Architects’ Responsibility in Disasters

Is it just me or has there been too much about natural calamities in the news lately? Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fires, and now a volcanic eruption! All superstitions aside, what’s going on? Scientists and religious people have various opinions and are projecting increasing number of incidents in future. Although we can’t do anything to prevent these disasters, there are steps we can take to help the people that are struck by them. What is the responsibility of our profession towards such disasters?

Google ‘refugee housing’ and you’ll find numerous results for architectural solutions proposed or implemented, ranging from sand bag walls to shipping container houses. There are also enormous complaints about such solutions. We can either sit back and laugh at the debates, or take action. The question is –‘timing’. WHEN we take action may be more important than WHAT action we take. Scientists have created a long list of all the possible places that these disasters may occur in future. Unfortunately they can’t predict exactly when the disasters will take place. We can narrow down the WHERE; we don’t know the WHEN. Why should we wait for the WHEN? Let’s figure out the WHAT first! What do we do as architects? We need to plan for disasters beforehand instead of being reactive each time.

Last year the number of people living in urban areas crossed the line of rural area world population for the first time. The highest degree of life loss will occur in major cities when nature strikes. Most of these cities will be along the coast. Our own region sits on a fault line and when the earthquake hits, loss of life may be enormous. The competitive business life may lead us towards the rush for clients. But we play a major role in the survival and deaths of those hit by disasters. The highest life loss is a result of bad architecture and construction. When we think of refugee camps, think of the separated families, of a person who lost a limb, a lady who is pregnant, a blind person, a crying child… They are people just like us lost in the hustle and bustle. Other than food and water, they need immediate SHELTER.

The architectural solution should be quick to install, easy to transport, durable, flexible, humane, and adaptable to the region. The layout should create a livable community with shared facilities as well as individual privacy. Needless to say, the structures should be environment friendly and regenerative with net zero energy and water use. Aesthetics should not be negated just because these are temporary structures. Think of the structures that are built for the Olympics. How much thought goes in those! If we can respect the recreation needs, we certainly need to respect the shelter needs. Many of us have more time at hand than before. Why not put our heads together and design for the next disaster now, before we scramble to find another shipping container!

I took the liberty of sharing my opinion. Now it’s your turn to share your creative solutions. If you didn’t participate in the COD Ideas competition, make sure to check the winning solutions in June!

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