Planning and designing resilient structures for future generations



“TOMORROW’S success will depend on how quickly government, business and civil society improve their collaboration today.” This is according to Shell’s paper “New Lenses on Future Cities.” In order to create a sustainable country, strong political will from the government and citizen participation are needed.

Metro Manila’s population influx due to migration of people from the provinces in search of employment caused rapid urbanization in the area. Along with the “do-nothing scenario” in urban development, it left Metro Manila with a high population of urban poor. Furthermore, rapid urbanization caused lesser water-holding capacity and more pollution, which meant more frequent flooding. Many citizens are priced out of the housing market and are forced to informally settle near their places of work, which are most often highly vulnerable to disasters. Resettlement programs prove to be inefficient as the residents go back to their informal settlements due to proximity to their workplace. If a 7.2-magnitude earthquake were to hit Metro Manila, there will be a forecasted 33,500 death toll; 113,600 people injured; seven collapsed bridges; and 2 percent of tall buildings and 30 percent of low-rise structures destroyed.

That said, we need to make Metro Manila more resilient to disasters through proper urban planning, safer buildings—earthquake-resistant, flood-proof, fireproof—, road improvements, and provision of open spaces and parks to slow down the spread of fire. In order to do this, the national government, local government units, private businesses and citizens themselves must collaborate. There is a need for a public-private partnership in order develop towns and cities which are safe to live in, work, shop, dine, worship, and learn.

This advocacy, creating sustainable cities, led me to work with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. The Tzu Chi Foundation had greatly helped the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, and has been helping those who suffered from natural calamities as well as the less fortunate all around the world. I was very honored to work with the venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen, the founder of the Tzu Chi Foundation. Out of all the firms out there, she chose us to design Tzu Chi Foundation projects in Nepal, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. I asked her why us, and she told me that some architects have the skills but not the heart, that some have heart but not skills, and she believes that Palafox has both. These projects in Nepal, she asked us to design for a thousand years. Here in the Philippines, when we talk about a hundred years, people are skeptical, while at the Tzu Chi Foundation they dream of building structures that would last for 40 generations.

Everytime there is a disaster, the last structures standing should be the hospitals and schools, because they serve as the evacuation areas. After the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal, more than 600,000 structures, even those historically significant, were destroyed. So now, the schools we designed for Tzu Chi Foundation can withstand a magnitude 10 earthquake. Passive cooling was used to make the schools’ interior temperature cool despite the climate of the country without having to consume so much energy. And it was found that the concrete in Nepal is only good for 70 to 75 years, therefore an inspection and retrofitting will be required every 75 years as well.

We also helped design a palliative ward serving as the extension for the Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital in Nepal. The maximum magnitude for the earthquake was 9.6, but we designed it to withstand a magnitude 10 as well. It is a one-of-a-kind hospital in Nepal, with a therapeutic roof garden.

In the Philippines, we have designed sustainable housing for the people of Smokey Mountain. It is a medium-rise building with green walls where the residents can plant high-value crops—beans, eggplants, tomatoes, ampalaya, etc.—to provide the residents food security, and a wind tower to provide natural ventilation and passive cooling in the building. The ground floor is vacant while the living areas are located on the second floor, to make the building resilient to flooding. The Tzu Chi Foundation was willing to fund this project, but first, we Filipinos have to clean up our own mess.

The Tzu Chi Foundation helps its beneficiaries to be able to stand on their own and improve their lifestyle. Same with good planning and architecture. It improves the way people live, designing what people really need. An architecture that responds to humanitarian crises, servicing communities in need, is what Architecture for Humanity is all about. Instead of considering the profit and loss, we should do the beneficiary-sufferer analysis; if the design is good, we think of the beneficiaries, but if the design is poor, we think of the sufferers. We should always create first-class architecture with economy-class budgets, to ensure that the same quality of developments is not contained in one area, but it is distributed to all. As I have always said, development is not worthy of the name unless it is spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.


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