Initial Research Methodology & Outline

Increasing Standards in Disaster Relief Recovery Structures


In the social role of architecture, the responsibility lies in looking at those members of society that are the most undeserved or the most in need of support.  A concentrated effort must be dedicated to providing a higher standard of life through the built environment. This can lead to a bottom up revolution supporting the health and well-being of those most in need, and in doing so, establish the framework for rebuild and recovery.

In learning about the power of good design it only seems appropriate to use it as a way to heal those that could most benefit from a change in environment. Designing as MASS Design Group does, whose maternity hospital was designed for natural day-lighting, ventilation and ease of access, leading to a 30% decrease in fetal mortality rates.  Architecture can directly save a life. That’s how powerful it is.  It leads to questions such as: Can we use transitional housing to psychologically and physically rebuild lives post disaster?  If we can work to provide a space in which a family can mentally heal after their home is destroyed, won’t they be able to recover that much faster and in turn can start the rebuilding process sooner, reducing that extended timeline where 10 years after a disaster a community is still not recovered? If one person can heal faster, and reach out to the larger community to offer help, the community itself will recover that much faster and can even become stronger than it was before. Architecture can help improve lives through its design and construction.  It can seed a community and spark local jobs, the economy, social movements, and inspire a community that otherwise would have had less hope.  Participatory design can help individuals reclaim their homes and their city; can allow those who feel helpless to take back control and take project-oriented action with participatory design.

My research thesis will look into the role that architects play in disaster recovery.  Understanding the disaster timeline, the immediate needs after a disaster, the mid-term needs after recovery starts, the long-term needs of the displaced, and the gaps that come in-between.  Hiroto Kobayashi is one of the most respected professors in Architecture focusing on Disaster Relief Structures.  He has agreed to sponsor me as a research student at Keio University in Japan.  Through integration into Kobayashi-san’s studio and researching relevant case studies, I will be able to test successful, real-world precedents for these post-disaster stages and gain some answers to help mitigate the aftermath effects on the affected population and allow for a community to rebuild faster and with more resilience than before.

I will also be volunteering with an organization called Peace Boat Japan, going into the recent flood areas and helping those communities in their early stages of rebuilding.  Peace Boat Japan also provides the opportunity to help with their continuing efforts in Tohoku where the 2011 tsunami/earthquake hit, helping with the later stages of rebuild. I will also become involved with Social Innovation Japan, working with nonprofits, communities, academia, and governments to spread awareness and work together to find solutions.

Peace Boat Japan

Social Innovation Japan

Different stages of disaster have different built environment requirements. Architecture always builds upon other precedents and solutions that came before it.  There are surprisingly few to choose from for disaster relief architecture, the most successful of which were developed in Japan.  Shigeru Ban also teaches at Keio University with Hiroto Kobayashi, and through him I will be able to learn about the period of 0-1 years post-disaster where evacuation shelters and immediate response shelters are implemented.  He has different methods of implementation for his “paper tube” building materials and successfully creates privacy screens and emergency shelters.  Studying under Hiroto Kobayashi will involve his 1-4 year post-disaster transitional structures.  I identified this as the vital period in which I want to focus my efforts, as the transitional housing can be that in which people must live for an extended period as the community is being rebuilt. He created the Veneer House, a modular, paneled structure made out of plywood that can be flat packed and shipped easily to anywhere in the world.  The extended period of 5-10 years post-disaster can be looked at as a case study in Tohoku, in Northern Japan.  Tohoku was hit the hardest by the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, the effects of which can still be seen today.  This case study will help to answer the question: can transitional housing sustain/withstand permanence? 

I have thus far been able to split the research into two interlocking categories; the Human Aspect and the Relevant Supporting Systems. The Human Aspect focuses on understanding disaster relief as recovery. This proposes the involvement of locals, giving a new purpose in participatory engagement.  It works within the stages presented above looking at the psychological effects of pop-up shelters vs. transitional housing, looking at how to rebuild the layers of community.  The Supporting Systems focuses on the framework, the formal order of interlocking entities such as the local government, economics, geopolitical and socioeconomic fabrics of the greater community.  This will also include informal systems such as access to clean water, energy, waste disposal etc.

Through volunteering with Peace Boat Japan and traveling to Tohoku and the western flood areas I hope to study the built environment and speak firsthand with those that were affected by the disasters, understanding both the Human Aspect and the Supporting Systems in these specific areas. This will help in understanding potential architectural solutions and in proving/disproving theories on what is most important to include.

After my return I will mostly be focusing on the question: How can these methods be applied in other parts of the world and the U.S. (Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Haiti, Chile, Colorado wildfires, North Carolina flooding)?  In tandem with engaging with applicable Rotary Clubs, I’m also interested in reaching out to the United Nations to see where this knowledge can be applied.  There are at least two offices I’ve identified that would be relevant. 

