The Value of The Architect:: Extreme Weather and Natural Disaster Edition

April 22, 2023

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Value of The Architect: Extreme Weather and Natural Disaster Edition


Extreme weather events, such as heavy rainstorms, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, have become more frequent and severe in New Jersey due to climate change. Wildfires have also become a threat to structures in high-risk areas due to a combination of factors, including drought, increasing winds, and development in woodland and grassland areas. This is causing significant damage to homes and buildings in the affected areas, making it crucial for building and homeowners to take measures to protect their structures. As an expert architect, I want to share some information and guidelines that building and homeowners can use to assess and protect their structures against the risk of natural disasters, saving time and money, and protecting health and safety.

The first step in protecting your home or building against wildfires is to assess the risk in your area. This can be done by consulting with your local fire department or forestry service to determine if your property is in a high-risk area. Factors to consider when assessing your risk include the proximity of your structure to wildland areas, the presence of flammable vegetation around your structure, and the slope and terrain of your property.

Design and Construction: Licensed architects are trained to design and construct structures with natural disasters in mind. According to a report by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), architects can incorporate measures such as using impact-resistant windows, strengthening roofs and walls, and ensuring proper drainage and flood protection. They can also design structures that can withstand high winds and extreme temperatures, reducing the risk of damage. The use of fire-resistant construction materials is critical to protecting against wildfires. This includes materials such as metal roofing, stucco or masonry walls, and tempered glass windows. These materials are less likely to ignite or break under extreme heat, reducing the risk of your structure catching fire.

Landscaping can also play a crucial role in protecting your structure against wildfires. This includes removing dead or dry vegetation within 30 feet of your structure and creating a defensible space of at least 100 feet around your structure. Defensible space can be created by removing flammable vegetation, thinning trees, and using non-flammable ground covers such as gravel or stone. It is also important to have a water source available on your property in case of a wildfire. This can include a pool, pond, or other water feature that can be used by firefighters to combat the fire. Additionally, installing a fire sprinkler system can provide an additional layer of protection for your structure.

Regular maintenance is essential in protecting structures against extreme weather events. Architects can recommend regular inspections of roofs, gutters, walls, and windows to identify and fix any damage or potential issues. They can also recommend regular tree trimming to prevent damage from falling branches. According to a report by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), regular maintenance can reduce the risk of damage to structures by up to 80%.

Architects can work with building and homeowners to ensure they have adequate insurance coverage for their structures. They can recommend coverage for wind and water damage, as well as coverage for the cost of repairs or replacement in case of a catastrophic event. In fact, some insurance companies now offer incentives for building and homeowners who use sustainable and resilient design and construction practices. For example, Allstate Insurance offers a discount to homeowners who have impact-resistant roofing materials installed on their homes.

Architects can also play a role in designing safe evacuation routes and identifying emergency shelter locations for building and homeowners in case of an extreme weather event or natural disaster. In fact, the AIA has developed a guide to help architects design buildings that can serve as emergency shelters during extreme weather events. The guide includes recommendations for designing buildings that can withstand high winds, flooding, and other hazards, as well as tips for providing emergency power, water, and sanitation.

In conclusion, licensed architects are essential in designing effective mitigation strategies against hazards created by climate change in New Jersey. They can help to design and construct structures that are resistant to extreme weather events and natural disasters, recommend regular maintenance to prevent damage, ensure adequate insurance coverage, and design safe evacuation plans. By working with licensed architects, building and homeowners can better protect their structures against the risks of extreme weather events in New Jersey.

-Brian W. Penschow, AIA


Brian W. Penschow, AIA, NCARB is the current President-elect for AIA-NJ and a past-President of AIA Jersey Shore and a current trustee. Brian has attended Union County College, Rutgers University College of Engineering, and New Jersey Institute of Technology School of Architecture. At the inaugural Young Architect Conference Brian was awarded a conference award detailing his contributions to the community through leadership and mentorship. Also, an award-wining design architect, Brian has been fortunate to have worked on nearly all building types throughout his career. Most recently he has completed work with a developer to adaptively reuse several buildings in the historic four-corners district of Newark, NJ through use of the federal historic tax credit and sound preservation techniques to breathe new life into a few glorious buildings. Brian is also scheduled to add professional planning and professional engineering licenses by the end of 2019 and 2020, respectively. Brian is a State licensing advisor for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), sits on the residential exam development committee for the International Code Council (ICC), is an AIA-NJ liaison to the New Jersey State Board of Architects, serves on the public affairs, legislative and governmental affairs, k-12 education, and women in architecture committees. On weekends and evenings, you can find him spending time with his family hiking, climbing lighthouses, or traveling. Brian loves nature, and cities, people, and animals, and has bucket-loads of passion for architecture.

About The Value Of The Architect Series

The VALUE of the ARCHITECT Series, is a periodic ARTICLE,  issued as a BLOG, by the AIA-NJ Public Awareness Committee. The Article’s mission is to EDUCATE the General Public and INFORM an audience of those that work with Architects, deal with the subject of Architecture,  and affect the Professional Practice of Architecture. The series was conceived by Edward N. Rothe, FAIA, Past President of AIA New Jersey, and award-winning architect and businessman. 
The Committee is seeking AIA-NJ members to participate in this important, The VALUE of the ARCHITECT,  series. The series will initially focus on how architectural design can create “Economic Value”. For example, design principles, such as Building Area Efficiency, Low Net to Gross Square Foot Add On Factors, Building Shape, Building Orientation,  Column Spacing, Floor to Floor Heights,  Low Maintenance Exterior Wall Materials and   Interior Finishes, apply to a wide number of project types, Offices, Schools, Hospitals, Apartments, etc. ALL create “Economic Value” by Maximizing Useable  Program Areas while Minimizing Overall Gross Building Areas, INCREASING building revenue/use while REDUCING total building costs.  Site Development projects that maximize Land Use, also create “Economic Value”. Sustainable and Energy Efficient projects that use natural light, roof overhangs, insulating material, and innovation, also provide “Economic Value” by reducing owning and operational costs.  There are also many other examples that can apply.
This is an opportunity for members to increase public awareness of The Value of the Architect while presenting their projects, focusing on “Economic Value”. Interested members should contact Stacey Kliesch, AIA at as soon as possible to be considered.

About Architects, AIA and AIA New Jersey

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Architects are creative professionals educated, trained and experienced in the art and science of building design and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.

Founded in 1857, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through a dynamic network of more than 250 chapters and more than 95,000 member architects and design professionals, the AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. The AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation and world. The organization’s local chapter, AIA New Jersey, has served as the voice of the architectural profession in the Garden State since 1900. Based in Trenton, AIA New Jersey has over 2,000 members across six sections. For more information, please visit


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Architects are creative professionals, educated, trained, and experienced in the art and science of building design, and licensed to practice architecture. Their designs respond to client needs, wants and vision, protect public safety, provide economic value, are innovative, inspire and contribute positively to the community and the environment.

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