Disaster Relief Architecture: An Effective Response to Post Disaster Damage

Disaster Relief Architecture

What is a Disaster?

A disaster is a serious problem being over a short or long period that causes wide mortal, material, profitable, or environmental loss, which exceeds the capability of the affected community or society to manage using its own coffers. 

Disasters are routinely divided into natural or man-made, although complex disasters, where there’s no single root cause, are more common in developing countries. A specific disaster may generate a secondary disaster that increases the impact. A classic example is an earthquake that causes a riffle, performing in littoral flooding. Some manufactured disasters have been credited to nature similar to gauze and acid rain. 

Need Of Disaster Relief Architecture

Photo by Indesign Live

Disasters are getting the norm in this world, which also poses challenges to architects and engineers. Numerous requirements to make temporary structures may arise at the same time all around the world. 

As stated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cities are getting more and more vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters, and their frequency, duration, and intensity are becoming increasingly extreme. 

The COVID-19 epidemic that began in 2020 has verified this notion. Metropolitan cities and human society are facing unknown challenges. In order to fight the damage caused by the disaster, the world witnessed the Fangcang sanctum hospitals established in China within many days, the recyclable temporary sanctum units erected by Turkey at veritably low cost after the earthquake, and so on.

An Architect’s Role 

After 1950, as high-rise buildings & skyscrapers became statements of style & necessity and population and its density remained a major concern, horizontal expansion was merely impossible. No building can be completely disaster-proof, therefore, architects need to study & analyze past data like soil conditions, context, and climatic conditions before executing the building 

An architect must know the consequences after the disaster, judgment about the site context, the ability to make quick decisions with limited information about the site context, should be active, flexible, creative, and should incorporate the entire community.

Stages of Disaster Relief Architecture

Disaster preparedness or Stages of Disaster Relief Architecture has links with an effective response to post-disaster recovery. However, its influence on housing strategy is not much explored in literature.

Considering the lackluster disaster preparedness in India, it seems safe to assume that the post-disaster housing strategy is intuitive. It depends on the scale and damage intensity of the disaster.

While sheltering refers to a place to stay during the immediate aftermath of the disaster suspending daily activities, housing denotes the return to household responsibilities and daily routine. Based on this distinction, the four stages are:  

Emergency shelter 

Emergency shelters include a place where survivors stay for a short period during the height of the emergency, which can be in the house of a friend or a public shelter. This kind of shelter rarely allows for the extensive preparation of food or prolonged medical services.

Temporary shelter 

Used for an expected short stay, ideally only a few weeks after the disaster, this may be a tent, a public mass shelter, and so on.

Temporary housing 

Temporary Housing is a place where the survivors can live temporarily, usually planned for six months to three years, returning to their normal daily activities, and can take the form of a prefabricated house, a rented house, and so on.

Thus, temporary housing can be defined as an object or physical structure where people live after a disaster, a part of the post-disaster re-housing program, and a place that serves to shelter people from the disaster until their resettlement in a permanent place.

Permanent housing

Return to the rebuilt house or resettle in a new one to live permanently.

Many times, the difference between housing and shelter is blurred. It is difficult to set an exact duration for such a shift from a shelter to a house, since housing is a physical element and a place that emotionally connects its inhabitants.


The origin of temporary buildings

crystal palace
Photo of Crystal Palace by Bureau International des Expositions

Temporary structures can be traced back to the portable tents of nomads. With the development of construction technology, temporary structures have begun to come to a new type of architecture. These types of structures are frequently accompanied by the need for rapid construction. 

After World War II, the demand for a reconstruction of housing and other structures rose extremely in many countries. 

