Conflict and Natural Disasters
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
I have been thinking and praying about what special way can architects worldwide respond to help rebuild for the better the villages and cities in the Indian Ocean area: Design ideas for emergency and new villages, codes, seminars, etc.
Marcus Oliver
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Dear Marcus,

There is entire branch of architecture that deals with social and humanitarian issues such as this, design and construction of low-cost, mobile, easy-to-build shelters for victims of wars or natural disasters. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has donw some major breakthroughs in this field, easpecialy after some tragic earthquakes in Japan back in '90es. I belive he has also worked with Red Cross and designed shelters for victims of humanitarian crissis somewhere in Africa. Thus, I wouldn't be suprised if he is on the job now, preparing or designing his famous cardboard structures for the victims of tsunami in SE Asia. Check out the following URL:

And this one, not Ban's design, but following his footsteps; a very decent house made out of paper and cardboard, quite acceptable shelter for an entire family:

I belive architects worldwide now have the chance to show the true humanitarian aspect of their profession; by following Ban's footsteps, or by designing their own low-cost, flexibile and utilitarian shelters for victims of this tragic disaster. Temporary shelters are usualy thought as something cheap, bad, and... well... temporary, but this does not nessecary have to be true. Light, cheap and flexible structures, if designed with care and thought, can become permanent new homes for families that survived tsunami but lost everything they had to it.

Unfortunately, I am not yet an architect, but just a student who will be spending quite some time on university; thus there is very little I personaly can do to help these people in dire need from across the world, except to donate whatever I can to Red Cross found collecting funds for the victims of this apocalyptic disaster...

Luka Trkanjec
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
The efforts of reconstructing homes will strongly need this French-Indian architect and his institute:
Amr Raouf
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
While I am not familiar with the type of housing stock that was destroyed in the disaster, or, the local vernacular, I'd like to question the role of innovation in rebuilding permanent homes after a disaster. This is based on some experience with the rebuilding effort in Turkey's 7.4R Izmit earthquake, which killed more than 17,000 people.

The Izmit earthquake raised the following questions about the rebuilding process, which I think can also be asked in this situation:

a) Was the death toll inevitable? To what extent is architecture (and in the tsunami's case, urban planning) responsible?
b) Is there a better way to build for the future that can create less casualties in the case the event repeated itself?
c) What is the need? What is the quickest way to build that is also a viable long-term solution?
d) How can we recreate community?
e) Who knows what's best for "the victims"?

I saw a few juicy academia-based projects that were financed by big international organizations and that were built after the earthquake in Izmit. One in particular became the poster-child of the rebuilding effort. Whereas many of the families affected were still living in trailer camps, a "model village for the world" was built for a few lucky (50 people). It was coined "microvillage", "to capture the sense of a small, technical community -- something more than just homes grouped together.":

    "According to his definition, a microvillage incorporates design that recognizes local architectural traditions while exploring the newest technologies; fosters a sense of community (something that gets lost amid the high-rises of a big city); and provides economic self-sustainability (if inhabitants can create microindustries within the village, they won't feel pressed to migrate to the cities)."
To be fair, it wasn't their job to alleviate the housing problem on their own. However, as someone who saw the extent of the devastation, I found that the attention raised by this utopian project took time and resources away from all the people made homeless. They could have used a cheap, yet earthquake-resistant, mass-produced apartment flat to restart their lives. This particular project also allowed the opportunistic government to appear to be "doing something" in the face of the international media.

I also found that the project misrepresented the 'problem'; they were orientalist in their approach to local culture and society. The leading professor idealized the village an village house (which he mistakenly modeled after the old wooden vernacular of Istanbul, and not the mud-wooden structures of the region) and demonized the urban. The project did not take into account that the local vernacular was and had been for decades: the concrete apartment building. They did not realize that it was not economically viable to build of wood in a country where wood is a threatened resource. They ignored the fact that 'village' was no longer the viable form of community for this ex-urban region. (See, you can also find tons of articles on this pilot project on the web.)

I think, had they answered the questions above, they would have realized that recreating what was there before -- this time according to the much evaded earthquake code -- would have been a better choice to regenerate the community.

So, should we just let the government build Soviet-type blocks? Should they give money to the people to rebuild their own? Or, should they let do-gooder architects use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how great their vision is and then feel good about themselves?

Isn't it best to fix one thing for everyone immediately rather than fix all that's wrong, for a small group of people?

Any thoughts?

Ozgur Basak Alkan
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding

There's an ancinet Chinese wisdom which goes something like: "If you want to get rid of a hunrgy man, give him a fish. If you want to help him, teach him how to learn fish."

