The disaster is a usually Unpredictable anomaly that has destroyed many civilizations and sometimes created better ones. The disaster relief architecture responds to disasters and tries to provide people with their basic needs. 

Types of disasters

There are two main types of disasters: Natural disasters and man-made disasters.  

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Natural disaster 

Natural disaster comprises abrupt situations like earthquakes, tsunami, floods and flash floods, landslides, hurricanes, thunderstorms, tropical storms, sand storms, winter ice storms, wildfires, sinkholes, etc. There are also relatively gradual disasters like agriculture diseases and pests, pandemics, drought, etc.

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Australia wildfire _

Even if some of these disasters may look nature-made, they can be a side effect of human actions. For example, one of the many fuels for the wildfire in Australia (in 2019-2020) was rising global climate temperature. It played a crucial role side by side with the wind speed and direction, condition of plants and wood, overall topography and weather.

The Man-made disasters

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A fire on the ocean surface west of Mexico due to ruptured gas pipeline

Disasters such as hazardous materials leakage, nuclear power plants and nuclear blast, radiological emergency, chemical threats, biological weapons, cyber attack, essential supply services disruption like water and power, explosions, riots and violence, and most destructive wars.

Factors affecting the disaster relief architecture

Despite the type of disaster, natural or Man-made, the conditions like the scale of the disaster, the topography of the area, regulation, and preparedness of the country plays a much more vital role for architects while managing the post-disaster conditions. 

The scale of the disaster

The scale of disaster depicts the destruction and the disruption of the area as well as the community. The larger the scale, the longer is the period of recovery. There are two periods of recovery—short-term recovery (ranging from months to a year) and long-term (ranging from years to decades).

Architects plan for people and the community. While working on disaster relief situations, it is partially the architect’s role to plan and guide the community until it’s back to normal. So, according to the scale of the disaster, the duties of an architect can vary from Repairing a structure or constructing new structures where old ones are beyond repair to relocation or resettlement of the community of a small region or whole village or a city.

The topography and climate of the region 

With the change in topography and climate, the natural disasters and their frequency also change. For example – tsunami and earthquakes are frequent in Japan, while recurring sandstorms are not new in Arabian Peninsula or northern Africa. 

As an architect, while planning the disaster relief, the topography plays a vital role in selecting the material, technology, as well as overall shape of the structure. Because the planning doesn’t only respond to the former disaster, it also needs to address the possible disasters and problems in the recent future. 


Not only do the topography and climate change with the country, but the approach of tackling the situation also changes. The regulations regarding precautions and the provisions for assistance, before the disaster and after the disaster, change from country to country. It has a major impact on disaster relief management.


There are four prime phases during disaster management:

Mitigation – action is taken to prevent or reduce the causes, impact of the disaster. 

Preparedness – planning, training, and educating for events that cannot be mitigated. 

Response – Mobilization of necessary emergency services, searching and rescuing the victims, providing basic necessities, assessing losses and destruction, cleaning up, restoring and rehabilitation establishing public services. 

Recovery – Complete restoration of community and achieving some degree of environmental, physical, economical, and social normalcy or stability. 

The level of mitigation and preparedness before the disaster reduces the damage during the disaster. Quick response, efforts, and outside help after the disaster help the fast recovery. 

Factors to consider during disaster relief projects 

Type of structures

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Villa Verde Housing (social housing) _©Suyin Chia

There are two types of structures responding to the situation of the region. The short-term structure (usually units of structure made for temporary use) and long-term structure (made for long-term and sometimes permanent use).


The shelters need to be safe and equipped for the local environment and low cost. Since money is provided from the donations and the funds, also the number of shelters needed is high, it is more practical to keep the construction cost of the shelters as low as possible.


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EAHR School for Refugee Children_Image ©Martina Rubino

The locally available material is usually recommended because it is easy to supply instead of importing the material from outside. It is also cost-efficient. 

Technics and designing

Planning the structure in response to the local design is important because the design contains the needs of the community. If an architect introduces a completely foreign design that doesn’t mix with the life of the community, people might end up deserting it after a period. 


Cardboard Cathedral by Shigeru Ban _© Bridgit Anderson

Disaster doesn’t just destroy the physical structure of the community, it also damages their culture. So to preserve and rekindle the local culture, it is important that the disaster relief architecture honours it.

Including the community

Including the community after educating about the process increases the speed of physical recovery. It also shapes the foundation of the new start of the community.

The myth about disaster relief architecture being just for creating shelter homes is really widespread. In reality, It is responding to disasters and shaping back the whole community, their culture, their social structure, and their normal life. 

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‌Johnson, C. (2016). 27 Amazing Disaster Relief Architecture Projects You Can’t Miss. [online] Build Abroad. Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2021].

‌ArchDaily. (2020). It’s Time for Designers to Embrace Fire as the Ecological and Cultural Force That It Is. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 17 Jul. 2021]. (n.d.). vikaspedia Domains. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 18 Jul. 2021].

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Gargi is an Architect by degree and a tinker by heart. As a recent graduate, she is yet to find out what alley of architecture she would like to explore further in her life. Writing is a tool for her to analyze and discuss her exploration.