Architects in Action – Responding When Tragedy Strikes

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Bushfires in Australia, tsunamis in Japan, earthquakes in Nepal, and the fire of Notre Dame in Paris; these are just some of the natural disasters that have wreaked recent devastation. In these tragedies that have disrupted whole communities, many humanitarian architects, such as Shigeru Ban, have found ways to aid the displaced by blending beauty with fast functionality.

Bushfires in Australia

The bushfires in Australia have been on everyone’s minds recently. In response, over 100 Australian architects have joined Architect Assist, providing free design and planning assistance to create new resilient and sustainable structures for the community.

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Earthquakes in Nepal

Shigeru Ban won the Pritzker Prize in 2014 for his work in disaster relief architecture. Ban utilizes found materials such as cardboard tubes and beer crates into his designs. He has created temporary homes out of shipping containers for those displaced by earthquakes in Japan and built a temporary place of worship in New Zealand out of cardboard and stained-glass panels after the original was destroyed by an earthquake.  One of his many disaster relief projects was the work he did for the people of Nepal after two devastating earthquakes in 2015. Ban utilized the brick rubble from destroyed homes to fill in plywood frames. He used plastic sheeting and thatching for the roof. The modest design used in Nepal also holds up against Japanese earthquake standards.

Ban builds with materials that are readily available in each country. This allows not only for them to be constructed as quickly and efficiently as possible, but also allows for the people in that country to emulate his techniques. His ability to work with the people and the materials of each country he helps, is what makes him the archetype for “disaster architect”.

 “If they’re involved in the construction, if the structure needs maintenance, they will know how to do it themselves” -Shigeru Ban

Architecture is meant to serve the common good, and many in the field use their skills to go above and beyond to help when disaster strikes. In serving the common good, architects are being called to action not just for when tragedy strikes, but also called to action by utilizing sustainable and resilient design methods, attempting to prevent future catastrophic climate events.

-Hannah Helmes

Architectural Designer