Design Workshop:  Emergency Architecture

Photo credit background: Reuters / Beawiharta, copyright 2010.
Original caption: ‘Lightning strikes as Mount Merapi volcano erupts spewing out towering clouds of hot gas and debris, as seen from Ketep village in Magelang.’

Description of Workshop

Topics: reconstruction after disaster, safe construction principles,
sustainable emergency architecture
Disciplines: architecture, civil engineering
Type: design assignment with lectures
Hands-on: building a solar cooker from campus waste
Field Trip: highly recommended
Duration: 1,5 week including field trip, easy to extend
Combinations: alternative construction, social design, the art of upcycling

Emergency Architecture – We believe that a safe design should be available for everyone.

But can we come up with low-cost and high-quality solutions for improved housing and living conditions in disaster-prone areas?

The Emergency Architecture workshop challenges the participants to create a design brief and strategy, with initial sketches, for a single-family house in a post-disaster setting.

We specifically focus on the transitional period between ‘temporary shelter and semi-permanent house’, and discuss the differences between temporary and permanent housing concepts. We gradually add alternative techniques and materials to the designs. We will look at recent and frequently struck areas such as Haiti, Pakistan, Kashmir, Nepal, The Philippines and Indonesia.

In groups the students make an assessment of a particular area and define the different design parameters, such as topography, climate and disaster related issues, as well as local and socio-cultural influences.

If the university is located in a disaster-prone area, we highly recommend to include a field trip to make the assignment ‘real’. The students can study the situation first-hand and interview the local people. By researching historic building methods, indigenous materials and local construction techniques, they can literally identify the actual situation in their own backyard.


Aims and Outcomes

Although it is a seemingly simple assignment to design a small family house, it involves many complicated socio-cultural issues, in difficult and sometimes extreme settings, often with huge financial constraints. It is essential to understand the relationship between what is needed, and what is possible. So we can challenge ourselves to make that gap smaller.

During the course we introduce unconventional materials in order to create enthusiasm and awareness about alternative construction techniques and the need for sustainable solutions. We will stimulate creative thinking and the student’s ability to search for the right questions that need to be answered during the whole process.

Along with directly applicable knowledge, such as climatic and earthquake design principles, the students will learn to develop a strong and sensible conceptual design.


Proposed Lectures and Timetable (example, field trip included)

#1. Introduction about the work of Smart Shelter Foundation and explanation of the design assignments to the participants. (20 minutes)

#2. T-Shelters and Semi-Permanent Housing; What can we offer to people in post-disaster areas, when there is minimal finance available for reconstruction? (1 hour)

#3. Non-Engineered Earthquake Design Principles; The basics of safe construction, historic research and testing, design limitations, and material handling. (1,5 hour)

#4. Case Study; Building Earthquake Resistant Mountain Schools in Nepal; Construction overview for building safe schools in remote mountain areas. (1 hour)

#5. Building with Bamboo; Examples of bamboo in modern architecture from all over the world. (1 hour)

#6. Wastewide Architecture; Inspiring examples from all over the world, of artists, designers and architects that use secondary materials in their work. (2 x 45 minutes)

#7. Closedown; future projects of Smart Shelter Research. (20 minutes)


Morning Program Afternoon Program
Day 0 Field trip (optional) Field trip (optional)
Day 1 #1 Opening + spaghetti challenge
Explain assignment
#2 Semi-permanent housing
Start design brief
Day 2 #3 Earthquake resistant design pt.1
+ analysis assignment
#3 Earthquake resistant design pt.2
Work on design brief
Day 3 #4 Case study Nepal
Work on design brief and sketches
#5 Building with bamboo
Work on design brief and sketches
Day 4 #6 Wastewide architecture Work on design brief and sketches
Day 5 Final presentations of all work #7 Closedown (optional new assignment)


Possible Extensions and Combinations

As this workshop format is quite intense, we encourage you to consider an extension of the program with one more week. This can easily be done by adding elements of the following formats:

  • Design workshop; Alternative Construction  (click here)
  • Hands-on experience; The Art of Upcycling (click here)
  • Field trip; to make it even more realistic.

If you would like us to make a custom-made proposal, please send us a request by filling in the contact form.