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Photo: Heritage Foundation of Pakistan.
Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari says she wants to atone for past contributions to the world of excess by starting to build good homes for the poor.

A woman in a “man’s profession” wanted to prove she was just as good or better, outdoing other architects in creating over-the-top corporate buildings. Now she wants to be more true to herself and contribute to society.

Oliver Wainwright reports at the Guardian, “A mirrored glass ziggurat stands on a corner in central Karachi, flanked by a pair of polished granite towers. Golden bubble elevators glide up and down behind the tinted windows, shuttling oil executives to their offices through the sparkling five-storey atrium. The Pakistan State Oil House is a power-dressed monument to the petroleum-fuelled excesses of the early 1990s, oozing ostentation from every gilded surface – so it comes as a surprise to learn that its architect is now building mud huts for the poor.

‘I feel like I am atoning for some of what I did,’ says Yasmeen Lari with an embarrassed chuckle. ‘I was a “starchitect” for 36 years, but then my egotistical journey had to come to an end. It’s not only the right of the elite to have good design.’

“The 79-year-old architect was awarded the prestigious Jane Drew prize in London in March, a gong that recognises women’s contribution to architecture, for her tireless humanitarian work over the last two decades. …

“She made her name with a number of prestigious state commissions in the 1980s, including Karachi’s finance and trade centre, a vast hotel and a host of military barracks, as well as a low-income housing project that favoured low-rise high-density over the fashion for concrete-slab blocks. Then, in 2000, she retired, primarily to focus on writing books about Pakistan’s architectural history and put her energies into the Heritage Foundation, which she had founded with her husband in 1980. …

“In 2005, an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude on the Richter scale hit northern Pakistan, killing 80,000 people and leaving 400,000 families displaced. ‘I felt I had to go and help,’ says Lari. ‘I had no idea what I could do as an architect. I’d never done any disaster work, or any projects in the mountains. I had no workforce, I’d given up my practice. But I found that, if you do something beyond your usual comfort zone, then help will always come.’

While international aid agencies busied themselves erecting costly prefab housing with concrete and galvanised iron sheets, Lari worked with dispossessed families to rebuild their homes using mud, stone, lime and wood from the surrounding debris. Working with volunteers, she trained local people how to use whatever materials were to hand to rebuild in a better, safer way.

” ‘I think we often misunderstand what kind of help is needed,’ she says. ‘As an outsider, you do things that you think are appropriate, but the reality here is different. The aid mindset is to think of everyone as helpless victims who need things done for them, but we have to help people to do things for themselves. There’s so much that can be done with what’s already there, using 10 times less money.’

“She says that the process of co-creation can also be a crucial part of healing. ‘Disasters can be truly devastating and people easily fall into deep depression. But if you give them something to do, it really helps with recovery. Something people have helped to make is much more valued than something simply given.’

“Since 2005, a sequence of further earthquakes, floods and conflicts have kept Lari and her team at the Heritage Foundation on their toes, developing agile techniques with bamboo, mud and lime, always following the principles of low cost, zero carbon and zero waste. Severe flooding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces in 2010 saw them develop a design for modular community centres raised on stilts, which safely survived more floods a couple of years later.

“When earthquakes hit Balochistan province in 2013 and Shangla in 2015, Lari designed shelters using a cross-braced bamboo framework, learned from the vernacular dhijji technique. Testing the prototype on a shaking table at NED University in Karachi, they found the structure was capable of withstanding an earthquake more than six times the strength of the 1995 Kobe disaster. If the homes ever did begin to crumble, they could be easily rebuilt using the same organic materials – unlike their concrete and steel counterparts.

“ ‘There’s so much money in disaster relief,’ says Lari, ‘but we need to put much more effort into disaster preparedness.’ She is critical of the ‘universal solutions’ offered by aid agencies and the siloed ways in which they work, as well as the urbanised mindset imposed on rural communities, insisting instead that responses should follow ‘forms based on age-old wisdom.’ “

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: David Melancon.
For inventive builders today, origami is less about paper cranes and more about fitting useful structures into tiny spaces.

The uses of origami continue to amaze. There are so many variations on this ancient Japanese art! I have written posts on origami and engineering, origami ballet costumes, and origami microscopes, just to mention a few. Today we learn how the principles of origami could be used to create temporary emergency shelters.

