Architectural Responses to Disasters
A Series in Six Parts
1. After The Deluge
2. Regional Context/Transportation
3. Community Plan
4. Permanent Community Centers/Temporary Shelters
5. Individual Shelters Become Permanent Homes
6. Community Memory
Part 1. After The Deluge
Flooding after Hurricane Sandy: boston.com
Large-scale catastrophes are occurring with alarming and increasing frequency -hurricanes; tsunamis; super-storms, earthquakes, war and poverty. We are too familiar with what is becoming the conventional response to disaster: the tent cities and makeshift, inadequate service areas. No matter what the survivor’s life or lifestyle before, middle class or poor, their life “after” in improvised emergency camps is worse. There is no heat, plumbing, or cooking facilities. Sanitation and access to basic hygiene are often absent and minimal supply of water and food are far from reliable. Temporary shelters may be provided, but they are often inadequate, or as in the case of the FEMA trailers after Katrina, environmental and health hazards. So they cost money to provide and then more money to dispose of and then you have nothing left. Instead of merely providing temporary shelters, and repairing old systems that don’t work any more, why not build something that will provide permanent and ongoing improvements for the whole city? Why not prepare real communities in advance of emergencies?
How Long Is An Emergency?
We have reached a point now where we need to make a better aftermath and do it faster. A recent article in the Miami Herald[i] revisits Port-Au-Prince 3 years after the Haitian earthquake, to follow the people who were moved out of the initial tent cities. Three years later there are fewer homeless Haitians, “down” to 350,000 from the initial 1.5million. But three years out there is still a great need to provide shelter and other critical needs, such as medical service, water, food, and communication.
In addition to natural disasters, add the man-made disasters like financial crises and wars. There are tens of thousands of homeless people at the border of Syria, a result of that country’s civil war. And now in Caracas Venezuela, we have the aftermath of a financial crisis of the 1990s. Even 20 years later, the world’s tallest squatter building, a 45-Story Walkup, is still unrepaired. It is presently a vacant hulk, inhabited up to the 28th floor. It’s named the “Tower of David” after the developer who died leaving a tangle of bankruptcy. Nothing has been done with it for over 20 years. Consequently, there are around 2,500 people now living in it without elevators or services. They have made temporary electrical connections to the grid and they transport water from the ground floor. People have exquisite views but have to climb up to 28 floors to see them.[ii] . What a senseless waste of human endeavour, mainly due to poor planning. We can do better for our communities, recycling these abandoned places.
In 2005, due to multiple natural and man-made catastrophes, there were around 100 million homeless people in the world![iii] The need for planning is there, and it is growing more urgent.
[i] Jacqueline Charles , 3 years after the Quake,” Miami Herald, reprinted in Chicago Tribune Jan 11, 2013,
[ii] New York Times, International Section, March 1, 2011