Rebuilding everything immediately just to rebuild things, just to get things done as soon as possible, is surely one of the worst solutions possible. While urgency in this matter certainly is necessary, this does not mean we should not think and plan carefuly about reconstruction project. A great deal of people in tsunami-hit countries lived a miserable existance long before and pretty much nobody cared about them at all. Now, when the disaster struck, these homeless, poor, and desperate masses became the focus of the world in what is turning out to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest humanitarian action of all times. The chance now exists, and a pretty realistic one, if you ask me, not only to rebuild things as they were for the victims of tsunami, but to improve the quality of their lives, of their existance, of their architecture and of their urbanism... greatly. This by itself does not require a lot of money (though more money is always welcome), as much as a lot of thinking. It is possible to build relatively cheap yet functional, simple yet ingenious, ecological, social and flexible shelters; which, through a good design and multifunctional use, can easily become permament new homes for a great number of tsunami-victims. We should not first waste money on temporary shelters, only to waste even more money on permament shelters later. Temporary does not nessecary have to be something which is bad, provisional, cheap, and exists only as a first step towards something better; temporary, if designed with care and thought, can easily become permanent.

best regards,
Luka Trkanjec
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Yes, Luka... But in another world.

In this world, things that are ecologically and socially good do not happen so easily. Temporary housing is often of quite bad... often, because of the lack of infrastructure, more specifically, clean water and bathrooms.

Look at the governments, Luka. Indonesia is saying that the international aid organizations should be out of Aceh region in three months. (See BBC's "Indonesia tightens Aceh controls".) India is controlling foreign access to A&N islands where they have bases. (See BBC's "Foreign NGOs seek Andamans access"). Myanmar is a closed box. And, I wonder how much of the "pledged" international money will actually get to the areas -- either because this money will not (as before) appear or it will disappear once it appears. So, the re-housing pretty much left to the governments... I think if anything 'better' is to happen, it is left to local organizations of architects and planners.

And, I'd like to ask how fast can architects design, or adapt an existing design to a local situation? I think if you tell the victims that they have to wait another year for our uper-duper improved housing to be built, they'd be rather upset. They need houses, and it's only going to happen now when the momentum is so high. They cannot wait for a year or two...

Is it best to be an idealist or a realist in this situation?

Ozgur Basak Alkan
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Here in India people are still staying in camps and there are helping hands now and the corrupt government machinery is working somewhat in an efficient manner to give them food and accommodation in schools. Our government has their contractors and they will build homes and they will give part of their profit to officials for doing corruption. I find that your thinking has nothing to do with Indian reality.

Sorry if I hurt you.
Raghu Thachcppilly
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Hi Raghu,

I am glad that the distribution of food and supplies is being done efficiently.

I will not believe the success of the permanent housing until after they have been completed and the right people have settled in them. I think one of the sneaky problems with this process is the housing distribution; i.e. proving who is a real victim of the disaster and who may be an opportunate impostor. Impostors existed in the Turkish situation (there were also people who looted the abandoned property...) and I assume they will exist in India as well. The authorities will also have to find a means to decide who gets the housing first.

When the Indian government builds housing; what kinds of housing does it build? Is the Council of Architecture contributing any expertise or ideas? But before all that, how's the progress on lifting the debris?
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Your idea and approach seems to be humanistic. I feel you should share the same with media in particular and start working on this idea. If you make a start people and the Indian Government will definitely consider you idea. I think to be more practical you should share it with the NGO working in the Tsunami hit areas. Any kind of information at my end will definitely be made available to you for you to act.
Azmathulla Shariff
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
OK, design idea, central core (this single roomed dwelling can later be expanded upon therefore the actual dwelling will only be seen in the beginning, and that's what is needed right now: a secure, safe, waterproof and mosquito-proof basic dwelling)... actually a few thousand of them. The rest can follow in good time. And latrines. (Washing facilities can be communal).

I have designed just such a dwelling and am in the process of having it engineered. It will be built to cyclone cat, all coastal buildings are cyclone category from approx 30 degrees south in Australia.

The construction is concrete slab one room module, of timber studs, plywood bracing, steel roof. It can be cut, assembled into panels, flat-packed together and transported by truck or by helicopter. Because of its modular nature it can be assembly lined (remember Henry Ford). The measurements must never vary, so as to keep it uncomplicated, and therefore easy to train local men to use this method. The idea is to train up a team of local men then have them take over just about all of it. This way, they become the builders, their self-esteem rises, they shed the victim role, and the community spirit grows. We can begin to help but our help must eventually mean that we love them and leave them, but leave them with the skills and strength to rebuild their world as they want it to be.

