Disaster-Resilient Design Research And Teaching Initiatives In Pakistan

James L. Wescoat Jr., Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture

Designers have joined Pakistan’s wider society to mobilize flood relief and reconstruction in the Indus basin. Memories of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake remained strong when the floods struck in 2010. Just a few months before the flood, a massive landslide had inundated villages above Attabad in the Hunza Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan (figs 1 and 2). The villagers’ plight was later eclipsed by the massive flood, and worsened by disruptions of energy, supplies, and transport from down country.

In the international media, Pakistan’s suffering was subsequently overshadowed by vast flooding in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand, and the continuing devastation in Haiti. None of this slowed the occurrence of smaller flash floods, landslides, storms, and building failures in Pakistan (figs 3 and 4). In each case, questions have arisen about the role of design in reducing– rather than aggravating–vulnerability to future disasters. Are professional building standards and construction practices sound? Are they implemented and enforced? Is development occurring in hazardous locations?

Are structural measures coordinated with non-structural programs for warning, evacuation, zoning, and insurance? At a deeper level, are designers addressing the root causes of disaster – poverty, inequality, and rights of access to safe shelter, water, and social protection? emergency shelter and conduct design-build studios, as best as we can. In the U.S.A. numerous studios have addressed Hurricane Katrina and Haiti reconstruction,

We do not seem to appreciate the relevance of natural hazards for the legal and ethical foundation of our professions, which is to protect health, safety and welfare. Instead, we mobilize immediately after disasters to provide emergency shelter and conduct design-build studios, as best as we can.

In the U.S.A. numerous studios have addressed Hurricane Katrina and Haiti reconstruction, while in Pakistan studios have concentrated on the massive earthquake and flood events. Although passionate and well- intentioned, these efforts do not have time to draw or build upon the essential body of research knowledge and practical experience.

Few university design programs anywhere focus on these central questions of hazards mitigation. We do not seem to appreciate the relevance of natural hazards for the legal and ethical foundation of our professions, which is to protect health, safety and welfare. Instead, we mobilize immediately after disasters to provide emergency shelter and conduct design-build studios, as best as we can. In the U.S.A. numerous studios have addressed Hurricane Katrina and Haiti reconstruction, while in Pakistan studios have concentrated on the massive earthquake and flood events. Although passionate and well-intentioned, these efforts do not have time to draw or build upon the essential body of research knowledge and practical experience.
A handful of design organizations sustain provide an exception to the rule, and strive to mainstream natural hazards curricula and building codes (e.g., in the U.S.A. at Texas A&M University; the University of California, University of Colorado, University of Illinois, and University of South Carolina). An exciting new collaboration has also begun between design colleagues in Pakistan and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT.

AKDN provided emergency relief for many years and through Focus Humanitarian since 1994. About the same time, MIT undertook studies of thermal, structural, and cultural heritage in Pakistan. I served on the Natural Hazards Center advisory board at the University of Colorado-Boulder, with a special interest in water-related hazards. With this backgound, we initiated a “Disaster-Resilient Design” graduate seminar at MIT, with a special emphasis on the Indus basin. An advantage of the seminar format is that it devotes time to the discussion of theoretical, methodological, and historical evidence. The MIT seminar addressed the following topics:

1. MIT Disaster-Resilient Design Seminar at MIT–“The Indus Basin Team” This story begins in 2008 with an Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) meeting in Paris on how to coordinate Built Environment programs across AKDN. Karachi architect Hafiz Sherali, an alumnus of MIT, expressed concern about disaster mitigation, particularly for seismic hazards in Gilgit-Baltistan in light of the 2005 earthquake disaster in greater Kashmir. Like any story, the historical roots of our current initiative extend much deeper.

