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A housing solution for the victimised

by Umangi de Mel

At the exhibition. Pic by Priyantha Hettige

Shelter being one of the basic needs of human beings, it seems almost impossible to exist without one...even if it means living in a tent. With the growing population of Sri Lanka, housing has become a grave problem.

Most of the underprivileged folks are being victimised by the lack of proper housing. A tsunami housing exhibition which was organised by the Colombo School of Architecture together with the Faculty of Architecture of Moratuwa University, was held at the Colombo School of Architecture on January 30, where the NGOs got a chance to catch a glimpse of the versatile designs of houses.

Marga Jaan,Fulbright senior scholar says:

"It's a concept to provide excellent housing not only to tsunami survivors but the underprivileged people. It's a good opportunity for the students to be able to work on real projects, to use that talent to help these people to move on to permanent houses.

"It's actually killing a couple of birds with one stone. Students learn something, gaining hands on experience and lend a helping hand to the needy as well, in the process."

Ishani Maheson, Year Person (6th Year) of Colombo School of Architecture thinks:

"The exhibition proposes to highlight the role of academia in the design of community based projects because the universities and schools of Architecture have generally had a huge resource base which could be utilised effectively in addressing community issues whilst the resources are utilised, the students also get an opportunity to work on a live project working in tandom with real clients and other stakeholders involved on a project.

Thus, it's an opportunity offered to them to apply their academic knowledge to a practical situation."

Marga Jaan, an architect attached to the Stanford University in California co-ordinated between the University of Moratuwa and the Colombo School of Architecture. Marga felt that the academia has a huge resource capability which can look into related issues and their resources can be used by NGOs to provide better housing for communities.Students also get to work on a live project.

Otherwise they're merely doing arbitrary projects in the studios and not working with a real client. The response has been good. NOGs are interested in the design though they have to be modified according to their conditions.

Danya Udukumbura, student of the Colombo School of Architecture feels

"In our courses, we are being given design projects and each one has to do their own project. Generally we do a lot of hypothetical stuff.

But, this is a real project where we are given to design a housing scheme for the tsunami survivors. We weren't given a client or a particular sight though.

"Our purpose is to show that even a small house built with a low budget could also be very creative.

"Actually it adds value to it and would make them feel better about owning something more than just a house. The houses are going to be in a cluster so we've got to think about a lot of things like their privacy, cooking facilities, relationships, and kids.

"Our main objective is to get an idea for all those who are building houses for tsunami victims, from a student's point of view.

"I tried to keep my house as practical as possible. Those people have had enough trauma in their lives, at least how they should feel safer and comfortable. "Practicality and creativity are the two ends in designing and the balance is the success of the design."

Don Thushar, student, Colombo School of Architecture says:

"My design consists of a solid core that encloses a kitchen area, storage space, hearth and a toilet. The living spaces are placed at ground level with sleeping areas placed at an upper level. It also looks at means of rain water harvesting -where rain water is collected in a tank which could be used for bathing flushing, washing etc...

It costs about Rs. 700,000 to build."

Representatives from various NGOs were at hand to hear the students presentations and those who are interested in a particular design just mentioned the design number and contact details in the Guests Book.

Talking about practicality, ... most of the designs were practical..well maybe a few were'nt, but what's important to grasp were the new concepts in housing people.I think that most of our designs were far better than most of the houses currently being built in the East!

Finally, I think that the whole exhibition was a huge success. Probably the most positive thing out of the whole experience was the fact that we were able to help the tsunami victims at least in an indirect manner - it gave us an opportunity to use our design skills to help the tsunami survivors.

And I personally don't mind if any of our designs don't get built,... as long as it helps/influences someone else to design better, borrowing our ideas, because what finally matters is that the victims be given a better space to live in... other than merely a cheap four walled structure with a roof - I think housing is much more than that!

Pramitha Mallwaratchie,student of the Colombo school of Architecture:

Flexibility was one of the important concepts that generated our design. Specially when providing housing for Tsunami victims, it was important to consider that not all victims were of equal income level, class, religion, occupation etc. Therefore our initial idea was not to create a 'house', but, a 'flexible space', which could be moulded into a 'house' to suit its occupants.

The house is designed for a family of five but, can be extended as the family grows. Moreover, we provided them with spaces that are multi-functional. For example, the Verandah can be converted into a shop, which will provide additional income to the occupant, the living room space can be a dining space as well as a bedroom if needed.

The main functions such as the toilet and kitchen take place at the centre of the house. The response for the exhibition was very good. There was a healthy turn over of people from several well-known non-profit organisations as well as other prospective clients, students and well-wishers.

Ranga Soysa, student Architectural Faculty of University of Moratuwa thinks: "It's a part of our design programmes. Actually we were supposed to design for tsunami victims.

"As people started building for tsunami victims, there was a failure in mass housing. They were only concerned about the quantity and not the quality. But, the type of houses that we've designed can be given to any underprivileged person.

"We spent one whole month working on the project, with the help of our year masters. Each house cost around eight-lakhs but there are ways and means of reducing it. These people have already suffered enough, there's no point of putting them in slums and shanties.

"As responsible architecture students, we want to upgrade their living style, and give them something more."

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