Since the dawn of the planet, living beings have evolved time and again through the complete annihilation caused by disasters, be it natural or man-made. The calamities have wiped species and communities out of existence, while the breathing remnants recreate the lost societies, better and stronger through the lessons learned. While this process has always been a part of the race’s growth, the impact that disasters have in today’s world puts much more at stake. The immense population growth and the industrial boom have led to the development of infrastructure that would multiply the collateral damage manifold if struck by a catastrophe. These factors tend to place disaster-resilient architecture at the forefront of future structures.
The Foundation Days
The earthquakes of Lombok, Indonesia, destroyed more than 32,000 homes while leaving behind most of the traditional wooden houses unharmed due to the ancient wisdom of building with light and flexible materials. Such vernacular architectural techniques to combat disasters are evident all around the world and are different from each other due to multiple contextual factors, including the predominant kind of disaster that the location is prone to. The 19th-century vernacular houses of the Ehime prefecture in Japan express a higher use of stone walls to protect the region from future typhoons and also salt corrosion. Stand-up dams were a common sight in Nagasaki as a response to volcanic eruptions. These sand-trap dams prevented the further pyroclastic flows from destroying the surrounding villages. These age-old techniques laid the foundation for the future of disaster-resilient architecture.
Impact through Simplicity
Disaster resilient architecture goes beyond the use of modern technology and advanced building materials. Design strategies in their most minimal sense have been proved to be highly effective in controlling the damage caused. The simple plantation of Pinewood belts along the coastal areas has reduced the damage caused by tsunamis and has saved settlements, especially in Japan. This also serves as a windbreak and prevents sand mitigation in these regions on regular days. Simply elevating structures from the ground level and constructing permanent impervious barriers can help in controlling flood damage. A simple modification of forms to alter the aerodynamics of the structure has been helpful against hurricane damage. Curved surfaces, hexagonal and octagonal home and roof shapes can resist most extreme weather-based risks while asymmetrical buildings or imbalanced forms can increase the adverse effects of natural disasters. Constructing buildings using simple climatologically efficient techniques such as orientation or vegetation can eventually help in controlling contextual disasters to an extent.
The Advancement of Technology
The present era finds reinforcement of structures as one of the most efficient ways to control the damage caused by most disasters. Reinforcing foundations by casting extra concrete, replacing columns or beams, or bolstering the structure from the outside using auxiliary struts are preferred in seismic zones. The strand rod uses a web of carbon fibers to protect a building from tremors and tsunamis in Japan. Building materials have also evolved to battle the collateral damage. Flood resistant materials such as concrete, glazed brick, closed-cell, and foam insulation, steel hardware, pressure-treated and marine-grade plywood, ceramic tile, water-resistant glue, polyester epoxy paint, etc, along with coatings, sealants, and waterproof veneers are being popularly used to protect areas prone to frequent floods. Recently, materials such as paper tubes, Biomaterials, and Shape Memory Alloys have become widely popular as these materials can provide plasticity to the structure, a quality required in high seismic zones.
Installation of foundation Vents or a Sump Pump has also become a common practice for wet floodproofing. Foundation vents allow floodwater to flow through the structure rather than pool around it and relieve the damaging pressure that it puts on the structural components while a sump pump is used to pump water out of basements where flooding is a regular occurrence. Sewer backflow valves are also used to prevent flooded sewage systems from backing up into the building. New technologies in data collection and computing power have been influential in providing more accurate and reliable information to support the construction of disaster-resilient infrastructure. 3D printing, artificial intelligence, drones, and underwater robots, and geospatial and satellite imagery have been some innovative advancements that are changing the face of architectural disaster management.
Role of Architects
Architects play a crucial role in disaster mitigation as well as recovery. Architectural design has time and again prevented or decreased the destructive consequences of disasters on structures. With the knowledge of the distinct impacts caused by almost all-natural calamities, architects tend to pre-analyze the destructive forces in order to plan solutions for the same even before the conception of a structure or community. The evaluations consider multiple factors such as sustainability, social and economic impacts, vernacularity in form and materials, and technological advancements in order to provide holistic solutions. The recent excruciating impacts of the Pandemic have also snapped architects into realization about the importance of understanding newer forms of disasters and their innovative, resilient, and flexible solutions.
As disasters cannot always be avoided, rehabilitation also becomes a crucial part of architectural disaster management. Socially uplifting design of temporary and permanent structures to support to re-evolution of the race becomes increasingly important with the growing population and deteriorating natural environment. Architects also have a hand in the creation of bye-laws that can support the smooth transition of the affected communities towards their betterment and the rejuvenation of the built and the unbuilt environment as a whole. This intense process of analysis, pre-planning, and holistic design strategies are now constantly building our world towards a strong and secure future.
“We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives wouldn’t have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness.”- Petra Nemcova
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