• Architecture, planning and design: Recommendations toward a more resilient Philippines



    In my over 40-year experience as an architect and urban planner, I have been quite vocal about our country’s lack of focus to consistently provide resilient and sustainable infrastructures and buildings to combat the prevalent issues in planning and housing in our cities, especially since our country is the third most vulnerable to natural disasters. We should look at disaster prevention as a basic tenet in environmental planning, architecture, urban development, construction and education through policies and measures that suit the individual characteristics of each community, town, and city.

    Last year, the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), together with the Japan Foundation, hosted a National Convention aimed at planning toward sustainable communities. The convention put forth a shift from the old perception of urban development into the new generation of sustainability, prioritizing people and environment first before economy. As President of PIEP for 2013 and 2014, this year’s National Convention theme tackled Disaster Preparedness and Sustainable Development, in light of the recent disaster event that affected the Central Visayas region last October 15, a national convention that we held the day Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas region. It is our hope that this year’s convention will stress the urgency toward a more resilient Philippines by confronting the challenges facing environmental planners and the private sector groups and how the PIEP could play an active role in the development process of local communities.

    Being situated in a region within the Pacific Ring of Fire primarily calls for vigilance in disaster preparedness. Protection of life and the enhancement of the built environment are the foremost responsibilities of architects, urban planners, and engineers. In its stand of pushing its accountability toward Nature, God, and Country, Palafox Associates prepared a brief list of recommendations on urban planning, architecture, and engineering to address hazards toward safer cities, towns, and communities. These recommendations were expounded and further developed hand-in-hand by the government, the people, and the experts. The past administration was given this list after the catastrophic storm Ondoy that crippled most of Manila. In the first week of the subsequent administration, the same recommendations were reiterated.

    In the midst of several disasters and emergencies, awareness must be given due priority. These are among the essential steps toward a more progressive economy, tourism, and national growth.

    The 10-year program
    One of the most important parts of the recommendations that we sent Malacañang in 2010 after the devastation of Ondoy and the earthquake in Haiti was a 10-year program. To be accomplished from 2010 to 2020, the program is an initial plan and tentative scheme toward safer cities, towns, and communities. The government must promote flood-proof, fireproof and earthquake resistant measures by designating open spaces as evacuation places in urban areas, develop and strengthen urban facilities which can be used as comfortable disaster-proof living zones by creating individual citizen awareness for disaster prevention and response.

    Among the adaptation and mitigation measures proposed by Palafox Associates is the regular deepening of silted lakes, rivers, creeks, and other waterways, coupled with pollution abatement measures and proper solid waste management. This way, our water bodies can hold more floodwater and reduce flood levels. In line with this, the hills and mountains near the catch basis should be reforested to help absorb more floodwater.

    But more importantly, however, is the need to update Daniel Burnham’s 1905 plan for Metro Manila, the 2004 MMEIRS Report, the 1976-1977 Mmetroplan, and the 2003 Manila Megalopolis Concept Plan 2020 to serve as guidelines for the LGUs, national government, and the citizens to follow.

    Immediate action needed
    However, since mitigation measures like flood control and drainage infrastructure being made by the government will most likely see results more than 10 years from now, adaptive measures are the immediate response our country needs since we get flooded every year and earthquakes, fires, and other disasters may happen anytime.

    In this case, it is imperative that we try to provide immediate mitigation measures since our country gets its fair share of natural disasters. By identifying the areas that are liable to disasters, auditing the codes, and controlling development in these areas by imposing restrictions and regulations will help save hundreds of lives every year. Creating flood zoning overlay maps using the area’s 100-200 year flooding history to separate living spaces from flood-prone areas. Special attention should be given to the Laguna Lake and Pasig River, where essential adaptive infrastructures should be constructed, among them, the construction of the Parañaque spillway and road dikes around Laguna Lake. When constructed, the spillway will flush out floodwaters out of the low-lying areas during typhoons more quickly and thus prevent lasting damage to properties.

