Excerpt:‘Disaster Resilient Houses’ is an architecture thesis by Parth Champaneri from Institute of Design, Environment and Architecture (IDEA), Indus University, that explores resilience in architecture to derive new construction without harming the environment’s natural resources. The goal of this project is to create community housing for displaced families from Majuli’s flood-prone regions that can withstand natural calamities.
Introduction: Village populations are diminishing and migrating to cities, along with their traditional homes and ancestral possessions. The need to leave one’s hometown in search of chances and a better future led to an imbalance to traditional and vernacular homes. However, occasionally nature’s procrustean treatment of the living also leads people to leave the location/area. The case of Majuli region from Assam, India, is one such example. Natural disasters like floods, landslides, and earthquakes in Assam have impacted the life of the Assamese people. As these catastrophes become more regular, many people have abandoned their houses.
In order to address some fundamental issues surrounding this topic, this thesis attempts to pose the following question: rather than leaving the area, why not learn the traditional techniques and approaches that people have employed from prehistoric times and put them into practice to create a community or a housing that will withstand all disasters? Why can’t we create a community that can support itself?
This architecture thesis will aid in the study of resilience in architecture, attempting to meet the needs of new development that doesn’t deplete the environment’s natural resources. Additionally, it will contribute to increasing public awareness. The goal of this academic project is to create community housing for displaced families from Majuli’s flood-prone regions that can withstand natural calamities.
Majuli Island is surviving for its identity in the disaster-prone state of Assam in northeastern part of India. Encompassed by the Brahmaputra River, it is the largest inhabited river island in the world. Majuli is constantly in danger of being engulfed by the mighty Brahmaputra.
The severity of the floods Majuli experienced in 2017 can be judged by the fact that 49 villages, 1760 hectares of crop, and at least 50,000 people were affected by the flood. The island is renowned for its abundant biological diversity and native tribal communities living in stilt houses.
Major obstacles stand in the way of Majuli’s displaced communities receiving government aid for housing reconstruction. Despite being elevated on stilts, their houses are prone to cyclones, earthquakes, and flooding every three years due to the island’s proximity to fault lines. Being cut off from the mainland and having only one road access established in 2015—a 10-hour trek from the city—increases their vulnerability.
As a result, locals mostly rely on the boat service from Nimati ghat, which is open from 7 am to 10 pm but has limited access during monsoon season. Majuli has shrunk from 1325 sq.km in 1917 to a mere 300 sq.km presently as a result of the yearly Brahmaputra floods.
The population of Majuli is extremely diverse. Throughout the years, several tribes of people have coexisted. Majuli is divided into two broader populations that can be categorised as tribal population and non-tribal population. The non-tribal population includes communities like Brahmin, Koch, Kalita Nath, Ahom, Kamar, and Gwalla, while the tribal population is covered by communities like Mishing, Deori, and Sonawal Kachari.
A thorough site analysis was conducted before the design process for integrating local materials and floating houses in Majuli, taking into account the region’s flood patterns and the accessibility of materials with high resistance, such as bamboo and treated wood.
Case studies of houses in various parts of North East India were carried out to analyse how they responded to the climate, culture, and traditions. The use of non-traditional materials gives these homes the ability to adapt to shifting climatic circumstances. However, due to structural inadequacy and lack of termite safety, the elements of houses don’t last long and need to be replaced frequently.
Five distinct villages, each with a different flood estimation level, were chosen for further study during the field trip. Different building techniques and materials were used in the homes of each of these settlements. During the field trip, these homes were documented.
These observations led to the classification of the homes into five distinct typologies. The area of study included (I) Chitadar suk (II) Garmur (III) Salmora (IV) Dhakinpat (V) Uttar Kamlabari (VI) Kamlabari.
To examine how flooding will affect two different houses built of various materials, a comparison was made. When it comes to withstand a flood, a traditional bamboo house has been proven to be more successful than a brick-and-concrete structure. According to the levels of floodwater in three different villages, varied design solutions were implemented. While some houses were floating bamboo constructions, some were provided with a raised plinth in order to withstand the flood.
The units are connected structurally to strengthen their resiliency and are oriented in a manner that increases the density of the clusters. In order to link these clusters together, a pathway is added. By incorporating open areas at each intersection, community spaces are emphasised. The grid planning not only increases the structural stability but also provides adequate areas for the daily activities of the inhabitants, like farming, boat making, weaving and community gathering.
Diagonal bamboo connections are provided at the base of the supports to enhance their structural strength. To prepare for flooding, an amphibious part with the ability to float is added on the top of the house. The units are placed on different levels, allowing access to the upper levels during times of flooding while the lower levels can be used all year.
Involving the local community, the conceptual and architectural designs place an emphasis on raised platforms and buoyant substructures, incorporating the traditional knowledge of the neighbourhood. Stable foundations are ensured by working with locals who are knowledgeable about resilient homes, while craftsmen are trained in modern construction methods. Materials are given water-resistant treatments, and prototypes are tested for stability and buoyancy.
The proposed housing solutions in Majuli offer a ray of hope by meticulously carrying out this comprehensive design process, offering a durable, eco-friendly shelter for the community. These buildings protect Majuli island’s residents from the onslaught of repeated floods by utilising indigenous materials and cutting-edge floating house technology. This promotes a sustainable and secure future for the island’s inhabitants.
(Thesis Guide: Rushank Mehta)
[This Academic Project has been published with text submitted by the student]
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