For example, in 1851, it only took less than 9 months to complete the construction of the Crystal Palace at the London World Expo, which can also be disassembled and transported to another place for reassembly. In the 1960s, many simple structures composed of precast concrete boxes appeared in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Japan surfaced as “metabolism” engineers who promoted prefabricated structures and proposed that civic structures should be renewed like natural cell metabolism, an organic evolutionary process of constant extermination and creation. For illustration, Nakagin Capsule Tower, the world’s first capsule structure, is a masterpiece of this type of prefabricated assembly technology practice.

The enhancement of social productivity has brought about an unknown consumption period. The construction assiduity also showed some analogous characteristics after the 1960s. A large number of structures were demolished decades or indeed times after they were erected. Their update speed has been important faster than any former period.

The transition from fast to portable and from disposable to recyclable

building emerging shelters
Photo by Archdaily

In the past trends, designers and engineers have focussed to concentrate more on the “fastness” of construction; and at the same time, because of the constraints of objective conditions, non-recyclable materials such as concrete were used as the main body of numerous constructions. 

After this surge of temporary structures, numerous scholars and designers called for a better design approach in response to numerous problems, like rigid structures, waste of materials and other resources, and so on. 

By assessing the characteristics and trends of the rapid construction of temporary structures, the current focus has shifted from one-sided “fast” to “convenient” and from “disposable” use of materials to an “economically recyclable” trend. 

Key Points To Consider while Planning a design Shelter

Planning shelters

The most effective strategies for emergency shelter consider the entire shelter cycle, including the root causes of emergency and interim shelter requirements; its accessibility; resources, and services required to construct and run it; and how they will transition into a long-term casing. Focusing solely on the provision of shelter can lead to hamstrung use of resources and inefficiency, especially when the situation leading to the need for shelter could be averted or eased. 

Equal community participation

Those most likely to be affected should be involved in planning the shelters — rather long before a disaster occurs. Participation by original leaders, vulnerable populations, and communities is essential for any recovery plan to work. Communities recover as communities, not as individualities. 

Prioritise the stakeholders

Plans should be designed to meet the requirements of the most vulnerable first. Emergency and interim sanctum should be designed to meet the requirements of those who need the most support. Aged grown-ups, people with disabilities and functional requirements, and women and girls come much more vulnerable when exigency and the interim shelter are needed. 

Involvement of Private agencies

Even in developed nations, private philanthropy plays an essential part in the reconditioning of communities. Government backing and insurance only go so far in meeting requirements, particularly when there have been multiple major disasters, or the affected area is veritably large. 

Special consideration for urban areas

In the time of a disaster, there may be further debris from affected structures, in addition to the damage to roads and other structures. Urban areas may also include a higher chance of vulnerable or resource-poor populations, with the lower capability to repel or recover from disaster on their own. 

Efficient Planning

Improved, efficient planning and a smarter structure can act as mitigation. In Bangladesh, for illustration, a nation heavily impacted by periodic cataracts, communities have worked with non-governmental associations (NGOs) and others to raise houses above deluge situations; establish deluge harbours that can accommodate up to 300 families each; make raised- tube wells for clean water; ameliorate warning dispatches and keep deliverance boats ready. 

Learn from history

A lot can be learned from one experience, both domestically and internationally. There are numerous openings not only for the study of stylish practices but also for working toward the perpetuation of those practices in vulnerable communities worldwide. 

Inspiring Examples of Post Disaster Architecture

Paper Temporary Shelter

post disaster architecture
Photo by DesignBoom

Paper temporary shelters were constructed at Daanbantayan, Cebu, Philippines, following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (locally called Yolanda) in November 2013. The construction methods of previous paper log house projects (in Kobe, Turkey, and India) were very complicated and time-consuming to create in high volumes. 

In this design, the connection system of the Paper Partition System, developed for making partitions within evacuation centers, made it possible to simplify the construction, thus shortening the construction period. The foundations were made up of beer crates crammed with sandbags, and floor panels were made up of coconut wood and plywood. A readily used woven bamboo sheet was applied to the paper tube structural frame, and therefore the roof may be thatching of Nypa palms laid over plastic sheets. 