A. Seminar goals and methods
1. Framing the issues in disaster-resilient design
2. Rapid bibliographic appraisal with the best electronic libraries and databases available

B. Theory, Practice, and Methods in the Environmental Hazards Rresearch
1. Theoretical debates and theory-practice relationships
2. Epic and macro-historical-geographic perspectives
3. Analytical approaches: risk, uncertainty, and perception
4. Damage assessment across social spaces and scales

C. Six Types of Disaster-Resilient Design
1. Anticipatory site planning and design
2. Retrofitting existing buildings and landscapes
3. Reconstruction after disaster
4. Resettlement of displaced populations in safer locations.
5. Commemorative design in places of reconstruction & resettlement
6. Synthesis of types 1-5

Because full descriptions of these topics and a long list of readings associated with them is available on-line, they will not be elaborated here. Please go to the ArchNet: Islamic Architecture Community website, and to the following links:

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As the seminar was underway, we helped organize a conference on Disaster-Resilient Design the U.S. National Academies’ Disaster Roundtable and the U.S. National Academy of Environmental Design. This conference brought together architects, planners, landscape architects, and interior designers with scientists and engineers with the aim of integrating green building and disaster-resilient design, advancing new design models for disaster resilience, and focusing on disaster resilient design in international contexts. We were surprising to learn that the U.S. Green Building Council’s widely-known LEED rating system had few credits for natural hazards preparedness (mainly for non-hazardous building materials) — the USGBC is now committed to changing that. Three of the MIT Indus Basin Team members served as rapporteurs. The full workshop agenda and program are available at:


The MIT seminar began with a concern about seismic hazards in Gilgit-Baltistan. But after the 2010 flood and reflection on related hazards, we broadened the scope to an All-Hazards Approach that could eventually be applied throughout the Indus basin–from the headwaters to the sea. Members of the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services- Pakistan (AKPBS-P) provided a wealth of documentation, and organized a preparatory field visit in the Gilgit and Hunza valleys in the summer of 2010 (figs 5-7). The MIT graduate student Indus Basin Team broadened the scope of inquiry still further. They developed research term papers on the following topics:

• Cold and Collapse – Addressing joint vulnerability to seismic and thermal hazards in Gilgit-Baltistan (Zahraa Saiyed)

• Owner-Driven Reconstruction – Lessons from the 2005 Pakistan Earthquake (Hanna Rutkouskaya)

• Social Capital and Disaster Risk Management: Village survey methods for Gilgit, Pakistan (Prasanna Raman)

• Hazards and Heritage – Linking conservation and relief at World Heritage Sites such as Moenjo Daro and Makli Hill (Faisal Ali Rajper)

• Mitigating Floods : Reconstructing Lives : Rehabilitating Thatta (Marium Gul)

We realize that these are only a handful of the many important disaster-resilience issues in Pakistan today. There was a consensus that the seminar should be offered regularly at MIT with an expanding group of faculty and students. Little did we know that the seminar would be adapted as an intensive design workshop only one month later at the University of Engineering and Technology-Lahore!

2. MIT-UET Workshop on Disaster- Resilient Design Workshop Architecture faculty members Abdul Rehman (Director), Munazzah Akhtar, and Qudsia Asif at the University of Engineering and Technology-Lahore organized a week-long design workshop in January 2011. The format consisted of two studio sessions per day for five days. Participants included 30 graduate students and faculty members (mainly assistant professors) from architecture schools across Lahore, and two representatives from AKPBS-P Gilgit who had extensive retrofit and conservation experience (figs 8 and 9). Some of the faculty had been actively involved in earthquake and flood reconstruction. Professor Daanish Mustafa of King’s College London joined us for the theory session. Architects professors Siddiq Akhbar and Shahid Jamal of UET and Professor Gulzar Haider of Beaconhouse University also joined the workshop discussions. In contrast with the MIT seminar, the UET Workshop employed a design studio format. Each participant had studio wall space and drafting table to develop ideas that could be shared with all (figs 10). New technical resources had been compiled by the MIT seminar and AKDN that were made available. They included assessments of landslide and flood hazards by the U.S. Geological Survey and Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition, technical assessment of the 2010 flood had become available from ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action), Multi-Cluster Rapid Assessment Mechanism (McRam), Pakistan National Disaster Management Authority, ReliefWeb, U.N. Habitat-Pakistan, and the Asian Development Bank-World Bank national flood damage estimate – to name a few. There were some important differences between the seminar and workshop. The MIT- UET Workshop in Lahore focused almost entirely on hazards in Pakistan. Almost, because one team compared hazards mitigation approaches in Pakistan with programs in Iran and the US. The depth of Pakistan experience was more detailed, which will help the next MIT seminar in 2011. Second, the MIT seminar had more time to devote to discussing of theoretical research and debates, which led us to conclude that we need more distilled ways to incorporate readings and discussion in the studio short courses. But this is to jump ahead of the work itself.

