Conflict and Natural Disasters
Survey on designing for disasters
Dear all,

India is considered as one of the most disaster prone areas in the world. But while designing do we, architects consider the disaster which might come in the near future? If not, why?

I am conducting a survey on why disasters in India becomes catastrophic. As architects are we responsible for it and why?
Mili Sasi
Survey on designing for disasters
Thank you for the response.

It is true that the peple living below the poverty line cannot afford disaster resistant buildings. Often, it is noticed that buildings like huts (prevalent in india) survive the quake while high rise buildings do not. Is it because of the construction techniques, or do we have to learn more from the past?
Mili Sasi
Survey on designing for disasters
Dear Mili,

This is certainly a relevant topic indeed. And architects do have an important role to play. But, I think you need to read some general books on disaster management (anywhere) to spruce up your basics before you begin to discuss the indian context and the role of architects.

For example, to use the right term, a disaster occurs only when humans are unable to manage a bad situtaion that may occur due to a certain natural phenomena, be it earthquakes, cyclones or tsunami. Therefore, labelling these natural phenomena as disasters is incorrect. A disaster is resultant of mismanagement and disability to cope with a situation. While floods may be a natural phenomena, the famine and deaths that occur after it are due to inability of support systems to provide for basic needs - food, health facilities etc - to the affected people. And certainly architects have a role to play, even before a natural phenomena occurs, because a good building design can reduce destruction of buildings and displacement of people.

Only the definition of a 'good design' varies from one architect to another. While some think that use of concrete bands to tie up structures is a good practice in earthquake prone areas, which is basically inducing capability of resistance in a building. However, the Himalayan region that is most prone to earthquakes and tremors, some traditional construction is done in wood. The concept here is to use a ductile material that does not work through resistance but allows tremors to pass through it. So there are various approaches in architecture to combat such problems.

This is just an example but there are various facets in architecture that can be looked into for this, like material, construction techniques, quality of execution, overall shape and size of building, and several other aspects. By the way, what is your methodology for this research? How are you going to keep track of responses in a scientific manner? Or is this just a casual "research"?
Shubhru Gupta
Survey on designing for disasters
Mumbai VS New Orleans.

inches of rain in NO.....18
" mum........37.1

population NO....484,674
" mum..12,622,500

deaths in 48 hours NO..100
" mum..37

evacuation at NO entire city..whoa.
" mum 10,000

looting /violence NO....countless
" mum..........none

us army reached within ..48 hours " ..12 hours

status 48 hours NO....waiting for relief/army/electricity
status 48 back on its feet and business is as usual.'s most developed nation.
india..just developing nation...

Did I get facts wrong ? Or am I just defending my positive vibe?
Dushyant Nathwani
Survey on designing for disasters
Yes Milo.

See all the concrete jungles and other stuffs in Pakistan, and Jammu-Kashmir, well, the man builds and goes. God gives it in his ways, the recent tsunami, and the earth quake in Jammu Kashmir regions.

Well, if you see the things in Pakistan, you would see only the concrete. But if you see Jammu-Kashmir, you would see the building materials have become the part of earth itself.

Kindly refer to "architecture + design" vol IX NO 4 july-aug 1992 pages 60-83, speaks of "Uttarakshi Reconstruction", where page 60 deals with the earthquakes in Uttarakashi (UP) on 20 oct 1991, magnitude 6.7. The effects and the reasons, and the solutions... Where page 80 deals with Gernot Minke and Buckminister Fuller, Guller's dome (geodesic), and the processes adopted in Gautemala etc etc..

Hope that this helps in your presentation,
Anand Joshi
Survey on designing for disasters
Given the extent of the recent earthquake I think the problem goes far beyond India alone. Globally, planners, architects and developers have ignored the real need to build not only sustainably, but also to take into account the changing climatic patterns observed by scientists over the last century. The movement of tectonic plates below our feet should trigger the response that we need to plan and build structures that can take the shocks of such movements in land mass. However, rather than being pro-active in dealing with the natural disasters before they happen, and often in spite of advanced warnings, we tend to be reactive by dealing with the manmade disasters that follow. This duality can be observed in any country where natural disasters are endemic or periodic. Interestingly though humanity feels it has conquered nature, but nature continues to fight back. What we should be doing is living with nature not against it. If we understand how natural forces work then we can plan and build to accommodate, and this need not be an expensive venture, sometimes the simplest solutions can be surprising.