The first is the “Office for Disaster Risk Reduction,” where one of the goals of this subset is to “enhance disaster preparedness for effective response and to 'Build Back Better' in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.”  Along with this statement comes opportunity to present my findings concerning the relationship between transitional housing and psychologically recovery time, building stronger community bonds and building resiliency into the solution. 

The second is the “U.N. Disaster Assessment and Coordination” Office.  This subset focuses on the other end of the disaster relief timeline, the period directly after an event working with the coordination of incoming international relief and could be where the transitional housing design would be implemented.  Another option is to apply for a grant to design a solution prototype, which could then be applied in a future disaster situation to study how it performs and gather data and feedback on it.  This would be Stage 2 of the research as a whole, the physical implementation period.


Different stages of disaster have different built environment requirements.  Case study areas in which these different stages have been identified, where the various structures have possibility of implementation have been identified below:



0-1 Year: Shigeru Ban - evacuation shelters and immediate response

1-4 Years: Hiroto Kobayashi - rebuild transitional structures

5-10 Years: Tohoku - timeline is more extended/permanent: can the transitional housing sustain/withstand permanence?



2018 Flooding: Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo and Shiga (Kansai Region)

2018 Flooding: Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture, one of the hardest hit areas

2014 Volcano Eruption: Gifu and Nagano, Chūbu Region

2011 Earthquake/Tsunami: Tohoku, Honshu Island

1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake: Awaji Island, Hyōgo Prefecture



Robin Lewis: Social Innovation Japan

Elizabeth Maly: Human and Social Response Research Division: International Disaster Resilience affiliated with Tohoku University in Tohoku, Japan

Shigeru Ban: Paper Emergency Shelter for UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency)

Toyo Ito: Home for All (Social Architecture)

Hiroto Kobayashi: Veneer House

MASS Design Group: on building community (to do in U.S. or via email)

Communitere: helps people to act on the ground, build community from the ground up in Haiti, the Philippines, and now in Nepal.

Julee Herdt: bio sips and potential application in shipping containers (to do in U.S.)



Tohoku Rotary Club: Reach out to see what projects are going on & how to become involved

Keio University: Study: Learn from Hiroto Kobayashi about CNC modular veneer house as a possible solution to temporary transitional housing

Social Innovation Japan: Volunteer: non-profit working in disaster relief

Peace Boat Japan: Volunteer: working in flood areas



Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery: Daniel Aldrich

Design Like You Give A Damn: Architectural Responses: Cameron Sinclair

Research Methods for Architecture: Ray Lucas

Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architecture: Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson

Humanitarian Architecture: 15 stories of architects working after disaster: Esther Charlesworth



Architecture in Development

Open Architecture Collaborative: (Architecture for Humanity)



Can we use transitional housing to psychologically + physically re-build lives?

-         What are some transferrable disaster relief case study areas and shelters that can be studied for evaluation?

-         How and where have disaster relief structures been implemented?

-         Are they unsuccessful / successful?

-         Have they been evaluated and if so, using what criteria?

-         What are the differences/similarities between disaster management policy in the U.S. and Japan?

-         How does FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) respond to disasters concerning the built environment?

-         What is the typical size and make-up of their relief shelter? 

-         What kind of monetary relief is available through FEMA for constructing disaster relief housing? 

-         What are their qualifications and requirements?

-         What is the framework necessary to support re-build?  (clean water, energy, governmental/economic support etc.)

-         When are you done rebuilding? Where is that line between rebuilding and simply building?  Disaster->rebuild->rebuild->rebuild->build… (when does something become built anew vs. when does it become rebuilt?)




Practical Theory vs. Mass Application:

-         Theory: Learn about theory and case studies in Japan and see how structures have been applied.

-         Application: How can it be transferrable to other countries/back to the U.S.? Puerto Rico? Wildfires in Colorado?  North Carolina flooding?  Ecuador and Chile earthquakes?  Pacific Rim disasters?


Tangible vs. Intangible / Built Environment vs. Social and Political:

-         Understanding not only the physical necessities of a relief structure but also the framework behind a successful recovery case study.

-         Understand aspects of influence to quantify effectiveness: Social, political, economic, environmental, technological e.g. water and sewage, how fast can it be built and mobilized? 



The How To:

- Where are you?

- What’s the disaster?

- What systems are already in place as response (governmental and locally?)?

- What’s environmentally/locally available?

- Template of best modular and material application: deliverable how to…teach locals in participatory design

- Gather data from experiences and create open source to constantly improve disaster response / internationally exchange lessons and what’s effective.

Morgan MarzoComment