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An alternative view on disasters and development: latest summer school September 12, 2011

Natural disasters disproportionately affect communities that are poor or otherwise vulnerable. This year’s Architecture Sans Frontières – UK Summer School ‘An alternative view on disasters and development’ addressed the range of pre-emptive and response strategies in disaster and conflict zones. The summer school challenged the participants to consider response strategies in terms of timescale, local vs. global solutions, disaster risk reduction through technical capabilities for prediction of future disasters and local opportunities for adaptation.

The workshop was structured with an introductory two-day intensive lecture series including speakers from academia, practice and directly from the field.  This was followed by a 2.5 day hands-on design and build workshop to directly put into practice some of the theory learnt from the talks and experience first-hand the reality of building quickly with scarce resources.

The talks were organised around the stages of REDUCTION, RELIEF, RECOVERY and RENEWAL and eminent speakers from around the world contributed their experience and insight. Anshu Sharma, former director of SEEDS India spoke live from India about the lessons learnt over the past 5 years, while Dipti Hingorani spoke live from Haiti about the day-to-day efforts to rehouse victims of the earthquake with the local organisation Cordaid.

The hands-on build workshop that followed focused on the design and construction of two shelters in the tropical biomes. The exercise was designed to simulate the process of design and construction of a transitional shelter in a post-disaster zone and required the groups to design a shelter big enough to sleep between 2-4 people within 2 days. As part of their briefs, each group were given a specific region to work within – in order to give them climatic, material and hazard constraints.

One group were designing for Vanuatu, an Oceanic country, which is an island nation off the coast of Australia. Although voted the most ecologically efficient country in the world due to people’s high levels of wellbeing, deforestation is becoming a big issue which is causing landslides and a shortage of potable water. The group had to consider both a wet and hot climate from December to April with temperatures ranging from 20 deg C to 32 deg C and a high chance of cyclones. This group were guided by Bamboo Jack, an expert and innovator in bamboo construction. After completing a BA in Sculpture his work took him to Africa, and then into a career of set design before moving onto larger and more complex construction where most of his time is spent today. He was keen for his team to harvest bamboo from the biome, learn techniques in how to split bamboo and make secure joints with hand tools alone.

The other group were designing for the Gambia a country off the west coast of Africa with historical roots in the slave trade and a relatively stable political status since independence in 1965. The hot and rainy season is from June to Nov and temperatures reach 32 deg C. Only 10% of the land is covered by water – and some areas are susceptible to drought. They were joined by Rufus Maurice, an exceptional local carpenter to share his experience of working with timber. Rufus, formerly a shipwright, has extensive experience as a timber frame builder and carpenter.

Both groups were faced with challenging climatic conditions inside and outside(!) the biome, scarce resources, limited tools, distances to travel and curious members of the public. They worked hard in their teams to divide up the tasks to use their time most effectively and find the most appropriate materials and construction techniques. The outputs demonstrated ingenuity, skill and enthusiasm mixed with need, experimentation and creativity.

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