Another point not mentioned on this subject that goes hand in hand with poverty is institutional corruption that goes on in many developing countries. Unless this problem is tackled then the idea of sustainable cities will not materialise, and we will continue to see desparate people living in shanty dwellings often in unsafe and insanitry conditions.
Benjamin Zac
Survey on designing for disasters
Dear all, thank you for your responses.

I am slightly deviating from the topic now. As a planner/ builder/ architect, what is lacking in our building rules? Is it actualy foreseeing the calamities? And in what aspects does it lag behind? Does it consider all the types of construction like mobile towers etc.? If not, what could be the possible solutions?
Mili Sasi
Survey on designing for disasters
Following on from your new question, although, again, you have failed to actually examine the broader perspective.

My guess is that across the Southeast Asia, building regulations and planning policy is known only to those who operate within the profession. However, speaking from my recent experience in Pakistan, I discovered that such policy documents are not available to either the general public nor those that actually do the building work, with the latter relying upon the experience and expertise of the foreman or site manager to ensure that construction accords with such legislation. The issue here is far greater than building mobile towers, it is about the dissemination of information of building and planning regulations, and the education of both the construction teams and public.

Again, looking at the earthquake we can see examples of very poorly constructed buildings. And I have come across stories of buildings being constructed without the proper cement, sand and water ratio only to be demolished because structural faults had began to materialise in the building. In such cases who do we blame? The municipality needs to stop cutting corners and get the information out onto the public domain, and secondly get stricter on those builders who breach regulations. Poorly designed buildings not only highlights the ignorance of those who build them, but breaks health and safety regulations, a far more serious issue when you consider that lives are put at risk!
Benjamin Zac
Survey on designing for disasters
I believe disaster is a byproduct of human inability to manage / cope / deliver solutions etc. A couple of quick points . 1. The old saying earthquakes dont kill people, buildings do is very true ( but then tsunami's, cyclones, hurricanes, flood etc do kill people!). 2. Architects may shoulder some responsibility however the real responsibility lies with the ruling institutions and governments, policy makers and client organisations, and the value they have put on dissemination or cascading of building information, knowledge and education to the masses - accessibility and interpretaion and general awareness of the importance of building standards, regulations, codes. If the policy makers raise the agenda of 'natural phenomena' proof buildings in such violently destructive regions, then implementation and the policing of the implementation becomes more acceptaed in the public eye.... maybe we would not have had as much carnage and tragedy, ....but then that was almost inevitable with the inactivity and inability to respond, of the governmental organisations ....
Omar Chaudhery
Survey on designing for disasters
After reading all the comments listed so far, let me say this... I come from a country of earthquakes, New Zealand. We have been building earthquake resistant houses and buildings for 30 years and it is not just the big multistorey buildings that come under the ever watchfull eye of the building authorities, but the humble bach or shed or shack, as you may call them whereever you are. And, it is true that the materials that are used, i.e. reinforced concrete, timber and steel, all have different properties, but they can all be handled in similar ways.

I was raised with memories and experiences of earthquakes and have built houses and buildings that have survived earthquakes. We have building codes that cover all the possibilities. I am in Singapore right now and am working with businesses here and up in Thailand to try and introduce some methods of building earth quake resistant buildings.

The first thing is to understand how building react to having there foundations moved: Concrete cracks, and then the steel that is under stress in the columns and is no longer 'held' in tension, but fails... and so whole floors collapse when the columns give way. Now, if there were 'bracing' walls instead of columns with infill brick walls between them, then you are going to get more resilience in the structure. Let's talk about this some more...

Ciao for now,
David Michael James Davies
Survey on designing for disasters
Dear Mili,

You must first understand the interaction between extreme phenomena and human vulnerability that produce disasters. The extreme phenomena (whether natural or anthropogenous-and they are not mutually exclusive) are not in themselves disasters. They have to meet a vulnerable human settlement for them to turn into a disaster, i.e, hazard + vulnerability = disaster.

This means that even cyclones, hurricanes and floods do not in themselves produce disasters. Chances are that they meet a marginalised group with few options in life other than stay in river valleys, use combustible materials to build their houses, build close to the beach after its natural defences in the form of mangrove forests have been removed to pave way for 'development' etc.

If these vulnerable zones were to be zoned off from the beginning by planners, the losses would be greatly mitigated. The process of development is the one that should lead in combating disasters by factoring it since all disasters are as a result of development. In fact, someone said that disasters are debts of development, what development forgets or negects to take into account it pays back in time.

Enough for now.
Mohamed Mwacharo


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