    Earthquakes and floods
    In the aftermath of the Bohol and Cebu earthquake last October 15, it has been brought to light how some of the buildings affected in the earthquake were not structurally fit enough to withstand a high intensity earthquake. These brittle skeletons were laid bare after the earthquake and exposed the grim truth that cheap, substandard materials and shortcuts in labor procedures were employed in the structures, worsened by the bureaucracy and red tape in securing building permits. There may be building officials and government engineers who do not review the structural calculations/seismic analysis of particular projects reportedly because of bribes.

    When designing a building/ establishment, performance-based design should be used, among them, implementing an “under reinforced system” on the structural design of a building/establishment to see the cue of failure/cracks on the concrete before it reaches its maximum tolerable stage, follow technical specifications provided by the structural engineer. Routine inspection and structural audit of all buildings particularly the old ones in our cities and provinces should be done, and if found unsafe, should be immediately put up for demolition.

    Seismic evaluation and rehabilitation designs of existing buildings using carbon fiber and dampers should be integrated. Developers should also identify the location of earthquake fault lines within the vicinity so that structural engineer can make adjustments in their structural design.

    Since earthquakes and tsunamis go hand-in-hand for those living in coastal areas, there should be a provision for the construction, improvement, and security of residents in case of tsunamis. Anti-tidal wave facilities like breakwaters and embankments and geotechnical studies should be included as well. In terms of infrastructure, evacuation sites should be at least 10 hectares and 1 square meter per evacuee, and construction of quakeproof conduits with utility tunnels, safety devices and facilities should be done as well.

    For flood-prone areas in the country, necessary infrastructures include securing water supply stations within 1.5-2 km from every household, roads should have permeable pavements, parks and apartment complexes should enable non-building spaces as flood control lakes to serve as multi-purpose flood-control lakes, and buildings should have underground water holding capacities.

    Due to the rising sea level, our country can minimize flood damage to lowlands by finding out past flood records and promoting vertical and adaptive architecture. By enabling the sewerage systems to store rainwater and installing filtration boxes, it helps strengthen drainage systems in urban areas.  To prevent landslides caused by heavy rainfall in mountain and hillside villages, sand-arresting works and reforestation through tree planting is needed.

    The biggest challenge architects, designers, engineers, and planners face in developing countries today is redefining the architecture and planning of the rapid urbanization to meet the demands of the growing economy and population. As the number of disasters brought about by climate change, inadequate infrastructure, and obsolete practices in planning, zoning, and urban development increase, our response to the built environment will reflect how we perceive our immediate surroundings as well as our roles as its caretakers and stewards for future generations.


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    1. Primer Pagunuran on

      Buildings should have ‘underground water holding capacities’ says Palafox, But will building owners want to have their basement areas filled with floodwaters? There must be some concerns here like costs, health or hygiene issues, how to dispose them off, et cetera. All these entail costs on the part of the building owner.

    2. Mr. Palafox, Sir, with all your expertise in architecture and urban planning ang isa pong katulad niyo ang kailangan sa Government as Consultant or Housing/DENR Secretary.

    3. I share your ideas Engr. Palafox. It’s not that we, technical people, dont have great ideas IT IS OUR LEADERS that need Lecturing and Indocrtination. Their hearts and minds dont have the guts to LEAD HONESTLY, in short CORRUPTION is always a PRIORITY not Real SERVICE to the people. In the USA where I worked for more than 20 years the PRIORITY is to accomplish the job/project according to plans, design requirements and specifications. In the Philippines, the PRIORITY is the KICKBACK that our leaders can MAXIMIZE….So there is NO WAY the Philippines will progress. Kawawa lang ang mga tao…pero kasama rin ang karamihan sa pagiging CORRUPT ng mga Politicians dahil sila pumupili tuwing halalan…To be honest I work as an Engineer with a Ph.D. in a big Company in America…

    4. Mr. Palafox, will they implement these measures in rebuilding areas affected by typhoon. Sir is the government listening. It is really time for all of us to think ahead and have foresight, but the problem (filipinos) are and if not all majority of our elected officials are reactive doesn’t have foresight and once in power (magpapayaman lang). Sa naman po ay gamitin ng wasto, tama ang mga nareceive na tulong at donations (financial and in kinds). Can private companies, businesses and corporations take the initiative, lead and actively engage with the government in rehabilitation effort. I bet you funds are diverted to to those who are near or have access to “axis of power”.