Day 1. Participants defined their interests, concerns, and aims for the workshop on the studio walls. We discussed the “language of hazards”, and began to create a glossary of keywords in Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Shina, and Burushaski – a project that deserves to be completed.

Day 2. Discussion of key theoretical concepts, including vulnerability, resilience, risk perception, and the range of choice in hazards adjustment. A research methods session addressed rapid bibliographic searching of online libraries, including data, maps, and gray literature (e.g., government documents and NGO reports).

Day 3. Presentation by the Director of the Flood Forecasting Division, Pakistan Meteorology Department, in Lahore. Field transects of Ravi floodplain conditions and development in Lahore. Participants organized into six working teams (fig 11).

Day 4. A full studio day on the six project study topics (fig 12):

• Northern Areas Multi-Hazards Approach – using village Sherqilla as a case study. The AKPBS-P representatives from Gilgit were enormously helpful in sharing current building retrofit programs and site mapping methods.

• Kashmir Seismic and Thermal Hazards – including preparedness, retrofit, and reconstruction with traditional, modern, and hybrid construction technologies

• Hill Country Team – focused on flash flooding and related land management hazards (erosion, sedimentation, landslides) and using Mianwali and Dera Ismail districts as case studies.

• Ravi Floodplain Management Team – focused on urbanization of this depleted and degraded river, riverfront development, flood protection, and ecological methods of wastewater treatment.

• Lower Doab Flood Hazards Team – analyzed the confluence of the Indus and Chenab rivers in Muzaffargarh district, and took a transect approach to flood risks across the lower doab.

• Comparative International Team – surveyed hazards mitigation programs in the design professions of Pakistan, Iran, and the USA, asking what can be learned and shared through comparative analysis. This Workshop did not have a lower basin or coastal hazards team, which indicates the need for follow up workshops based in Sindh, as well as Khyber-Pakhtunkwha, and Gilgit-Baltistan. Each team sought to address the five main types of disaster-resilient design discussed in the workshop, which encompassed anticipatory planning, retrofit, reconstruction, resettlement, and commemorative design. Day 5. Studio presentations, evaluation, and next steps. Although it was clear that we had just scratched the surface, participants reported that the workshop was stimulating and useful. Faculty were encouraged to take the curriculum back to their universities and adapt various aspects of it in their design and construction curricula, and to exchange their syllabi on ArchNet.

3. Next Steps for Disaster-Resilient Design in Pakistan and the Aga Khan Program at MIT The activities to date have been highly stimulating.

The prospects—and need— for future research, teaching, and project implementation are great. Seminar participants recommended additional theoretical inquiry, while workshop participants recommended additional field work and best practice construction methods. Both are essential, and are envisioned in the following next steps:

• Spring 2011 — Upload MIT seminar,

MIT-UET workshop, and NAS-NAED materials on to a new ArchNet Disaster Resilient Design Group Workspace. This Workspace is open to all ArchNet members, and membership is free (see Create links to related initiatives in Pakistan, such as the Flood Rehabilitation through Design network on Facebook (

• Summer 2011 – Presentations and possible short workshops in Pakistan that build on the MIT-UET experience, in collaboration with AKPBS-P, Focus, IAP, and others. Explore GIS applications.

