Architects practise disaster relief shelters in Rainforest Biome

September 11, 2011
Author: Hannah

It’s a tropical 30 degrees, you’ve limited wood and bamboo and you need to build a shelter to sleep a family in just two days. How are you going to do it?

That was the question for architecture students and professionals who took part in a special disaster recovery workshop in Eden’s Biome earlier this week.

The sweaty rainforest provided a realistic simulation of just some of the sorts of climatic challenges the group might face if they really were having to rehouse victims of a cyclone or a flood in a country like the Gambia.

The practical shelter-building workshop was the culmination of a week-long summer school organised by Architecture Sans Frontières-UK (ASF-UK), during which delegates learnt about a range of pre-emptive and response strategies in disaster and conflict zones.

They were treated to pearls of wisdom from experts with first-hand experience of this type of work, including Anshu Sharma, who used to head up Indian disaster management charity SEEDS, and Ditpi Hingorami, who was beamed in live from Haiti to talk about the day-to-day efforts to rehouse victims of last year’s earthquake with local organisation Cordaid.

When it came to the two-day building challenge in teams, the group learnt expert building techniques from ‘Bamboo’ Jack Everett and local carpenter Rufus Maurice.

Jack showed one team how to harvest bamboo from the Rainforest Biome, then split it and make secure joints with hand tools alone. They put these into practice on a shelter designed for Vanuatu, a hot, wet island off the coast of Australia, where deforestation is causing landslides and drinking water shortages, and cyclones are a real risk.

Former shipwright Rufus Maurice worked with the second group to make a wooden structure suitable for the Gambia, a West African nation which experiences hot and rainy seasons as well as droughts.

Participant Katie Shute, who’s just about to start her Diploma in Architecture at Oxford Brookes University, says: ‘Learning from experts provided us with a detailed insight into the reality of building in a post-disaster situation. Putting this knowledge into practice in the Rainforest Biome in such a humid climate was really challenging, but the sweat was so worth it!’

She adds: ‘Whether it was learning how to construct a timber lap joint or weaving together palm oil leaves, I felt like I was constantly gaining knowledge about how to be resourceful with limited materials.’

You can see the full programme of events on the ASF-UK website and see pictures of what the groups created last year on our blog. If you’re interested in taking part in next year’s annual summer school, in early September 2012, please contact ASF-UK.

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One response to Architects practise disaster relief shelters in Rainforest Biome

  1. Bella says:

    After visiting the dome in June this year I am amazed anyone can move around quickly let alone work in the humid, tropical conditions. I bet they wanted a window open!

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