Natural disasters are one of the most unpredicted tragic incidents one can face. Around 42 million people were globally displaced from their homes by natural disasters in 2010. Generally, these people are given shelter in very pitiful conditions like in the bunker beds with all their luggage under their beds; all the people cramped up in small ground spaces of public gymnasiums or grounds. This creates a great need for disaster relief architecture, which we will talk about here.

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Shigeru Ban’s design for temporary disaster relief shelter_©

Need of Disaster Management through Architecture

Currently, the most common way of managing and sheltering displaced people hit by natural calamity is using a public ground or area with ample open space. This open space is then turned into a temporary shelter to accommodate people with their belongings that are then kept under the beds.  We also know that it takes a long time for the affected people to resettle after losing everything, making it more essential to design these places judiciously. Also, this kind of arrangement reflects the significant gap in society. The rich and white collared people always have backup arrangements for these situations, but the poor and economically challenged people are uprooted. There is a high need to address this situation, and thus many architects and researchers are working in this direction to prepare us for these disasters by sheltering them.    

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Disaster affected people sitting inside the tent_©

Things to Ensure for Designing in Disaster Management 

There are several factors to be noted while designing for disaster management. These designs are not just about the design features that provide functionality but also tap into many other factors. First, the material choice matters a lot while coming up with structures. The material needs to be customized to stand in the specified disasters and withstand various adverse natural conditions. The other factors to be considered are the ease and time taken to transport materials. These structures need to be set up in very little time to instantly provide relief to the affected people. For these reasons, the designs are generally modular and can be repeated, making the manufacturing, installation, and transportation very easy and less time-consuming. 

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Shigeru Ban’s Paper Log House in Kobe_©Jim Smeal/BEI/REX/Shutterstock
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Temporary shelters built by National Disaster Management Agency in Pandeglang, Banten_©

Another way of ensuring disaster management is by guaranteeing the disaster factors during the construction of the buildings. For example, if the focus is put on building materials to make it strong in earthquake-prone areas, then the damage due to the disaster can be reduced. The primary concern of constructing buildings is that when they are demolished, they create a significant amount of waste, increasing the destruction on the earth. Structure with minimal, low-cost, recyclable materials reduces the cost and reduces the waste generated after demolition.

The Current Contribution of Architects in the Field

Many architects have contributed to the field and developed various designs exploring unique material palettes. Shigeru Ban is known for his innovative strategies that contribute to disaster management. The most common material in his compositions is paper, but it’s not the only material he uses. He has also worked with shipping containers and cardboard tubes. He generally says that mainly natural calamities are human-made rather than natural disasters. Earthquakes usually don’t kill people, but our buildings collapse and kill people. This makes it essential for the structures to be structurally efficient for withstanding the disasters. Many of his works in the Cardboard Cathedral, Paper Church, Onagawa Container Temporary Housing contribute to rebuilding the cities destroyed by the natural calamities. Many were built for temporary purposes for around 4-5 years, but then people started liking it, and the buildings stayed on for ten more years. 

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Cardboard Cathedral by Shigeru ban_©Shigeru Ban Architects
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Exo emergency shelter by Michael McDaniel_©Shigeru Ban Architects

Another relief home shelter designed by Michael Mc Daniel, inspired by coffee cups, is also a great example of designing disaster relief shelters . His design is an example of integrating design and technology to create a modular emergency shelter, easy to transport and can be placed anywhere. These structures are like hollow coffee cups that can be stacked and transported efficiently. The modularity of the design also provides room for the individual systems to be rearranged to form a community space between modules or be altered to create an interconnected living space.

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Exo shelters stacked over one another for transportation. _©

Many other such installments use a variety of newer futures that integrate newer technologies with low-cost materials to create structures that help in disaster management. These interventions are not necessarily in architecture, but technological designs also contribute significantly. Many technical interventions like portable emergency shelter, Rapid Deployment Module, Recipro Boo, and temporary container housing have aided disaster relief management by making accessibility, transportation, and many other factors easier. 

The Future of Disaster Relief Architecture

Luckily, we have a greater awareness about the current global issues in the current era, and we have an increasing preparedness for the situations. People have realized how important it is to prepare for natural calamities before being handled. But these arrangements need to be more well planned in architecture. More and more architects should start making temporary emergency shelters just the way we focus on making residential sectors to prepare ourselves for the disasters to come. 

Temporary shelter in India by Shigeru Ban_©

Currently in her 3rd year of Architecture at IIT Roorkee, Muskan believes that architecture has the potential to shape this world and its future. Being a keen observer, she always finds connection between architecture and human psychology. Besides this, she also loves art, music, movies and connecting with others.

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