Max G. Levy reports at Wired, “One bright April day on a Harvard University lawn, David Melancon stepped out of a white plastic tent carrying a table. Then another. Then he made a few trips to produce 14 chairs. Then a bike, followed by a yellow bike pump. Finally, he carried out a large orange Shop-Vac. Melancon, a PhD candidate in applied mathematics, then closed the tent’s makeshift door behind him. This was what his team dubbed their ‘clown car’ demonstration — proof that a huge number of objects could fit inside a tent which, only a few moments before, had been a flat stack of plastic about the size of a twin mattress, then inflated into an origami-inspired shelter. …

“ ‘There are a number of situations — emergency situations, for example — when you need a structure,’ says Katia Bertoldi, Melancon’s advisor and a professor of applied mechanics at Harvard. For example, people displaced by natural disasters need immediate shelters. ‘I can build a shed, and then it’s there. But then if I have to move, either I take it apart or I move this huge volume. It is very impractical,’ she continues. …

“A standalone origami needs to be bistable. The word is often used in electronics and computer science to describe a circuit with two stable states, but in mechanical design, it basically means the structure has to be sturdy both when it’s flat-packed and when it’s expanded. It would have to hold its shape while folded, and stay that way while unfolded without sealing in air. …

“Last Wednesday in the journal Nature, [Bertoldi’s team] presented an unprecedented collection of bistable inflatable origami. Folded from either cardboard or corrugated plastic sheets, the pieces snap into place with pressure from an air pump, and hold their own without it. … One stands out: an 8-foot-tall shelter with an 8-foot-wide octagonal floor and a door, unfolded from one single material. …

“ ‘It’s exciting work,’ says Joseph Choma, an associate professor of architecture and founder of the Design Topology Lab at Clemson University. Choma, an expert in foldable structures and materials who was not involved in Bertoldi’s project, says the world needs smarter disaster relief architecture, ‘especially ones that can be flat-packed, deployed, and then flat-packed again.’ …

“Bertoldi points out that we already have a well-known deployable shelter: camping tents. Light, tightly-packed tents make it easier to backpack through the wilderness. But assembling one into an enclosed space takes time. You have to link metal bars, thread them through narrow holes in fabric, and lock it all in place. Setting up bar-based structures en masse takes even more time and hands. An ideal emergency shelter gets set up quick when it’s needed, and comes down quick when it’s needed elsewhere. …

“The origami magic happens at the hinges. The faces won’t bend, so something’s got to give. The hinges were either two-sided tape connecting laser-cut cardboard, or lines mechanically scored into plastic sheets. That allows the structure to bend around itself for inflation and deflation. And in order to make all the hinges swing into place automatically, her team decided, maybe they could just inflate the folds all at once using air pressure.

“But blowing air into an inflatable object is more like compressing a spring then assembling a building. It’s not bistable. ‘You compress it and it deforms,’ Bertoldi says. ‘But as soon as you remove your load, it springs back.’ In other words, you can use force from air pressure to deform a folded bundle of cardboard and turn it into an inflatable tent, but then you’re stuck making sure the air stays in — which, of course, rules out having a door.

“Stability is all about minimizing excess energy: a ball parked in a valley is more stable than one halfway up a steep hill. Bistability means designing a structure so that its energy barrier, or the amount of energy needed to lock it into its inflated or deflated states, is just right. The barrier can’t be too high, or else it’s impossible to inflate. But the barrier also can’t be too low, because then a gust of wind could collapse it: ‘It’s gonna flip back and deflate,’ Bertoldi says. ‘You need to carefully design its energy barrier,’ she continues. ‘And that’s most of the engineering game.’ ”

At Wired, here, read how a lot of trial and error led to something that works.

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Photos: clockwise from top left, Emma Smales/View; Afyen Hsin-Chu; Takanobu Sakuma; Hufton+Crow/View
The bottom right photo shows Shigeru Ban’s Paper Log Houses, temporary housing in Kobe, Japan, created after a 1995 earthquake left many residents homeless. The
New York Times took an in-depth look at Ban’s body of work here.

It’s inspiring to see a successful person in any field turn her or his talents to a humanitarian cause. That is what innovative Japanese architect Shigeru Ban did after seeing problems with post-disaster housing in Africa. He knew he could do better.

Nikil Saval at the New York Times wrote an in-depth feature on Ban’s larger body of work and explained how he got into building temporary paper-tube shelters.

