Shigeru Ban and Other Architects to Build Shelters for Nepal Earthquake Survivors

Transitional housing made of paper logs that architect Shigeru Ban built for disaster victims in India (Photo by Kartikeya Shodhan)

The Pritzker Prize–winning architect Shigeru Ban, famous for his humanitarian designs, has launched a campaign to provide shelter to victims of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal.

According to the Architectural Record, Ban and his relief organization, Voluntary Architects’ Network (VAN), are raising funds to roll out a three-phase plan for temporary housing. First, they’ll distribute tents made of donated membrane roofs and plastic sheets for walls — simple structures that can quickly put a roof over the heads of those affected and also offer medical workers a place to provide care. In the following months, Ban will lead a team of local architects and university students to build stronger, more culturally appropriate structures built using native materials; these will give families a bit more privacy as they rebuild their former homes. For the final phase, Ban will help provide permanent houses for families that lack the means to reconstruct their own.

Ban will presumably partner with the UN’s refugee agency or some other relief organization, though it hasn’t announced those details yet. It’s also unclear how many tents they’ll deploy and when. This isn’t new territory for the architect, though. He first started creating disaster shelters made of lightweight and often local materials in 1994 in Rwanda. He’s also designed site-specific housing for disaster victims in India, Sri Lanka, China, Italy, New Zealand, and most recently Japan, where he installed 188 transitional shelters in Onagawa following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (You can donate to the current effort here).

Ban isn’t the only member of his profession to get involved in the disaster effort in Nepal. Immediately following the earthquake, the UK-based architectural charity Article 25 announced a fundraising campaign to help rebuild schools, as nine out of 10 in Kathmandu were damaged or destroyed. The organization has previously worked with post-earthquake reconstruction in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Haiti; at the time of the Nepal earthquake, it was actually already developing a program to make Nepalese schools more earthquake resistant.

“The devastating impact of the earthquake in Nepal is a sad reminder of the crucial importance of safe and resilient buildings. And it is a reminder that it is not earthquakes that kill people, but buildings that kill people,” said managing director Robin Cross in a statement. “Article 25 can mobilize design and construction skills from the UK and put them to work where they will make the greatest difference.”

Many aid organizations like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders are also working to provide temporary shelter for the earthquake’s victims, and in the wake of such a mind-numbing disaster, it can be hard to know where cash donations might be the most effective. A temporary shelter — whether a tent or a small house — is hardly a replacement for a home, but it’s still good to see members of the architectural community lending their time and expertise to the people who need it most.

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