Date of Award

Summer 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Advisor

Erfan Goharian


The concepts of robustness and sustainability in planning and design of water and energy infrastructures have been extensively explored in previous research, primarily focusing on system reliability, environmental considerations, and economic aspects. This study aims to broaden the understanding of these concepts by offering comprehensive frameworks that capture the essence of robustness and sustainability at two distinct levels.

The first level of investigation focuses on the performance of infrastructure networks during natural disasters. Traditionally, this has been addressed using reliability, resilience, and vulnerability metrics. However, these methods rely on static, deterministic, and non-stationary data, which is inadequate when dealing with the uncertainties of natural hazards. To overcome this limitation, the research introduces the concept of “antifragility” as an alternative metric. Antifragility surpasses robustness by measuring a system’s ability to improve, rather than degrade or remain unchanged, under sudden, low-probability, high-impact events. This approach is better suited for capturing extreme conditions, making it an objectively superior index for designing resilient systems. The study demonstrates the application of antifragility in a case study involving a water drainage system’s performance under various flooding scenarios. The results show that focusing solely on reliability metrics cannot fully capture the system’s behavior during intense flooding or climate change, underscoring the importance of considering antifragility in infrastructure design.

At the second level, the research delves into sustainable infrastructure planning. It highlights the limitations of solely focusing on the carbon footprint of projects and emphasizes the need to consider social and technical aspects in sustainability assessments. Additionally, the study advocates for the inclusion of local resource availability in planning decisions. To address these concerns, a comprehensive frame-work for assessing sustainability is proposed, encompassing environmental, economic, social, and technical footprints, along with resource availability. A case study is conducted, evaluating common energy generation technologies based on their aggregate footprints and resource attributes in specific regions. The prioritization of energy sources using an updated version of the Relative Aggregate Footprint (RAF) index showcases the framework’s effectiveness. Furthermore, the study compares the sustainability levels of existing energy portfolios to an optimal case with minimal overall footprint.

In summary, this research explores the concepts of robust and sustainable infrastructure networks from both theoretical and practical perspectives, seeking improvements for the future. By enhancing the current understanding of sustainability and reliability, this work offers valuable insights into engineering antifragile systems that can withstand natural disasters and evolve over time.