POST DISASTER RELIEF (how do we do it well?)
I’m currently taking a design studio that’s is working to propose design solutions in Puerto Rico. Our projects will propose designs for high schools, that anticipate their re-use as evacuation shelters in times of natural hazard. We’ve learned that most often, schools are utilized as evacuation shelters, especially in places where construction practices may be executed informally, or less than the established building code. This is because often times, civic buildings, and schools in particularly are the best built structures. It’s easy to understand why this is the case. So far, we’ve had several specialists come and lecture, including representatives from the World Bank, and Urban Planning, and Structures specialist here from MIT. What I’ve quickly learned is the degree to which many external forces influence the design and implementation of post disaster relief efforts, whether its evacuation, housing efforts, or resource distribution. We are currently being loaded with information, priming the studio before we travel to Puerto Rico to learn more about the current situation on the ground. In short, there is a degree of systematic complexity that is beyond the scope of the architect/designer, but that has to nevertheless be negotiated when beginning to consider how design can act as a type of “technology” to help keep things moving forward positively in a post disaster scenario.
I’m starting with code because I’m less inclined to know how it can be implemented, but can imagine it can help with the logistics of the very complex problem. I can see how code can be used to address distribution efforts, as well as a means to quantify need and resource requirements to meet need in a disaster scenario. In my studio we have begun to look at GIS as a tool to better understand the dynamism of topographic territory. I consider this data to work as a type of code, in particular when you begin to address hazard preparedness through simulations of hazard scenarios.
There are many systems in place, that are set into motion to respond to disasters. In the U.S we have FEMA, which responds to hazard scenarios, both in regards to distribution of necessary resources and aid, as well as with financial responses to contribute to rebuilding efforts. I think Puerto Rico, and the recent tragedies that have befallen the island, as well as our governments responses to this specific tragedy, clearly demonstrate a need for change. In law, and in norm. Take the Jones Act for example, “The Jones Act is a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. The Jones Act requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned and operated by United States citizens or permanent residents. It is also known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920.” In the case of Puerto Rico, this law has made the transport of necessary supplies that much harder, and this is just this first example I thought of off the top of my head.
Market forces are something I am not as well versed in. But I can see how market forces can relate to material acquisition and distribution. In cases of disaster, food, water, supplies, have to be acquired and distributed, and although I am unclear about the specifics, can imagine how these forces can influence the types of good that are able to be acquired and utilized.
SUSTAINABLE DESIGN (we need to minimize our impact)
The notion of “sustainable” design is a topic that I consider to be of the moment, and wouldn’t be surprised if every architecture school in the country had at least a small portion of its curriculum dedicated to “sustainable” design. I use quotations a bit cynically because often, certain decisions are rendered as visible manifestations of green, or sustainable design, but are nothing more that eye candy. A solar panel put on the roof of a poorly designed building doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a sustainable project…
I think code in the case of sustainable design is very much of the same vein as the simulation algorithms/modeling I considered in the post disaster case. Simulations have often quantified potential gains in alternative energy, and allowed for the design of systems that can maximize potential gains as they relate to site, climate etc. In fact, here at MIT in my first semester, I’ve had to take course in which I’ve had to simulate how much energy a single family home can produce with ‘x’ number of solar panels.
I think norms can be particularly interesting for this topic. Especially when considering certain norms that are categorically superficial or visually accessible as a means to exude “greenness.” That’s not to say these are inherently bad, but many of the norms in place today that reward sustainable design, are founded on a checklist system that is often not the ideal.
I’m not an expert on laws/policy related to building specifically, but know there are efforts at government and global scales to reduce carbon emissions, the Paris agreement as an example. I do know that the built environment contributes a large part of global emissions, ball park 30 percent of global emissions from the built environment. As such I think law can play a powerful role in influencing how “sustainable” future design and construction can be.
Market forces are particular influential in the field of design and construction. You need money to build and lots of it. Sadly, the design, and time spent on a “good” design is often limited by these market forces. Project are always trying to save money. For large commercial/developer projects, design (architecture) often consists of 5% or less of total costs. Unless the architect gets a really good deal! Imagine the potential saving over the lifetime of a building (decades!) if a bit more time and money was placed into the thoughtfulness of the design to begin with.
STUDENT DEBT (how do we make it go away?)
I know very little about the ins and outs of this particular issue, but thought of it because it’s something I’ll have to deal with pretty soon. How can we address the growing student debt crisis? I honestly have no idea.
I can see how code could potentially help us better understand our current situation. Maybe an algorithm or a few, could help us to understand the specifics of the crisis (apart from the rise in tuition, which is its own concern.) Maybe there is a way of quantifying the cost of changing majors several times etc.
I think one of the biggest norms may be the thought that “everyone needs to go to college” or that alternative is not as socially accepted. I can also see the push for STEM to be problematic. There may be someone who was supposed to be a great teacher, who goes through school to be an engineer or something else, perhaps for an even longer period of time.
I think affordable education will be heavily reliant on law in the future. Its perhaps unfortunate for it to become such a political issue. Private vs universal education. Recently in Chile student protest were mobilized to make university education free. The use of student protest as a mechanism for change is much more common in Chile, than here though, maybe that is more of a norm, but it’s very tied to changes in law in most cases.
Perhaps part of the issue is that as it currently stands, educations I too strongly tied to the market. It is very much an investment for many who decide to pursue higher education, and their needs to be a degree of faith that a particular academic path, will align with the demands of the market once you reach the end and join the workforce. I’d be curious to learn more about the relationship between the market and university in country where there is free education vs the relationship here in the US.