Tsunami housing - 'small is beautiful'
BAD enough was the tsunami, still worse is the post-tsunami housing
and infrastructure construction which if badly handled would culminate
in greater havoc superseding even what the tsunami wrought.
Post-tsunami scene: from destruction to reconstruction
Ashley De Vos one of Sri Lanka's top ranking architects citing the
dangers of unplanned visionless post-tsunami construction referred to
the Brazilian story where housing estates have now become ghettos and
slums - its residents now into large-scale nefarious activities. He was
addressing a seminar at Sausiripaya on post-tsunami reconstruction.
De Vos very emphatic on small units - the community based type said
would help preserve all what was traditional for basically many
tsunami-affected folk were dancers, artists and some other.
Sri Lanka with its traditional small communities lost it all when the
tsunami came on. Far worse damage including permanent zonal destruction
would come in if large-scale estate, housing was introduced.
Reiterating the sustenance of traditional importance De Vos said
there was a future in tradition and tradition in the future for its
ability to accumulate practical experience and knowledge over the years.
It also absorbs the good while rejecting the bad.
Recalling the traditional architecture in Puranayamas he noted how
these dwellings resisted rain, sun, heat and glare, keeping intact the
social milieu and people's lifestyle. Its raw material came off the
environment while the people themselves interacted with the environment
as fishermen and farmers.
The war's impact together with the tsunami's arrival greatly
destroyed the Waadiya lifestyle - the fisherfolk who once enjoyed free
movement - the beach itself where boats lay anchored and nets laid to
rest where fish was dried and children played - that had now
In fact even the tourism industry was deprived 10.5 metres of Sri
Lanka's coastal belt. The tsunami destroyed two kilometres inland.
He also reminded of whatever housing is provided, "it should be
dwellings suited even for us to live in." De Vos illustrated his
presentation with different types of houses and schools to be built for
tsunami victims where they could live comfortably engaging in whatever
occupation they were earlier into. For instance the ones into business
wanted their shops on the ground floor.
Dr. Jagath Munasinghe of the Moratuwa University advocated guidelines
in post-tsunami reconstruction.
The structure's physical fitness inclusive of internal structural
stability functioning, evolution and the ability to absorb shocks,
contextual integrity where the structure/environment relates
harmoniously leaving room for space to grow which when ignored would
lead to congestion, social equity where equal opportunities are for all
residents including accessibility to housing, healthcare, education,
markets, urban services, public spaces of parks and grounds, the
projects economic viability - of people and goods transportation along
with water and power supply, a fair zonal mix where occupants share
amenities patronise and meet same civic facilities, simple streets
bearing highlighted nodes and landmarks, hierarchically organised
streets and open spaces, access to maintain and augment physical
structure, spatial organisation that facilities orientation and way
Munasinghe also cited the varied past settlements that fulfilled some
of these requirements such as the dry zone colonies of the 30s bearing
large square grid layout with scattered houses, the model villages of
square lay out, Mahaweli settlements featuring an organic pattern,
Gamudawa's circular lay out, the 1980s government housing scheme both
grid and organic and the Diyawanna gammana on flat land.
Munasinghe being a chartered architect and town planner strongly
recommended liveable human habitats.
He disowned whatever design that came off personal instincts and ad
hoc knowledge. Our knowledge body is not organised which if coherent
order would prove better in designing and better settlements.
As designers, architects and engineers handling space he reminded the
importance of normative concepts concerning the cosmic order, functional
order, organic order and the replication of heaven in all untended
Shiromal Fernando also of Moratuwa University recalled the tsunami
damaged ill-designed structures.
Recommending what he described as structures with strong foundation
and columns he noted how free flow of water between columns were
non-resistant to the waters force. Sea walls though an expensive
exercise, he saw as a way out for vulnerable areas. Trees also was
suggested including all other necessary precautions to minimise life
Professor M. T. R. Jayasinghe also of Moratuwa campus was at hand to
recommend cyclone, earthquake and flood resistant structures.
He saw sufficient ductility as a way out for structures to reduce
chances of a building collapsing in toto during some severe earthquake.
During cyclones the first to go off being the roof can be prevented
with concrete slabs. Floods can be well handled with concrete stilts
enabling free water flow.
Professor Priyan Dias suggested horizontal bands that tie the walls
laying emphasis on overturnings, coverings and slidings avoiding long
walls and structural robustness.
The seminar though with knowledge expertise at times failed to reach
out to ordinary people and often ran into lengthy delivery per speaker.
However, if policy makers would interact with such expertise it would
help equip Sri Lankans into much of disaster control.