alternative fuel sources such as solar power.

Modular construction methods are becoming more popular, as developers seek solutions to construction issues often encountered on Long Island. “This method has the potential to not only shorten construction timelines, but also minimize disturbance, especially in situations where the site has limited space for staging or is located in sensitive areas like residential neighborhoods or protected environments,” Meyn says.

Many of these innovations have arisen as more and more developers adhere to a green building certification program known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), created by the U.S. Green Building Council. The guidelines dictate a criteria for the construction of energy-efficient buildings that have a minimal negative impact on the environment.

Meyn points to the adoption of LEED requirements for developers by local governments as a catalyst for environmentally friendly construction. “Some municipalities require specific LEED criteria for certain project sizes, while others offer incentives to developers who achieve higher yields on their projects,” he says.

Real estate isn’t the only type of development affected by changing design and engineering trends. Several towns on Long Island are also going “green” by updating critical infrastructure, including wastewater management, public space design, and civil engineering projects.

“Municipalities are looking at their downtown districts for revitalization,” Cameron says, “including new sewer projects and new zoning considerations for reinvestment and growth.”

The communities of Holbrook, Central Islip, Brentwood, Ronkonkoma, Wyandanch, St. James and Sag Harbor are just some of the places undergoing revitalization, according to Cameron.

Many South Shore municipalities are recognizing the need to promote more sustainable development. “Most South Shore communities experience ‘sunny day flooding’ during high tide on new and full moon days, so there is more acknowledgement of rising sea levels and the need to mitigate those issues through road raising or strategic managed retreat.”

Climate change has brought about an increase in severe weather in recent years, and the vulnerability of many developed areas of Long Island to storm damage has gained the attention of engineers.

KEVIN PAUL: ‘We have to be fully prepared for the unexpected in terms of climate and weather events that may have been unprecedented even just 10 years ago.’

“We have to be fully prepared for the unexpected in terms of climate and weather events that may have been unprecedented even just 10 years ago, such as 60-degree days in winter and areas flooding that had never flooded before,” says Paul. “We are operating with very much the same infrastructure as we have for decades, but the climate conditions have changed so rapidly and so unexpectedly that it can be a challenge to ensure our designs adequately address these changes.”

While many of these trends are technically viable solutions to the problems they address, they remain difficult to implement on Long Island for various reasons. “The diversity of our population, our aging infrastructure, our high cost of living, our balkanized form of government, a strong resistance to change, and our fragile and treasured natural environment make for very challenging business,” Cameron says of the obstacles engineers face. Examples he points to include outdated zoning laws and building codes, and infrastructure problems, such as the limits of our existing electrical grid.

Public resistance to change is something that Meyn believes can be helped through better communication. “Change is inherently difficult, and many residents choose to live here because they value the current state of affairs and resist changes,” he says. “However, there may be occasions where better solutions or outcomes exist, that the public is unaware of or has not considered. As a result, the most important task is to educate the public about these potential improvements.”


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