• Fall 2011 — Disaster-Resilient Design seminar at MIT. This seminar will build upon previous year’s work. It will be coordinated with a new “school design” initiative at MIT, a disaster-resilient design studio at Harvard, and related hazard research initiatives. A wealth of inspiring disaster response activities are underway in Pakistan today, and more are needed. Readers are encouraged to use the ArchNet Group Workspace and Forum–along with other web networking sites–to exchange information, experience, and proposals. Acknowledgements I am grateful to my many colleagues and friends at AKPBS-P in Karachi and Gilgit who made this work possible. And to long- time friends and collaborators in Lahore such as Professor Abdul Rehman of the University of Engineering and Technology, who invited and organized the 2011 Workshop there. Graduate students at MIT and all of the participants in the MIT-UET Workshop provided inspiring proposals for a less hazardous and more sustainable world. Selected Design and Planning Readings and Web Resources: Architects for Humanity. Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises. Los Angeles: Metropolis Books, 2006. Asian Development Bank and World Bank. Pakistan Floods 2010. Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment. Islamabad, 2010. Burby, Raymond J. Cooperating with Nature. Confronting Natural Hazards with Land-Use Planning for Sustainable Communities. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 1998. Department for International Development (DFID), Transitional settlement and reconstruction after natural disasters. London: DfID, 2008 Government of Pakistan. National Disaster Management Authority. National Disaster Response Plan. Islamabad: NDMA, 2010. Government of Pakistan. Ministry of Housing. Building Code of Pakistan (Seismic Provisions-2007). SP-2007. Islamabad, 2007. Halvorson, S.J. and J.P. Hamilton. “In the Aftermath of the 2005 Qa’yamat: The Kashmir Earthquake Disaster in Northern Pakistan,” Disasters: The Journal of Disaster Studies, Policy, and Management, 34(1)(2010): 184-204. Hewitt, Kenneth. “Climatic hazards and agricultural development: some aspects of the problem in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent,” Interpretations of Calamity. London: Allen and Unwin, 1983, pp. 181-201. And many other publications by this leading research expert on Pakistan. Langenbach, Randolph. Don’t Tear It Down: Preserving the Earthquake Resistant Vernacular Architecture of Kashmir. Oinfroin Media, 2009. Mathur, Anuradha; and DaCunha, Dilip. SOAK. Design for floodprone rivers in Mumbai. Mumbai: Rupa & Co., 2010. Mustafa, D. and Wrathall, D. 2011. Indus basin floods of 2010: Souring of a Faustian bargain? Water Alternatives 4(1)(2011): 72- 85. And numerous other publications by this leading hazards researcher in Pakistan. U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). World Conference on Disaster Reduction. 18-22 January 2005, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. Hyogo Declaration. Vale, Lawrence J. and Campanella, Thomas J. eds. The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster. New York: OUP, 2005. Wescoat, James L. Jr. “Managing the Indus River Basin in Light of Climate

Chage: Four Conceptual Approaches.” Global Environmental Change. 1(5)(1991): 381-95. White, Gilbert F. Robert W. Kates, Ian Burton. “Knowing better and losing even more:the use of knowledge in hazards management.” Global Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards, Volume 3, Issues 3-4, (September-December 2001), Pages 81-92. See the webpage on Gilbert White, the founder of modern hazards research at hazards/gfw/ World Bank. Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction. Safer Homes/Stronger Communities. Handbook for Reconstruction after Natural Disasters. 2009 (available on-line) at:

Selected Multi-Hazard Web Resources for Design and Planning: Aga Khan Development Network – Aga Khan Planning and Building Services-Pakistan; Focus Humanitarian; and others. Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP). Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC, Bangkok) — Duryog Nivaram (South Asia grassroots hazards mitigation group) – Government of Pakistan. National Disaster Management Authority — International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD. Integrated Water and Hazard Management. Inter-Agency Standing Committee— Emergency Shelter Cluster –; and International Code Council — International Federation of Red Cross/ Red Crescent — Multi-Cluster Rapid Assessment Mechanism (McRAM). – Resilience Alliance,

Shelter Centre (Geneva) –

Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards — www.sphereproject.Org

U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — Relief Web –

United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) –

U.S. National Academies Disasters Roundtable —

US Federal Emergency Management Agency –

University of Colorado-Boulder — Natural Hazards Center Information

Clearinghouse —

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