How should architects intervene in natural disasters?
Last week’s 6.2-magnitude earthquake in central Italy was a global not just a national tragedy.
The consequences of such a potent natural disaster have been devastating on a humanitarian level, with an estimated death toll of 247 and over 2000 residents of Pescara del Tronto, Accumoli and Amatrice temporarily living in makeshift camps.
In the long term, the effects of the quake will no doubt touch a huge number of people, from personal grief and loss of family homes to economic implications for employment opportunities and tourism in the region.
It is undeniable that a further tragedy has been the destruction of architectural landmarks and cultural heritage across the region. In Amatrice particularly, the town’s historical centre, including buildings dating back to the Medieval period, was destroyed according to Mayor Sergio Pirozzi.
Renzo Piano’s Reconstruction
Earlier this week, Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, sought celebrated architect Renzo Piano’s assistance in planning the reconstruction of the region. Renowned worldwide for architectural masterpieces such as The Shard in London and The Centre Pompidou in Paris, Piano has indicated that the intervention could take up to 50 years, spanning several generations.
Italian politicians will certainly be keen to prove that the country can deal effectively with rebuilding communities and the restoration of historical buildings given the controversy surrounding L’Aquila’s reconstruction following the earthquake in 2009.
Photo via Dezeen
In 2010, in the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake, the Guardian debated the relevance of architectural experts in the face of humanitarian crises:
“The role of architects in these circumstances is “marginal at best”. In fact, most architects are taught almost the exact opposite of what is needed. Architects are taught to focus on the product (a building), whereas humanitarian practitioners major on the process (involving people).”
It is certainly true that the majority of architecture professionals do not receive any kind of substantial humanitarian or disaster management training throughout their careers; far from indicating a lack of empathy, the real issue is that more collaboration and cross-disciplinary support is needed between NGOs, architects and engineers.
Without specialised training, architects cannot be expected to go beyond their daily remit and consider a vast range of human, geopolitical needs that arise when reconstructing communities struck by disaster.
As to whether Renzo Piano and the Italian Prime Minister can follow through successfully on their reconstruction plans for central Italy, that remains to be seen. With global funding and support, there is hope that the mistakes of L’Aquila will not be repeated and that communities and historical architecture alike can be faithfully rebuilt in good time. Renzo Piano’s plans to rehouse displaced residents from tents to simple, wooden structures are already a positive sign of the respectful redesign and reconstruction to come.
Photo via BBC