Tour de Disaster

Today was “Tour de Disaster” in Palu.  We saw the liquefaction areas and existing temporary housing that came from the Indonesian government.  Out of the 3,410 people claimed dead after this disaster, 1,309 were still missing.   After seeing the wreckage it’s easy to imagine the earth swallowing up and claiming these lives.  The site has become something of a tourist attraction.  One Indonesian man that we met was affiliated with CRS (Catholic Relief Service) based out of Baltimore, Maryland.  He is working with locals to build 900 houses on another site in Palu.  His method also incorporates participatory design as they are given materials and use an example house to teach the locals how to safely build it before giving them the materials to build their own home.  This allows for modifications that will better fit the individual family’s needs as they adapt the building to their lives during construction.  Like our Veneer House Project, they also learn the assembly and so can easily disassemble the structure to use in a more permanent capacity.  Each house takes a month to build.  He partners with USAID (U.S.A. International Development) , Cordaid in Germany and CRS.

Talking with him and some of the other members let on to the fact that they are also still trying to figure out the best method of construction, whether its brick, bamboo, wood or metal.  They are extremely open to trying new types of temporary houses and were very excited to hear about the Veneer House that we’re building.  There were a lot of similarities between our projects with two main differences.  The first is that the Veneer House is prescriptive - the assembly cannot yet be altered or adapted after its cut.  A miss-cut or lost piece is hard to rectify.   The second difference is in the potential dispatch of each design post disaster.  The Veneer House would be more like a pre-fab building where multiple would look identical instead of a kit of parts where the components could be pieced together to form different permutations of the same building.  The Veneer House also has the potential to be pre-cut, flat packed and stored in a warehouse pending dispatch post disaster.  The other design would be sent out only when needed, the storage space required for the parts would be too great otherwise.  Right not there isn’t one disaster relief design that comes out on top

Architecture can be a tool to heal the people in need.  The worst thing that we can do is further harm someone who has just gone through such a trauma as disaster.  Unfortunately, this is what we see over and over again with temporary housing.  People who are used to living in a community, a neighborhood, are forced to live in row houses…think mass production chicken coops.  These actually exist as examples of refugee structures.  One example is the semi-permanent houses in West Java that were built after the tsunami.  A living situation such as this only serves to exacerbate the preexisting trauma of missing their homes and highlighting everything lost.  Especially with participatory design, the house becomes a process and not a product.  It is a healing process as the individual gets to take back control, make decisions and physically re-build their lives.  The end product is a house but they have also rebuilt the foundation of their life as a family.

The rebuild process also builds equity in the physical structure and value in the materials used.  If these temporary structures can be phased into permanent ones instead of demolished and starting anew with a more well-built structure it could save an exorbitant sum of money to be reinvested back into public infrastructure.  It would be far more efficient for the governmental budget and people can further bring ownership into house through expansion instead of demolition.  A good example of this is Alejandro Aravena’s solution to social housing in Chile.

The other aspect this would help alleviate is the demand for houses and materials.  When everyone is trying to rebuild, demand is high but supply is low. Not having to rebuild twice, once temporarily and again when permanent cuts the amount of material used in half and could be used to build double the buildings.  There might also be able to be an investigation into the possibility of using waste and rubble from the destruction in a new manner.  For example in Palu, trash is a real problem and paying for municipal collection is expensive.  Instead the trash is burned, something that happens in a lot of undeveloped countries.  So instead of being burned and releasing chemicals into the air what if it could be used for a building material?

The row houses that we saw today were implemented adjacent to one of the areas of liquefaction where those affected were relocated. It is sub-dived into 12 homes in one unit.  The government pays 500,000,000 IDR (about $35,000) for one unit and it can be built in 45 days.  They all have electricity and water which is free, paid for the government. The government also keeps track of change of address. There is an incredible amount of strategic infrastructure for these temporary houses as well as physical.  There was also a school in the same area.  In building refugee camps we have to consider the holistic needs of a community. A community can form around a school as a central, necessary part. We were there with Taswin, an architect with IAI (Indonesian Institute of Architects) who designed the module. He was grateful that it was being used.  One school module was 480,000,000 IDR (about $34,000).  It is temporary in the sense that when the community is relocated it will be completely demolished and the material given to the village forum to do with what they will, sometimes just being discarded altogether. There were 8 modules.  That’s $280,000 invested into something that might just be thrown out!  What if the school module had the same base as a residential module and they were all able to transition into being permanent structures?  Changing use or program but not discarded.  

“Indonesia is a supermarket of disaster”

In August of 2018 just one month before the Palu disaster, Lombok had an earthquake with a 6.9 magnitude.  They were able to build back faster because of the lack of liquefaction, causing far less destruction.  The liquefaction is a huge factor in why Palu is taking so long to rebuild (I’ve been told over and over again to see the movie 2012, apparently its just like that).  The earth moved hundreds of meters from its original location drastically complicating land ownership rights.  Along the fault line the earth cracked and made it impossible to rebuild there.  The people in Palu can’t rebuild in the same places and so are waiting for the government to give them relocation land.  The ones that do want to rebuild hold the sentiment that “its my land I should be able to do what I want on it.”  But the government won’t allow it and won’t give them new land.  And so they wait in refugee camps.

In Lombok, the Indonesian government gave each family a stimulus package of 50,000,000 IDR ($3,500) to start over.  They were able to rebuild on their land without the same ownership issues as in Palu.  The issue that happened here was that they wanted to keep the building economical to fit within the allotted budget, so they built exactly as before with no prevention methods for any future earthquakes.  This circles back around to the same issue of building for a temporary fix timeline.

We know how to build for earthquake prevention.  With liquefaction its different, its not a matter of changing building construction because its not the buildings that fail but the land underneath.  We need to incorporate urban planning to prevent liquefaction by simply not building in those areas. Conducting soil testing, outlining where the ground is weak, and planning for open space or farmland usage. But Palu is already here...so what do they do?  The three sites of liquefaction are named Petobo, Balaroa and Jono Oge.  The names of these towns are all names of disasters that happened hundreds of years ago.  This means that this liquefaction event isn’t the first of its kind, it was just too long ago for the people to remember, but the names held the memory of what has happened before.  The repetition is a clear indicator that rebuild simply cannot happen on these same sites.

During the earthquake, the Indigenous people in the mountains were fine. They had water, crops and houses made of timber.  The wood allows for the flexibility in material to give under the stress without breaking.  When these traditional building methods were translated into concrete, there was a disconnect between also translating appropriate material properties. Tried to build it as with wood but the material properties were so different: where wood flexes, the concrete broke and exacerbated destruction.  Now in the cities as well, people are afraid to rebuild with concrete and are switching back to vernacular techniques in timber frame construction.  The solution lies in understanding what’s working about ancient technologies and what works about modern technology and combining them.

Morgan MarzoComment