How architects help after natural disasters

Natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Nepal normally go through three distinct phases, emergency, relief and recovery, with architectural firms usually contributing in all three.

The emergency stage starts immediately after the disaster and usually lasts for about three weeks. The highest priority is locating then rescuing survivors. Providing food and shelter is also urgently needed. At this time, relief agencies appeal for cash donations to finance these emergency procedures and architect firms have proven generous in quickly raising funds.

Survivors are often housed in large evacuation shelters, where they live and sleep in large communal areas. This is not ideal for vulnerable people, although professionals are coming up with a number of innovative ideas to help ease their suffering.

For example, during the emergency phase of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, cardboard cubicles were provided by the University of Kokaguin in order to provide much needed privacy and dignity. Meanwhile, textile designer Yoko Ando donated fabrics to make curtains that further enabled privacy.

The next stage, relief, is a six-month phase where the survivors need rehousing in temporary accommodation, and this is where architects have come up with inventive ways to help. For example, after the tsunami, the firm of Shigeru Ban Architects adapted shipping containers as temporary housing units, which could be quickly converted, transported and made available for use by survivors.

The third stage is recovery, when new buildings need to be constructed to replace those destroyed by the earthquake, flood, hurricane or tsunami. This is where a lot of coordination is needed between architects, builders, contractors, and local authorities in order to get the best results possible.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the organisation Architects for Humanity created a rebuilding centre, which trained local personnel to manage the reconstruction of schools, hospitals and housing.

Posted by Matt Hughes
June 18, 2015

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