Temporary House By Shigeru Ban Architects

New Temporary House design is a low-cost casing action that is characterized as follows: 

1) Perfecting casing condition of developing countries creating new employment. 

2) Exporting units as relief casing to the countries after disasters. 

3) FRP structural panel is easy to make indeed by non-skilled workers.


hex house
Photo by Dwell

The Hex House is a revolutionary system by which high end design of sustainable structures is made economically and physically accessible to the general public. By streamlining the construction processes to their bare rudiments, and allowing the end-users to be part of the process using well-designed, prefabricated elements, a quality structure can be realized at substantial cost savings. 

The Hex House is conceived as a sustainable, fleetly deployable structure grounded on Structural Insulated Panel technology which can be packed flat-pack and fluently assembled. It has the inflexibility to be both an endless or a temporary structure. 

The structure’s capability to be fluently modified with minimum dislocation gives families the capacity to expand their space over time. Sustainable features like solar panels, unresistant cooling, rainwater harvesting, and composting & biogas toilets give families more independence, minimize their carbon footmark, and add functional savings.

Weaving a Home

emergency shelter
Photo by Trend tablet

Architect Abeer Seikaly’s abstract emergency shelter is composed of “high-strength plastic tubing that’s molded into a sine-wave curve and woven into a supple fabric membrane, a specialized, structural fabric that expands to enclose and contracts for mobility. 

“The concave tubing allows for services similar as heat, electricity, or running water and are suitable to acclimatize to colorful climatic conditions. Seikaly poetically describes her design stating, “Deportees carry from their homes what they can and migrate in unknown lands, frequently starting with nothing but a roof to call home. In this space, the deportees find a place to break from their turbulent worlds, a place to weave the shade of their new lives.”

Just a Minute Shelter

just a minute shelter
Photo from Archdaily

The ‘Just A Minute shelter’ by Italian firm Barberio Colella was designed in response to the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. As similar, the engineers sought to use original Nepalese accoutrements to fashion a house that can be” erected snappily, featherlight and compact to transport, durable, and profitable.

The shelter combines an OSB central core with a deployable bamboo structure covered by recycled hair sequestration and a surface membrane of double white Juta. Atop that’s a leakproof membrane to further cover the structure from the rudiments. Energy tone- adequacy becomes possible with the addition of solar and photovoltaic panels to the roof.


Photo by Design Indaba

The idea behind Tentative by Designnobis is a compact, each-by-one emergency shelter suitable for any terrain or climate. Conforming of a rainfall-resistant cloth that’s crocheted together, Tentative holds separating perlite squeezed between layers and held by an aluminium frame.

The roof collects water, as well as furnishing lighting and ventilation, while the bottom is made up of heat- separating recyclable compound balconies. When compacted, the sanctum is fluently transmittable at 4 measures long, 2 measures wide, and only 30 centimeters altitudinous, growing to 2.5 measures altitudinous when at its full size.

Pop-Up Places Of Worship

locas boyd
Photo by LakaReacts

Scholars Lucas Boyd and Chad Greenlee designed an offer of pop-up churches, bethels, and kirks for those fleeing conflict in exile camps. They believe that, “While places of deification don’t give an introductory need for an existent’s natural survival, they do represent an abecedarian aspect of not only an existent’s life beyond mileage, but an identity within the collaborative, a familiar place of being — and this is a commodity that we consider synonymous with being mortal — a demand for the continuity of culture.

By distilling the iconography of sacred spaces, Boyd and Greenlee have created minimum yet fluently recognizable sacred spaces. Pop-Up Places of Worship embody the significance of fastening on the emotional requirements of those displaced, rather than simply a physical sanctum.


The best way to achieve long-term resilience is through development phases that create needed resources and establish sustainable construction techniques in disaster hit areas. The goal is to reach the disaster area and quickly and efficiently establish the necessary shelter and infrastructure.

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