“His move to create shelter architecture came out of seeing the temporary structures offered to Rwandan refugees in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1994. At the time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was handing out plastic tarps and aluminum poles to hold them up, but many people were instead selling the aluminum and harvesting nearby wood to frame their tents, contributing to massive deforestation.

“Ban wrote to the U.N.H.C.R. several times before flying to Geneva. There, he encountered the organization’s senior physical planner, Wolfgang Neumann, who became interested in Ban’s idea of using recycled paper tubes to build shelters. Ban was hired as a consultant and the concept was later implemented at a camp in northern Rwanda.

“The first time Ban used paper tubes for a disaster relief project was in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, where a series of small houses — about 170 square feet each — were constructed for victims of an earthquake that killed more than 6,000 people.

As is typical for Ban’s humanitarian projects, each shelter cost less than $2,000 and took a single day to construct; according to Ban, about 30 were built over the span of a few weeks, mostly by volunteers.

“These shelters remained in Kobe for about a year, after which they were dismantled and recycled. But a church and community center in the city, also designed by Ban and built out of recycled paper, stood for 10 years, a testament to the durability of his work.

“He has also used shipping containers to build thousands of small housing units in Onagawa, on Japan’s northeast coast, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami there, and beer crates weighted with sandbags have occasionally served as the foundation for his Paper Log Houses (including in Kobe), illustrating Ban’s commitment to relying on ‘local materials’ in the most expansive sense: whatever is cheap and locally available that won’t result in waste.

“These structures are off-the-cuff, constructed quickly by staff members of the Voluntary Architects Network, a nongovernmental organization founded by Ban in 1995, along with the help of local students and volunteers. Initially, he was able to pay for them through donations and his own earnings; some of his relief projects now receive public funding. But he often uses his expensive commissions to test out ideas for his aid work, toying with cheap materials in structures for the rich so he can use them later to help those who have lost everything. …

“Ban is not given to displays of pity or indignation; he usually explains his humanitarian efforts by citing his horror at waste rather than some charitable impulse. It is an austere, utilitarian front for the architect to present, considering that, at the moment, he is trying to expand his humanitarian efforts beyond temporary structures and has just begun working with the southeast Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to develop housing for its new capital, Amaravati — multistory units for which paper tubes would not likely be appropriate (he has instead been considering fiberglass foam-core panels). But disasters will continue to preoccupy him.

“He spoke of doing larger urban-scale planning, preparing cities for disaster relief. More earthquakes, certainly in Japan, are likely, to say nothing of climate-change induced nightmares. ‘This moment, the beginning of the 21st century, is a big moment to change the direction — toward sustainability and disaster relief,’ he said. ‘This will continue as the main theme of this century.’ Times had changed since the Modernist era: ‘Those times, people believed that they would have utopia some day. But we know that it’s not true. There’s no utopia.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Public banks can be helpful in emergencies, and what with hurricanes, tornadoes, and all, we sure seem to have a lot of emergencies.

Grand Forks, North Dakota, figured this out after one of their floods. Most banks have to make sure their loans meet the tough safety and soundness requirements of regulators, so they may not come through fast enough for people trying to rebuild after a disaster. Grand Forks isn’t relying on them.

Kelly McCartney at Shareable (by way of the Christian Science Monitor) says that the Public Banking Institute blog at WordPress “cites a powerful example of how a public bank can help a city bounce back from a devastating natural disaster. As Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts unfold, there’s a lesson from history about the role of strong local financial institutions in increasing urban resilience.

“In April of 1997, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was hit by record flooding and major fires that put the city’s future in jeopardy. One of the first economic responders was the Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the only public bank in the United States.

“What’s a public bank, you ask? Public banks are owned by citizens through their government. They have a public interest mission, are dedicated to funding local development, and plow profits back into the state treasury to fund social programs and cover deficits. Rather than competing with private banks, BND partners with them to meet the needs of North Dakotans. …

“As a public bank, BND was able to respond to the ’97 flood in ways that a privately owned bank could not …

“Right after the flood, the Bank of North Dakota got to work, established a disaster relief loan fund, set aside $5 million to assist flood victims, and set up additional credit lines of around $70 million.” More.

Photograph: Reuters/File
Residents of Grand Forks, N.D., carry their pet dog to safety in the shovel of a frontloader April 20, 1997. The more than 50,000 residents of the city were forced to evacuate as the Red River reached 25 feet above flood level. A public bank, owned by citizens, was a key player in the city’s recovery.

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