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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Temporary housing for Nepal earthquake victims

Compiled by Savitha Hira
Photography: Courtesy Shigeru Ban Architects

row of refuge shelters

IAnD traces Ar. Shigeru Ban’s project in disaster-affected Nepal and his solution for lack of supply in temporary housing that could be adapted to in developing countries, including India… 

On the April 25, 2015, Nepal suffered an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. Knowing of Japan-based Ar. Shigeru Ban’s successful and continuous involvement in disaster relief projects around the world over the last two decades, the veteran architect was flooded with a multitude of requests for help from individuals and agencies, known and unknown.

Ar. Ban visited Nepal from May 31, to June 2, 2015, where he closely researched local materials, markets and traditional building techniques; also identified problems unique to the local sites.

structure being erected from paper rolls

sketch of refuge shelter

Most of the collapsed buildings that were made of simple structures by making layers of sundried and baked bricks had a wall thickness of approximately 50 cm. Even those, whose houses had not totally collapsed feared to live in brick-made houses after the traumatic earthquake experience and preferred to live in tents. The community appealed to the architect that they would never want to live in a masonry house. Another important observation by Ar. Ban was that the disaster site was laden with rubbled bricks accumulated in the wreckage; and needed to be disposed off.

paper tubes roof structure

Studying the local and traditional Nepalese architecture of the buildings that were still intact, he noticed the presence of carved wooden frames embedded within the brick walls. He also observed timber workers, who were constructing window and door frames using simple tools.

Inspired, his solution was quick and immediate: Ar. Ban proposed that a wall system be assembled by connecting modular wooden frames (3ft x 7ft or 90cm x 210cm) and infilling them with rubbled bricks. This simple construction method, he deduces, enables anyone to assemble the wooden frames very quickly and if a roof (a truss made of local paper tubes) is secured on top, and the wooden structure covered with a plastic sheet, people can immediately begin to inhabit the shelters. Afterwards, people can stack the rubbled bricks inside the wooden frames and slowly complete the construction themselves.

model of refuge shelter
model of refuge shelter interiors

“The structural integrity of this temporary house lies primarily in the wooden framing,” he opines, “And although the walls are to be infilled with rubbled bricks, the masonry itself functions as a secondary structural system. In the case of a two-storey building, one can add a plywood panel inside the wooden frame for structural strength.”

refuge shelters for Nepal earthquake victims

The first prototype is to be constructed by end of August. 

prefabricated housing designed by Ar. Shigeru Ban
Prefabricated housing                                                                                                                                                     ©ShigeruBanArchitects

Meanwhile, Ar. Ban’s efforts are on to develop low-cost prefabricated housing, which has already begun in the Philippines. This project commenced after the 2011 earthquake in Japan when the lack of supply in temporary housing became apparent. In order to avoid such a shortage during future disasters, Ar. Ban has designed a low-cost prefabricated house that can be manufactured in developing countries such as the Philippines and India, and assembled in disaster struck zones, if the need arises.

The structure of these prefabricated homes consists of wall assemblies using fibre-reinforced plastic and foam-board sandwich panels. This project not only creates better quality temporary housing rapidly, but also creates local employment through factories for these houses in developing countries. Furthermore, this system serves to improve the housing conditions of low-income groups in developing nations. A prototype house has already been made and assembled at a factory in Philippines.


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