Adaptive architecture for all

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Typhoon season has started. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Super Typhoon Yolanda, it’s that we need to start preparing for the worst, and we need to think of practical and innovative ways to arm ourselves for the inevitable.

Adaptive architecture is an answer to the growing urban population and the increasing need to adapt to the changing landscape as the country becomes more vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters.

Look at Netherlands. Two-thirds of the country is below sea-level, yet they have made the necessary adjustments in their infrastructure planning and architecture in order to adapt to the changing climate.

The 2012 World Risk report has established the Philippines as the third most vulnerable country to natural risks. Typhoons have grown in power since the 1970s, and they are expected to grow stronger, as with other disaster risks.


Palafox Associates, in its 25-year existence, has been a witness to the devastating effects of natural and man-made disasters in our country. We, the architects of Palafox Architecture Group, Inc. and the environmental planners, engineers, designers, and consultants of Palafox Associates, have volunteered our services to help communities post-disaster, and on a macro-scale, have sent recommendations to the Philippine government, cities and communities both here and elsewhere in the world, on how they can plan, design, and build back better, safer, smarter, and more sustainable. But that doesn’t mean each individual does not have the capacity to effect change on their own to adapt and take the necessary steps toward disaster mitigation.

Design with nature. Know your area’s flood and earthquake history. For those building their new homes, it’s both the architect’s and engineer’s job to know the history of the area when it comes to flood and earthquakes. Is the area near a faultline? Is it prone to liquefaction? When was the last big flood, and how high did the flood waters reach? If your house is built on an incline, what is the possibility of a landslide occurring? If the information is not readily available, government websites like the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOCS) have dedicated interactive web pages giving an overview of the landslide, liquefaction, and flood hazard area in the country.

The most practical approach for new homeowners is to look for the oldest house near your area and check if its entrances are built higher from the street level, the same way I look for old churches whenever the firm has to develop a new structure in a flood-prone area because old churches always build their altars and tabernacles higher than the last highest recorded flood line to protect their altars from getting wet. If your house is located in a coastal area, then common sense (and lessons learned from Super Typhoon Yolanda) should tell you to build your house away from the coast with liveable rooms two meters higher than the worst flood line.

Design considerations for a stronger home. Flat concrete roof decks and round structures have been proven most resilient towards high-speed winds and from the destructive forces of flashfloods and tsunamis. Elevate your house higher by building it on stilts or columns. Usually called wet flood-proofing, this allows water to pass through the lower/ground floor of the house and prevents lasting damage to the structural foundation of the house.

Another method is dry flood-proofing, where all exterior walls and openings are sealed to prevent water from entering the house, but given the extreme weather events the world has been experiencing, the best method is still wet flood-proofing as it is more flexible to varying natural risks, like storm surges and flash floods.

Protect windows by installing storm shutters.

For protection against earthquakes, consider a load-bearing design which readily adapts to the ground’s movement. Using a cross-bracing system for the walls, roof, and columns provides better strength against lateral forces so that the structure doesn’t collapse sideways. If your budget permits it, add a safe room in your house plans that your family can take refuge in.

Elevate electricity outlets. In case of flash floods, it’s always best to install electricity outlets away from and higher than the flood lines. Thus, if the last big flood in your area reached waist-high, install your power box, electricity wiring sytems and power outlets near the ceiling if you live in a bungalow. For homes with more than one floor, create separate circuits for the each floor. This is to prevent lasting damage to your electrical system and prevent electric shocks.

Invest in disaster mitigation technologies. Strengthen your defense against natural disasters by installing a rainwater storage tanks or alternative sources of energy (solar panels, wind turbines) in your home. Whether it’s a practical one (like putting big drums under the gutter drain) or an integrated one (putting rainwater storage tanks underground and covering a big part of your roof with solar panels and/or a green roof with rainwater harvesting), in the event of lack of water or electricity brought about by a natural or man-made disaster, you can use these green technologies to provide a good source of energy post-disaster. Investing in these technologies can make a huge difference in case of a calamity.

Constant Vigilance. Subscribe to your area’s community webpage to be updated on the latest reports and developments in your area which might affect the future of the area. Watch the latest news and trends in adaptive architecture. Know the nearest evacuation site in your area. An informed, prepared, and vigilant citizen is always the best prevention. It’s time we learned from the mistakes we made in the past disasters.

Disaster proof your home and yourself. Always have a whistle, flashlight, bottle of water, mobile phone with charger or power bank, among many other essentials, on hand in case of emergency. Know your way through fire exits and make sure you always know where you keep your house keys. Your house should also have a fire extinguisher.

Filipinos are resilient creatures, but on a macro-scale, we need to rely on the good collaboration between architecture, engineering, planning, and design experts, the government, and the private sector to improve our emergency training, enforce better building codes, and make sure that the money allocated for infrastructure improvement or development ends up helping those whose homes are most vulnerable. We cannot base our decisions on what the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center report called as “decisions based on electoral considerations rather than on evidence or technical assessments.”

Good news, there is now an updated master plan for drainage flood control in Metro Manila. Bad news, it will be completed in 2035! Meanwhile, there are floods every year—once, twice, thrice, or even more. Let’s adopt Adaptive Architecture now.

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2 Comments

  1. Martin Gomez on

    Keep up with your advocacy Jun. Only through adaptive architecture and enlightened master planning can we improve our lives. In these dangerous times as a result of climate change we need all to work together.

  2. Very imformative. I’ll start saving for a new house. Thank you architect palafox.