Getting back to the design... This modular core unit becomes a home immediately, the team of around 4 to 6 can do a dwelling a day (my estimate), and as men become trained, so output increases. Initially the four openings (one per wall, cross ventilation) are covered with rolled up plastic tarps,and later can be replaced with louvres of ply. The inside of the openings are sarlon or insect-mesh stapled to the frame. The unit can be added to immediately with the use of plastic tarps on one or more sides, with tent poles and ropes, much the same as a caravan annexe (if rough weather is imminent, the ropes can be undone and the tarps lowered for extra protection.) Later on, the annexe can be made of solid materials as the need arises,but that would be down the track a bit. In the meanwhile, we need to get started. These modular units can be grouped together to form for example, a community center school classrooms,latrine blocks, etc. I look forward to your ideas,

Ken Long
Ken Long
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Dear Ken,

Perhaps you could post some sort of blueprints or sketches or model, or give a link to the page where perhaps you already have those things online. Your ideas sound good and interesting, but for an architect it is often easier to look upon than to read about.
Luka Trkanjec
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
In ancient times, the draught led to famine and death in a country. The princess of that country asked the cause of the famine from the food minister of that country. She was informed that it was due to shortage of bread in the country. She angrily said, 'why don't the people eat cake instead of bread"?.

You, all the rich people of rich nations, you can't really feel the problems of tsunami hit poor people. The solution of reconstruction of their homes are with them. You must ask them what they want.
Alamzeb Akhund
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Alamzeb ,You are right, I can only speak for myself , I dont know what it is like to lose every thing in my life.
Ken Long
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Alamzeb, I do agree with you but I have to say I get a sense of a victim attitude. I also have to say that I feel disgusted by alot of things said in richer countries as generally they have little to no experience of any culture and way of life than their own. Originally, I am from norway but I have spent most of my life living in africa, asia and south america. I have had a very good standard of living there which I could only dream of in my own country, but in the process I made alot of friends who were living in tiny shacks surrounding bigger cities, and in slums in the city centres. I visited them and learnt that they had built most of their homes from scrap they just came across. I was in El Salvador when they had the great big earthquake. My family donated essential things like rice and water as this we were told was of extreme importance. It was a tiny contribution, btu it must have helped a handful if not even just 1 individual to at least get food and drink.

Currently I am doing my thesis on this and I am arguing against any sort of "hi tech" intervention or even any intervention by outside countries except help through sending architects and designers or people willing to teach simple construction techniques like the superadobe method contrived by Nader Khalili. Any reconstruction effort should involve the local population as much as possible, get people working to improve their own future, getting their own local economy going. It really gets to me when people want to "help", yet in the end, the only people who benefit from the situation are the donors.

What I think is that there should be a local, national, international/global forum with architects working on emergency measures and responses for various regions most prone to natural disasters like tsunami's, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.. Because in the end, I think that all natural disasters are man made, therefore we must also have the ability to prevent the level of destruction seen recently.

p.s Was it not the queen of england who said "So let them eat cake?"
Knut Nord
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
We are all teached how to survive in the part of the World that we 've been born . It's hard to put ourselfs in shoes of the people from the other parts of the world. I came from Bosnia to Australia (11 years ago), and I'm still learning how to survive in this situation. So far so good!
Jasna Varcakovic
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Dear Knut,

I agree with you on this point. The problem here is basically: the aid organizations do not stick around. If these organizations who came in to build
'better' housing with new technologies (and this does not have to be high-tech, it could be interesting sustainable technologies) do not stick around to maintain the housing they built through the years, then there's no point in building it in the first place.

However, conceivably, if the 'locals' are involved in the construction of this housing (from scratch), then they will a) have the skills to fix them when needed b) have the skills to add more of the same c) claim them as their own.

But, in the end, with people who had built their own homes in the past, the only help that is needed from the aid agency appears to be providing the infrastructure (water, sewerage, etc.) and the materials, so that they can go ahead and build their home as they desire. (because they will now best what their needs are).

In other cases, where people were living in mass-produced housing, such as concrete blocks, designing better concrete blocks to house them is perhaps the only way to go.

So, my point is that, "a better village design" will only work if the organization that designs it is there for MANY years after the construction to help people ease into the new lifestyle/design.
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Hi Ozgur,

Interesting point you bring up, saying that these organizations should stick around for longer. I suppose they would have to set up more focused smaller organizations who only worked on one project at a time. I guess the only thing we can do as responsible architects is to keep applying pressure to NGO's and governments alike to change their minds from their indoctrinated way of working.
Knut Nord
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Knut Nord, No it was not an English Queen who said "Let them eat cake". The queen was Marie Aintoinette (wife of Louis XVI?, King of France). When Marie Aintoinette heard that the people had no bread, she said "Let them at cake." The quote was used (in British history books) to show that Marie Aintoinette had no idea how poor people lived.

This Continental European Absolute Monarchy was then wiped out in the French Revolution when most of the nobility and probably most of the professional classes had their heads cut off by "Madame Guilloutine". :(

Please note: King John was the last absolute monarch in Britain and when he was forced to sign the "Magna Carta", he signed away forever the right of the British Monarchy to absolute power.

