The earthquake that killed thousands of people in Nepal and destroyed priceless heritage sites also flattened hundreds of thousands of normal homes and buildings. Now, the rubble from those structures is being put to use by an architect who is designing permanent shelters for those who lost their homes.
As we wrote in May, the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban sprang into action just after the earthquake, asking for donations and help designing and delivering disaster shelters in the country. Ban spends a significant chunk of his practice on disaster- and aid-related projects, designing and building homes in disaster areas from New Zealand to Haiti to Japan itself. Ban’s expertise lies in inexpensive, lightweight shelters made from paper — he’s developed a building technique that uses cardboard tubes as structural supports that last for years or even decades.
This week, Ban announced he had finished the process of designing the shelters for Nepal. It may seem late in the game — after all, the earthquake was months ago — but in reality, after aid workers leave and emergency relief ends, finding reliable, safe, permanent housing in the months after a disaster can be the most difficult part for a family that has lost their home. Ban’s goal is to help those survivors who need a real roof over their heads, possibly for several years, until villages and cities begin to rebuild.
So what did he design? A post on his website describes a cheap, lightweight wooden frame that’s modular, making it very easy to transport and assemble. Each frame is made from a simple three-by-seven-foot rectangle of wooden beams, which can be stacked and connected by builders to customise the building footprint, big or small:
The roof is “a truss made out of local paper tubes,” not unusual for a Ban project.
But the real genius of Ban’s plan is how these frames will evolve over time. The prefab modules can be put up very quickly, and covered with a plastic tarp to make the skeleton frame liveable immediately. But the modules are also designed to be filled with bricks and rubble, so over time, the house frame can become a permanent structure, built from the millions of bricks that came crashing down in April. “Afterwards, people can stack the rubble bricks inside the wooden frames and slowly complete the construction themselves,” the team explains.
Though there’s no word yet on what will be used for mortar — presumably there will be a system for supplying it — the wooden structural frame and roof will make these shelters much safer than their all-brick or cement predecessors. While steel can fail suddenly and cement and brick collapses catastrophically, wooden frames are more flexible, and the shelters’ papers roofs will cause less damage if they do fail.
Ban says in the short statement that the first construction in Nepal will take place in August. Not a moment too soon, in parts of the country where fall — and cold weather — is fast approaching. Here’s how to donate.