There is no place like a paper home in post-earthquake Turkey and Syria

Avi Jorisch
Avi Jorisch
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Shigeru Ban is an architect who has gained worldwide recognition for his innovative approach to designing temporary housing for disaster victims. His work has transformed how architects think about designing for communities struck by natural disasters. Policymakers and disaster relief organizations operating in Turkey and Syria should leverage Ban’s paper houses to provide comfort and support.

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Ban’s unique and cost-effective construction methods have helped shelter people affected by natural disasters in different parts of the world. His pioneering work in designing paper houses has been particularly effective in providing low-cost, durable, and easy-to-build housing solutions in earthquake-prone regions. Policymakers and disaster relief organizations operating in Turkey and Syria should leverage Ban’s paper houses to provide comfort and support.

The recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria again highlighted the need for innovative and sustainable housing solutions in disaster-prone regions.

Ban’s paper houses could be an effective solution for the thousands of people who the earthquake has displaced. The structures are easy to assemble and can be quickly built, which is essential in emergency situations. They are also lightweight, which makes them easy to transport to remote areas. Most importantly, they are affordable, which means that they can be used to provide shelter to people who have lost everything in the disaster.

In 1995, Ban was one of the many volunteers who traveled to Kobe, Japan, to assist in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. The devastation he witnessed there prompted him to rethink his approach to architecture. He realized that too many architects were designing buildings for wealthy clients and ignoring the needs of ordinary people who were most affected by natural disasters. Ban believed that architects were responsible for using their skills to design structures that could help communities recover from disasters.

Ban’s first project after the Kobe earthquake was the Kobe Paper Log Houses. These were temporary structures made from recycled paper tubes that were used to provide shelter to thousands of people who the earthquake had displaced. The paper tubes were strong, cheap, and easy to assemble, making them an ideal construction material for emergency housing. They were also fire- and waterproof, making them particularly suitable for earthquake-prone regions.

One of the most impressive aspects of Ban’s work is his ability to create housing solutions that are both sustainable and affordable. The Kobe Paper Log Houses cost less than $2,000 per unit, which made them accessible to people who had lost everything in the earthquake. Ban also used donated beer crates and sandbags to create a foundation for the structures. This helped keep costs low and provided a way for the community to participate in the rebuilding process.

Workers clean the rubble of a collapsed building in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Antakya, Hatay province, Turkey, February 21, 2023. (Reuters)
Workers clean the rubble of a collapsed building in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Antakya, Hatay province, Turkey, February 21, 2023. (Reuters)

Ban’s paper houses have since been used in various disaster zones across the world. In 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Ban designed and built temporary housing for survivors using paper tubes. These structures could withstand aftershocks and provided safe shelter for the people who had lost their homes. Ban’s work in Japan inspired others to follow his lead. In 2013, a group of students in the Philippines built a paper house modeled on Ban’s designs. The house was able to withstand a typhoon that devastated the region and provided shelter for its occupants.

Ban’s work has shown that architects can play a critical role in disaster relief efforts. His innovative and sustainable approach to designing emergency housing has provided shelter to thousands of people who have been affected by natural disasters. The recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria serves as a reminder of the importance of designing structures that can withstand the unpredictable forces of nature. Ban’s paper houses are a testament to the power of design to positively impact people’s lives. As we continue to face the challenges of climate change and natural disasters, architects like Ban will be essential in creating sustainable and resilient communities.

Avi Jorisch is the author of NEXT: A Brief History of the Future (Gefen Publishing) and a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.

Read more:

More than 50,000 killed in quake that struck Turkey, Syria on February 6

UN seeks aid for 874,000 Turkey-Syria earthquake survivors

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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