Hundreds of years later, King Charles the First (prompted by his Continental European born wife) tried to resume the right of absolute power. There was a Civil War and his head cut off. :)
Frank John Snelling
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
To the best of my knowledge, it is diffcult to concentrate on individual design & low cost housing which would be resistant to Tsunami waves that lashed Southeast Asia. These waves carry a huge force and have a height too...

So the simple solution would be to build on stilts, Very STRONG stilts. Stilts that would not be less than 6 metres high. By the way, when will the next Tsunami wash the shores? What magnitude of earthquake will cause it? What kind of force are we talking about?

Frank? Any ideas?

Chitradeep Sengupta
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Chitradeep, Hi there :) There are two themes involved with any disaster and I think separation of the two is needed.(1) Pre-Disaster design and (2) Post-Disaster design:-

Post-Design is the emergency erection of "mass temporary housing" for those made homeless. uually this is mixture of locally available materials and temporary structures like tents.

Pre-Design is in fact also thought of after disasters, but for the long term as permanent protective solutions.

Pre-Design for Tsunamis' is practically impossible to cater for as there is no way of predicating where and when. I can only offer what I wrote earlier and that is (a) have an early-warning system (seismology, metrology and local weather knowledge), coupled with a system of watertight concrete blockhouses to house people for a short time during the Tsunami.

As I understand the phenomena, (i) the sea retreats and then (ii) thunders back in a very high wave like an unstoppable juggernaut and finally (iii) the water floods back into the sea. So people can be swept inland and drowned by the incoming wave and shortly afterwards can be swept seawards and drowned by flood waters returning to the sea. So the design of any "Tsunami-Proof" structure needs to take into account this double flow.

So, if there was a system of water-tight concrete bunkers along the coast of Tsunami-prone areas, then an air-raid siren could alert people to drop everything and take immediate shelter. To reduce the cost of such shelters, they can be cellars under buildings or waterproof underground tunnels and both forms would need strong steel doors against the pressure of water.
Frank John Snelling
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding

Thanks. So, what you mean to say is that warning systems & community shelters need to be built & people need to be going through regular drills. Which basically means that a individual house at this point of time will not be able to provide tsunami resistance, especially so because of the huge force involved.

Frank, just for info, does this kind of force affect Naval Architects in ship design & building?

Post-disaster immediate housing consists of temporary shelters trat can cater to day-to-day requirements. They should be climate responsive, (CGI sheets were a disaster in Latur & Bhuj), fire resistant (because people cook inside). Is there any tent material that goes close to such requirements?
Chitradeep Sengupta
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Chitradeep, yes you are right, regular drills would be needed. When I was on Deep-Sea ships it was normal to have a weekly "Fire and Lifeboat" drill. But, on land I would think a monthly or a two monthly drill would be enough.

Tsumani precautions are necessary in areas at risk, which in practical terms is probably a mile inland from the sea where the land is both flat and low.

Some archaelogists believe that the ancient Minoan civilisation on the Mediterranean island of Crete was completely wiped in a Tsumani.

I doubt that ships are designed to resist Tsunami-size waves. Ships and boats rely upon (a) their bouyancy to float over most waves, and (b) keeping the ship turned to face the waves in any storm, hurricane, tsunami, etc.

So long as water-tight doors, windows and bulkheads remain intact, ships can survive being submerged under a huge wave for a short time. But if submerged for too long they "sail under". :(((

CGI sheets can be lethal, I remember reading one book about a hurricane in which the very high winds tore these sheets off roofs, so they swept about like large scythes and killed people.

Before the arrival of plastic sheeting, most tents used cotton, linen or canvas material or used hair/wool felt such as the Mongol Yurts of Central Asia or the Black Tents of Saharan North Africa.

Yes, there are flame-proof or flame-retardant cloth materials which could be used for tents. But, it would be better to have either special communal cooking areas, or cooking fires set in non-flammable materials like stone, clay, brick, mud, etc.

One way would be to have back-to-back ridge tents, so the rear inner wall (made of non-flammable materials) is the shared cooking area for two tents which have separate front entrances.

Asbestos until very recently used to be the standard non-flammable material, but it has now completely vanished as a building material and huge fusses are made in Britain when old buildings are found to have asbestos sheet, etc.
Frank John Snelling
Tsunami disaster: Design ideas for rebuilding
Asbestos is not supposed to be healthy (apparently it causes cancer), which is why it is vanishing. It can be used only if no other options are left. Sooner or later it would be restricted in India also.

Community kitchens is a good idea. It will keep the people inter-mixing & give them some relief/escape out of their individual sorrows. By mixing with other people & getting involved in community related works people will not loose out on their 'active' life.
Chitradeep Sengupta


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